Gerry Nicosia

Gerald Nicosia is a biographer, historian, playwright, poet, and novelist, whose work has been closely associated with the Beat Movement as well as the 1960’s. He came to prominence with the publication of Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac in 1983, a book that earned him the Distinguished Young Writer Award from the National Society of Arts and Letters while it was still a work-in-progress. It was highly praised by writers as diverse as John Rechy, Irving Stone, Bruce Cook, and Allen Ginsberg, who called it a “great book.” More recent books of his on the Beat theme are Jan Kerouac: A Life in Memory (Noodlebrain Press, 2009), and One and Only: The Untold Story of On the Road (Viva Editions, 2011). Nicosia spent several decades in both the Chicago and San Francisco literary scenes, making a name for himself as both a post-Beat poet himself and an organizer of marathon literary events, often in conjunction with the San Francisco Public Library and the Friends of the Library. He was also involved in several video and film projects, including the public television documentary West Coast: Beat and Beyond, directed by Chris Felver, the Robert Kuperberg documentary on Jack Kerouac for France 5, and the movie version of On the Road, directed by Walter Salles.

A lifelong friend of peace activist Ron Kovic, Nicosia spent decades studying, working with, and writing about Vietnam veterans in their long process of healing from that war. His definitive work on that subject, Home to War: A History of the Vietnam Veterans’ Movement, was picked by the Los Angeles Times as one of the “Best Books of 2001,” and has been praised by notable Vietnam veterans like John Kerry and Oliver Stone and also by veterans of America’s later wars, such as Anthony Swofford, author of Jarhead, and leaders of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Against the War.

For much of his life, Nicosia has taught and lectured extensively. He received his B.A. and M.A. in English and American Literature (B.A. also in education), with Highest Distinction in English, from the University of Illinois at Chicago, in 1971 and 1973 respectively. In 1975 he was awarded a four-year fellowship to UCLA to get his Ph.D. in American Literature, but declined it to pursue his writing career full-time. After the publication of Memory Babe, he began lecturing extensively about Kerouac and the Beats around the world; and he taught Beat literature, writing, and journalism full-time at the University of Illinois at Chicago full-time in the mid-1980’s, as well as part-time at UCLA Extension in the early 1990’s. Among the over 100 venues he has lectured at are Columbia University in New York; Columbia College in Chicago; Carleton University in Ottawa; the New College of California in San Francisco and the University of California at Berkeley; the University of Tennessee, Knoxville; Evergreen College, Olympia Washington; Girton College of Cambridge University, the Commune in Livorno, Italy; and Sichuan University in Chengdu, China.

For more than three decades Nicosia has published book reviews and critical articles in a wide range of publications, from major newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Washington Post, and the San Francisco Chronicle, to scholarly and literary publications such as the Dictionary of Literary Biography, the Review of Contemporary Fiction, the American Book Review, Contemporary Literary Criticism, the Chiron Review, and Exquisite Corpse.

Nicosia is also widely respected as a poet, having published three volumes of poetry, beginning with Lunatics, Lovers, Poets, Vets & Bargirls, as well as hundreds of poems in the literary magazines. He has also read his poetry in hundreds of venues, both in the U.S. and abroad, including notable venues such as NYU, the Bowery Poetry Club in New York, and the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea, Wales. He is currently preparing a new book of poetry, The China Poems, for publication. Many of his poems reflect his connection with the Beat world and his friendships with key Beat figures, such as Gregory Corso, Bob Kaufman, Ted Joans, Jack Micheline, and Harold Norse. He has also edited poetry collections by Bob Kaufman, Ted Joans, and Jack Micheline.

Forthcoming books include a study of racism and the death penalty in America, Blackness Through the Land, as well as a literary biography of Ntozake Shange called Beautiful, Colored, and Alive, which will be published by St. Martin’s Press.

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