Kathy Acker, Icon


In today’s New York Times Book Review, there’s a great essay by Cheryl Strayed responding to the prompt “Is This a Golden Age for Woman Essayists?” She rightly tears the question to shreds. And yet, I’ll admit it. I tend to gravitate towards writers who are women, both in terms of what I read and who I befriend.

An uncanny number of them revere Kathy Acker, and it’s common to share coming- to-Jesus stories about the first time we read her work. A writer friend of mine who falls into this camp confessed to me that she’s sick of the ubiquity, but I don’t feel that way. A picture of a pencil embossed with WHAT WOULD KATHY ACKER DO? whizzed by on my Twitter feed the other day, and I was delighted by it. I wanted to buy a pack of those pencils and pass them out. I especially wanted to send some to Kate Zambreno, whose excerpted essay about Kathy Acker caught my eye when it recently appeared briefly online.

So that I could read the piece in full, I got my hands on the book it appears in, ICON, a collection of original essays out this month in which authors explore celebrities with whom they are fascinated. I read Zambreno’s Acker essay three times over. “DEAR KATHY,” Zambreno addresses a series of letters as she searches for a way to survive in New York City as an artist. Among other things, Zambreno wrestles with the relationship of women writers to each other, expressing gladness that she never met Acker, didn’t have to feel weird about any interactions they might have had.  She also articulates the appeal of Acker’s work, describing the power of her image and the way her writing problematizes the notion of a coherent self that an image can imply. As the week wore on, I found myself pulling down Acker’s books from my shelves, dipping in and out of them, staring at the author photos, googling her name.

That’s how I found this essay by Chris Kraus on The Believer about the collection of emails between Acker and the media theorist McKenzie Wark posthumously published by Semiotexte. It’s juicy stuff for any Acker fan, and a reminder that icons are people too.

Zoe Zolbrod is the author of the award-winning memoir The Telling and the novel Currency. Her essays have appeared in places such as Salon, The Guardian, the Manifest Station, and The Rumpus, where she served as the Sunday co-editor. More from this author →