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Bill Berkson’s A Frank O’Hara Notebook

September 26, 2019 @ 7:30 pm - 9:00 pm PDT


Jordan Kantor and Connie Lewallen discuss the life and work of Bill Berkson and his book A Frank O’Hara Notebook.

About Bill Berkson

Born in New York City on August 30, 1939, William Craig Berkson studied at Brown University, Columbia University, the New School for Social Research, and New York University’s Institute for Fine Arts.

During the 1960s, Berkson took on editorial roles at ARTNewsArts, and the Museum of Modern Art. He also served as the associate producer of a public television art program and taught literature and writing courses at the New School and Yale University.

In 1970, Berkson moved to Northern California, where he began editing and publishing poetry books and magazines under the Big Sky imprint. He also taught in the California Poets in the Schools program.

Berkson soon returned to regularly writing art criticism, contributing to publications such as American Craft, Aperture, Artforum, Art in America, Art on Paper, Modern Painters, and others. In 1984, he began teaching art history and poetry at the San Francisco Art Institute—where he also directed the Letters and Science and public lectures programs—until 2008.

Berkson’s honors include two Fund for Poetry Awards, the San Francisco Bay Guardian’s Goldie Award for Literature, and a Poets Foundation Grant, along with fellowships from the Briarcombe Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, and Yaddo. He divided his time between New York City and San Francisco. Berkson died on June 16, 2016.

About A Frank O’Hara Notebook

A fascinating account of Frank O’Hara in the prime of his creative life in New York, told through notes, images, and poems by his friend Bill Berkson.

Poet and art critic Bill Berkson (1939-2016) had planned for many years to write a lengthy study on his friend and mentor Frank O’Hara (1926-1966) but died with the project still incomplete. This volume reproduces the sketchbook in which Berkson gathered notes, images, and poems about O’Hara, focusing on his memories of their collaborations in New York, from their initial meeting in 1960 to O’Hara’s untimely death in 1966. A Frank O’Hara Notebook offers a fascinating first-person account of the heyday of O’Hara’s creative life, and memorably sketches the heady social milieus of the poetry and art worlds of New York that O’Hara inhabited in the early 1960s. In addition to an exact-scale photographic reproduction of Berkson’s handwritten notebook, this volume includes a typesetting of Berkson’s notes and two texts on O’Hara derived from these notes published under Berkson’s direction, titled “A Frank O’Hara File” and “What Frank O’Hara Was Like.” The book shows the evolution of Berkson’s ideas from notes to fragmentary phrases and sentences into finished pieces of writing. Ultimately, this collection reveals as much about Berkson’s writing practice as it does about his famous subject and friend.

The book’s translation of Berkson’s handwritten notes and collaged material into type honors the idiosyncratic format of Berkson’s handwritten text, precisely following the line breaks, capitalizations, and drawn graphic elements in the holograph. The book also includes an introduction by fellow New York School poet Ron Padgett and an afterword by Berkson’s wife, curator Constance Lewallen.



September 26, 2019
7:30 pm - 9:00 pm PDT
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