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Patti Smith won the National Book Award for Nonfiction this past week for her memoir "Just Kids," which recounts her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe in the '60s and '70s. But "Just Kids" is far from her first flirtation with the written word.
Smith has actually published numerous books of poetry. And unlike other successful rock stars who have stumbled awkwardly into verse (Jewel and Billy Corgan come to mind), Smith's work reflects that she was a poet first, and that her love affair with the art runs deep.
It was the summer Coltrane died, the summer of love and riots, and the summer when a chance encounter in Brooklyn led two young people on a path of art, devotion, and initiation.
Patti Smith would evolve as a poet and performer, and Robert Mapplethorpe would direct his highly provocative style toward photography. Bound in innocence and enthusiasm, they traversed the city from Coney Island to Forty-second Street, and eventually to the celebrated round table of Max's Kansas City. It was a time of heightened awareness, when the worlds of poetry, rock and roll, art, and sexual politics were colliding and exploding. Just Kids begins as a love story and ends as an elegy. It serves as a salute to New York City during the late sixties and seventies.
From Althouse: Accepting the National Book Award to applause and cheers, Ms. Smith — clearly the favorite of the night — choked up as she recalled her days as a clerk in the Scribner bookstore as a young woman.
“I dreamed of having a book of my own, of writing one that I could put on a shelf,” she said. “Please, no matter how we advance technologically, please don’t abandon the book. There is nothing in our material world more beautiful than the book.”