Author News and Book Reports
Patti Smith takes her National Book Award bows in Miami
Founder and director of the University of Wynwood, a 'fake' university set up to promote poetry events in Miami, P. Scott Cunningham introduced legendary poet/author and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame singer/songwriter Patti Smith at the 2010 Miami Book Fair International two nights after she had won the 2010 National Book Award for her memoir Just Kids (Ecco Reprint Edition; November, 2010) about her life with famous photographer/artist Robert Mapplethorpe. Reading various passages from her book, Smith began with a portrayal of Mapplethorpe's childhood and her own coming of age in South Jersey, where she fell in love with the dead poet Arthur Rimbaud and at the age of sixteen left home to find a new life in New York City in 1967, whereupon, after a brief period of homelessness and hunger, she met Robert Mapplethorpe, shared an apartment in Brooklyn and a dream of being an artist with him. Smith then picked up her guitar and sang Grateful from her Gung Ho album first released in 2000 by Arista Records. Mixing anecdotes and commentary with her reading, Smith returned to her award-winning memoir to describe life in a tiny room at the now-famous hotel frequented by artists, The Chelsea Hotel where she and Mapplethorpe moved to in 1969, encountering many musicians, such as Grace Slick and Jimi Hendrix on their way to Woodstock, and other famous people, including a close encounter in an elevator with Muhammad Ali, before moving to the larger Room 204 next door to the room where Dylan Thomas wrote his last words. Smith then regaled the audience with the story of meeting Allen Ginsberg at the Horn & Hardart Automat, and the inspiring Christmas 1969 with Mapplethorpe, contemplating the end of the decade and the beginning of the 1970'2, and declaring 'It's our decade.' Commenting on the strife of the period, Smith then sang My Blakean Year from her 2004 release on the Sony label, Trampin'. Smith then read a passage, which she dedicated to Lenny Kaye, the lead guitarist in her band, The Patti Smith Group, describing the first time she saw a group called Television, featuring Tom Verlaine, at the famous New York rock and roll club CBGB's where many rockers found fame, if not fortune. After taking questions from the audience on Mapplethorpe's death in 1989 at the age of 43; the distinctions between her poetry, prose, and music lyrics; her reflections on CBGB's, Tom Verlaine, and fame; and whether a poet can make good poetry from politics, Smith wrapped her Miami appearance with the backstory of how she came to write lyrics to her biggest hit song from a Bruce Springsteen while waiting for a phone call and shared the thrill of her sudden fame in the summer of 1978 with Mapplethorpe, before singing (a capella, no less) the song that made her famous, Because The Night, from her Easter album originally released in March, 1978, on the Arista Records label.