Here’s what happened: I was invited to speak about “little magazines and William S. Burroughs” on a panel with Jed Birmingham and Charles Plymell at the 2014 Burroughs Centennial Conference hosted in New York City by the Center for the Humanities. After my talk, Steve Clay came up to me and asked to publish what I’d said. I didn’t know Steve, though I’d met him once years earlier, but I knew of his Granary Books.
Among Granary’s many titles was At a Secret Location on the Lower East Side: Adventures in Writing: 1960-1980, based on a 1998 exhibition at the New York Public Library. Co-edited by Clay and Rodney Phillips, who was the curator of the library’s Berg Collection at the time, the book, to quote its description, “documents a period of intense exploration and experimentation in American writing and literary publishing.” It serves as “a monumental catalog, especially considering the ephemerality of the mimeo publications and their histories.”
A little magazine I had done in the late-’60s, The San Francisco Earthquake, was mentioned in it with an illustration, but didn’t get much attention. I don’t think it was a matter of geography. I think it was just an oversight, because there are dozens of major entries for little mags — mimeos and otherwise, as well as small literary presses — that were based in far-flung places like Tulsa, Oklahoma (Ron Padgett’s White Dove Review); Mexico City (Margaret Randall’s El Corno Emplumado); Gloucester, Massachusetts (Gerrit Lansing’s SET); Paris (John Ashbery’s Art and Literature); Banalbufar, Mallorca (Robert Creeley’s Divers Press); Bolinas, California (Bill Berkson’s Big Sky). And of course it included a ton of fugitive New York City poetry rags. Maybe Clay was making up for the oversight.
My Adventures in Fug Lit is subtitled “How I got to San Francisco” (TRUE), clerked at City Lights (TRUE), started a little magazine (TRUE), published William Burroughs (TRUE), and landed in Vermont (TRUE) as editor in chief of Something Else Press.” (AGAIN TRUE). Granary’s description says it “provides a vivid first-person account (SO TRUE!) of Jan Herman’s years in the small press underground of the sixties and seventies” (TRUE), that Earthquake and my Nova Broadcast Press “published Beat, post-beat and Fluxus writers and artists” (TRUE), that I was “editor in chief of Something Else Press” (TRUE), and that the book “is illustrated throughout with color photographs and reproductions.” (BEAUTIFULLY TRUE!) If you’d like to order a copy, go to granarybooks.com, but don’t forget to select “wrappers” (the trade paperback). For anyone who wants to buy a deluxe signed/numbered copy, you’re out of luck. Those babies are “sold out.” (TRUE)
One thing to remember: Fug Lit is based on a presentation I tailored to an audience of Burroughs fans, many of them academic specialists and book collectors. So, though “vivid,” my memoir may seem a bit technical for a general audience. There is nothing in it about addiction (except to language), 12-step programs for alcoholics, treatment programs for drug abusers, cures for sexual maladies, or rock stars in recovery. The tale starts like this: