Essential Acker: The Selected Writing of Kathy Acker

Edited by Amy Scholder and Dennis Cooper

(Grove Press)

It's January, 1968. As an unpopular war in Southeast Asia escalates; the primordial ooze of punk rock has started seeping into the streets of Detroit and New York City. Bands like MC5, The Stooges, and the New York Dolls are de-tuning for their assaults on pop psychedelia.

Meanwhile, a young woman is dancing in a burlesque show in Times Square to pay her medical bills. She's a throwaway from a home of privilege. Five years ago--as a fresh-eyed fifteen-year-old--she tripped across the conceptual writing of William Burroughs, whose frenetic Naked Lunch she'll later claim to be the most realistic world she had ever encountered.

Her name is Kathy Acker, and in four months she'll be legal to drink and writing fiction which refuses to be fiction. Mimicking the train wreck rhythms and DIY pose of the ferocious music she's hearing at The Dom, her work will play with the seedy sex of 42nd Street, almost reading like the crazed prose poems of Arthur Rimbaud.

And in 30 years she'll slip away, succumbing to breast cancer in the fall of 1997.

However, before she goes, Spin will proclaim her "America's most beloved transgressive novelist." As an on-again, off-again expatriate, she'll be hounded as a literary star in England, and--like Burroughs before her--the target of an obscenity trial in Germany. Through it all, Acker will investigate issues of identity, sex, and popular culture with a style that runs the gamut from subtle innuendo to outright plagiarism. Forever punk, Acker's writing will destroy distinctions between high and low art by incorporating, as Amy Scholder writes, "figures from voodoo, Western literature, Greek mythology, the Koran, her diaries, and the newspaper."

Five years after her death, she'll inspire her longtime friends Scholder and Dennis Cooper to sample 23 of her novels and stories into a collection called Essential Acker. The collection will astutely reintroduce her to the literary world left reeling in her wake. New readers will be equally disturbed, aroused, and obsessed as Acker was with the imploding world she lived in for 49 brief, yet glorious years.

We never saw her coming. Catch her now that she's gone. TREVOR DODGE