Featured on the Most Anticipated lists for Town & Country, Book Riot, Lit Hub, Publishers Weekly, Autostraddle, and Lambda Literary.
“It’s shocking to learn that this is McBride’s first book...Eat Your Mind does everything a good biography should and more” —Los Angeles Times
The first full-scale authorized biography of the pioneering experimental novelist Kathy Acker, one of the most original and controversial figures in 20th-century American literature
“Twenty-five years after her death, Acker is having a resurgence.” —The New York Times
Kathy Acker (1947–1997) was a rare and almost inconceivable thing: a celebrity experimental writer. Twenty-five years after her death, she remains one of the most original, shocking, and controversial artists of her era. The author of visionary, transgressive novels like Blood and Guts in High School; Empire of the Senseless; and Pussy, King of Pirates, Acker wrote obsessively about the treachery of love, the limitations of language, and the possibility of revolution.
She was notorious for her methods—collaging together texts stolen from other writers with her own diaries, sexual fantasies, and blunt political critiques—as well as her appearance. With her punkish hairstyles, tattoos, and couture outfits she looked like no other writer before or after. Her work was exceptionally prescient, taking up complicated conversations about gender, sex, capitalism, and colonialism that continue today.
Acker’s life was as unruly and radical as her writing. Raised in a privileged but oppressive Upper East Side Jewish family, she turned her back on that world as soon as she could, seeking a life of romantic and intellectual adventure that led her to, and through, many of the most thrilling avant-garde and countercultural moments in America: the births of conceptual art and experimental music; the poetry wars of the 60s and 70s; the mainstreaming of hardcore porn; No Wave cinema and New Narrative writing; Riot grrls, biker chicks, cyberpunks. As this definitive biography shows, Acker was not just a singular writer, she was also a titanic cultural force who tied together disparate movements in literature, art, music, theatre, and film.
A feat of literary biography, Eat Your Mind is the first full-scale, authorized life of Acker. Drawing on exclusive interviews with hundreds of Acker’s intimates as well as her private journals, correspondence, and early drafts of her work, acclaimed journalist and critic Jason McBride offers a thrilling account and a long overdue reassessment of a misunderstood genius and revolutionary artist.
Critic McBride investigates novelist Kathy Acker's fiery personality and artistic inspiration in this comprehensive biography. McBride shows how Acker, who died in 1997, became a beloved name in experimental writing communities for her fragmentary novels depicting sexual promiscuity, queerness, prostitution, trauma, and incest. McBride finds it to be more than sensationalism: "For all of her books' vivid vulgarity, they asked fundamental questions. How do I cope with the pain of being unloved? What is good art? What is art good for? What knowledge exists outside our conscious minds?" Five sections, starting at Acker's birth in Manhattan in 1947 and ending at her funeral, cover about a decade each and examine the changes and developments in Acker's personal and professional lives. Though McBride accepts that certain details of Acker's biography must be "enclosed in quotation marks" because of her belief that "binary divisions between fantasy and reality... are false"), he manages to bring together her diaries, novels, poems, plays, and letters with reminiscences from her friends, lovers, and collaborators for a full portrait of her life. To McBride, inconsistencies or contradictions are revealing: "She didn't seek to be solved. Holes are escape routes, openings. They lead to unknown possibilities." The result is an excellent addition to American literary history.