Patti Smith | Harold Washington Library Center, auditorium | Literary Events | Chicago Reader

Patti Smith Member Picks Free Recommended Critics' Picks

When: Sun., Feb. 21, 2 p.m. 2010

Smith reads from Just Kids, a memoir of her life in New York with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe in the late 60s and 70s. "I was born on a Monday, in the North Side of Chicago, during the great blizzard of 1946," writes Patti Smith in Just Kids (Ecco), her remarkable new memoir. The family left Logan Square and eventually settled in New Jersey, where Smith apparently suffered through just about every feverish illness a kid can get. But she also had a feverish imagination, and she knew that Jersey wasn't the place where she could fulfill her dreams. After getting pregnant in her teens and giving the baby up for adoption, she vowed to become an artist, and at 19 she packed a few clothes and a worn copy of Rimbaud's Illuminations into a tiny suitcase and headed for New York City. There she met a shy, handsome young man with artistic aspirations of his own. Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe would become lovers and mutual muses. They struggled mightily early on, dirt poor and living in dumps, Smith working in bookstores and writing for music magazines like Crawdaddy, Mapplethorpe street hustling when he couldn't get moving jobs. But they scored a room at the Hotel Chelsea (which Smith describes as "like a dollhouse in the Twilight Zone"), and a series of fortuitous meetings helped put them on their respective paths to fame--Smith as a punk rock poet, Mapplethorpe as a photographer. Smith received encouragement from the likes of William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, and Gregory Corso, while Mapplethorpe enjoyed the patronage of wealthy art collectors (who often wanted more from him than his art). The romance soured as Smith's social circle widened and Mapplethorpe struggled with his artistic vision and sexuality, but they remained each other's ardent supporters until the day Mapplethorpe died of AIDS in 1989. The book has an amazing cast of secondary characters: Janis Joplin, Sam Shepard, Todd Rundgren, Johnny Winter, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Carroll, Tom Verlaine, Richard Hell--the list goes on and on. Smith also plays a sold-out show on Sat 5/20 at Park West as part of Hopefest; see the List in Music. --Jerome Ludwig


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