Gerald Nicosia

Biographer, historian, playwright, and novelist

Born and schooled in Chicago, Gerald Nicosia is a biographer, historian, playwright, 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, William Burroughs, Bruce Cook, and Allen Ginsberg, who called it a “great book.” 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 edited major poetry collections by both Bob Kaufman (Cranial Guitar) and Ted Joans (Teducation). He was also involved in several video and film projects, including the public television documentary West Coast: Beat and Beyond, directed by Chris Felver, 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. Among his other books on a Beat theme, he has published Jan Kerouac: A Life in Memory and One and Only: the Untold Story of On the Road. He has taught Beat literature, the Sixties, and the Vietnam War literally around the world, including in China, where he adopted his daughter Wu Ji. His experiences in China have found their way into a forthcoming book of poetry, Night Train to Shanghai, which will be published by Creative Arts in 2013. He is also working on a book about racism and the death penalty in America, Blackness Through the Land, as well as a biography of Ntozake Shange called Beautiful, Colored, and Alive, which will be published by St. Martin’s Press. He spoke at the First International Beat Conference in the Netherlands, September 5-7, 2012; and most recently, he organized and MC-ed a marathon Beat poetry reading at Bob Weir’s Sweetwater Music Hall in Mill Valley, California, on January 8, which went on for almost four hours with over twenty poets and musicians.

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