For nearly 50 years, Marin County writer Gerald Nicosia has participated in and documented the Bay Area Beat Generation that began with Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.
Nicosia is known in Beat circles for both his in-depth Kerouac biography, Memory Babe—in which he interviewed 300 people across the continent—and his own poetry. Now, Nicosia combines both of those talents in his new collection, Beat Scrapbook, in which he presents more than 40 poetic profiles and vignettes about the people who influenced him and who he befriended in his life.
“When I started working on Memory Babe in 1977, I ended up quite a bit in San Francisco,” Nicosia says. “That’s when I discovered the literary community out here. You could imbibe Beat history just by ordering a cappuccino and sitting down in Caffe Trieste.”
The Chicago native moved to the Bay Area in 1979 and now lives in Marin County. In the years since he relocated, he developed friendships with several literary figures whom he writes about in Beat Scrapbook.
“It was a very formative experience for me,” Nicosia says of his time among fellow Beat and post-Beat writers like Jack Micheline and Harold Norse. “They were all very real people, genuine people; and they were using the material from their ordinary lives for their poems and writing, and that idea opened a lot of doors for me.”
Some poems in Beat Scrapbook pay homage to famous Beat writers like Kerouac, whom Nicosia never met. Other poems shed light on Beat writers few have heard of, such as Tony Scibella, Jack Mueller and Reginald Lockett; all of whom Nicosia says were dedicated poets or writers until the day they died.
“I came to love a lot of these people, and a lot of these poems were written as memorials when they died, but not all,” Nicosia says. “The poems were written over a long period, and at some point I realized there was a collection here.”
There are also a number of poems based in Marin, such as the poem about Nicosia seeing Gary Snyder read at the Mill Valley Library when Snyder was about to turn 90, as well as poems about the old Mill Valley Book Depot, which used to be a Beat hangout.
“You know, Kerouac and Gary Snyder lived together in a little cottage on Montford Avenue in Mill Valley. The foundation is still there,” Nicosia says. “A lot of people don’t know that. They don’t know that Alan Watts lived in a houseboat in Sausalito; they don’t know these local connections.”
As a whole, Beat Scrapbook is a time capsule that gives readers Nicosia’s inside perspective on the Beat Generation’s countercultural contributions and its supportive community.
“One of the great things the Beats taught me is that community is so important for writers,” Nicosia says. “In some sense, Beat Scrapbook is a representation in print of that community, which is such an important legacy.”