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Virgin Of Bennington [Hardcover]

Kathleen Norris
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Jan. 11 2002
The book her devoted readers have been waiting for. At last, New York Times bestselling author Kathleen Norris's first continuous narrative . . . a story of sex, drugs, and poetry.

After spending her sheltered high school years in Hawaii, Kathleen Norris was woefully unprepared for Bennington College in the 1960s, with its culture of drugs, sex, and bohemianism. But it was also at Bennington that she discovered her great love of poetry, which carried her to New York City at a time when a new generation of poets was emerging and shaking up the establishment.

Working at the Academy of American Poets for her beloved mentor, Elizabeth Kray, and hanging out at clubs with Andy Warhol's crowd at night, Norris found herself immersed in an exciting and emotionally turbulent new world. Her memoir of that time-of her friendships and encounters with poets, including Jim Carroll, Denise Levertov, Gerard Malanga, Erica Jong, James Merrill, Stanley Kunitz, and James Wright, as well as of her own development as a poet-is an inspiring tribute to poetry and a stunning evocation of a time and place. Her tenuous

balancing act on the bridge between naïve experimentation and indirection and the more focused responsibilities of adulthood makes for a dramatic and illuminating account of coming-of-age at a tumultuous moment in our history.

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From Publishers Weekly

In this absorbing coming-of-age memoir by the author of Dakota: A Spiritual Geography and Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, Norris appeals to every reader's struggle to achieve adulthood, both personally and professionally. She tells of her own transformation via the New York art world of the 1960s and 1970s from a homesick first-year college student to a well-known poet and writer living in South Dakota with a strong sense of literary mission. Like many of her Bennington classmates, Norris moved after college to New York City, where she felt much like "Nick Carraway [adapting]... to the dazzling but dangerous world of the East Coast." Norris landed a job as an assistant to Elizabeth Kray at the Academy of American Poets the center of the poetry world which provided her "an opportunity to attend poetry readings, night after night, for close to five years." While in New York, Norris came into contact with an entire host of famous figures, from the decadent folks at Warhol's Factory to some of the most highly respected poets of the day, like Denise Levertov, Stanley Kunitz and James Wright. While gaining an education in urbanity and sophistication that might have made another soul more cynical and self-destructive, Norris managed to maintain a certain appealing innocence and optimism, evident in her receptivity to new experiences and new people, and her hesitancy to judge others. This inner strength leads her eventually to sever her dependency on Manhattan. Norris writes with warmth, frankness and amazing vividness about formative moments and events in her life, many of which readers especially those with artistic aspirations will be able to identify with and to learn from. (Apr.) Forecast: The strong sales of Norris's earlier books pave the way for this memoir, which should sell handsomely.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Poet and nonfiction author Norris is best known for her memoirs, including Dakota: A Spiritual Geography and The Cloister Walk. In her latest autobiographical installment, she traces her coming-of-age as a writer, from her years as a na ve "outsider" at freethinking Bennington College (1965-69), through her job as a program assistant at the Academy of American Poets (AAP) in New York City, to settling into marriage and an ancestral home in North Dakota in 1974. Large portions of the book detail and eulogize the career of her mentor, Elizabeth (Betty) Kray (1916-87), longtime director of the AAP and an innovator in making poets and their work accessible to the general public. Besides being a tribute to Kray and a meditation on personal growth, Norris's memoir provides an insider's account of early AAP efforts to gain funding for promotion of a Poets-in-the-Schools Program, poetry readings, retreats for writers, and other projects. Straightforward reading, with few highs or lows, this book shifts the focus away from Norris herself and is not as involving as her previous works. Recommended as a general-interest title at academic and public libraries.
- Carol A. McAllister, Coll. Of William & Mary Lib., Williamsburg, VA
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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IN 1965, WHEN I WAS SEVENTEEN, I BECAME Nick Carraway. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars An honest. . June 30 2003
. . . with a somewhat misleading title, autobiographical "look back" at the influences which shaped the life of the author, poet Nathleen Norris.
From her extremely sheltered background to the crazed culture of drugs and sex at Bennington in the late 1960's through her own personal conversion experience, this book traces the life -- and loves -- of an extraordinary 20th century American woman.
The book will not satisfy all. The ultra-conservative will be uncomfortable with the sexual honesty expressed by the author; the far-left will be equally uncomfortable with the author's spiritual awakening and personal conversion. Those persons either too young to remember or too old to have been quite so involved in the whirlwind which "was" the late '60's and early '70's in the United States will be uncomfortable with the author's honesty about her own activities, both positive and negative.
Nevertheless, the story is in the journey -- and the journey is told with depth, with clarity, and with honesty.
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3.0 out of 5 stars False Advertising - but some good moments Sept. 8 2002
I picked up this book at the airport bookstore coming home from a vacation in the Bahamas. I was starved for something reasonably meaty to read having failed to bring enough books with me and having forgotten that they don't have Borders in Freeport. I hadn't read anything by Kathleen Norris but this book looked like an interesting, thoughtful coming of age story from the era during which I went to college.
It seemed to start out that way. The first few chapters were an enjoyable retelling of the author's experience at Bennington where she was the proverbial "fish out of water". Those chapters were well written and fun to read.
Then she went on to tell of her time as a young woman in New York City. Here the book derailed into more of a biography (hagiography might be a better description) of her mentor. If I were into the politics of the small world of modern poets, this might have been interesting. Instead, I found it laborious and not very interesting reading. Since I work in the publishing industry (although not in New York) and have occassionally been involved in business with some of the bigger publishing companies, it might have been fun to read about the politics of the publishing world. But this book was too narrow for that.
The were parts though from time to time that were interesting, and I did enjoy the first chapter. I think this book sets the reader up for disappointed by its title and what it seems to promise on the cover. But I think if the book were more appropriately described its audience would be very small.
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3.0 out of 5 stars A flawed, but illuminating memoir July 13 2002
Good people should not write memoirs. In The Virgin of Bennington, Kathleen Norris recalls Elizabeth Kray, long time doyen of the Manhattan poetry world. Norris serves as tour guide through the glittering world of arts and literature as the baby boom generation was coming of age. In a milieu of sex, drugs and rampant psychoses, Kray and the Academy of American Poets provided a stable and sober structure for the dissemination of poetry and the sustenance of poets. Norris, as an employee of the Academy, a poet, and friend and companion of Kray, takes us on a bus tour of the Manhattan arts scene during this era. The problem is that Norris' basic decency works against the narrative. In abiding by the maxim "If you can't say anything good about a person, just mention their name" Norris brings us to a party and points out all the glitterati in the room, but doesn't introduce us to them.
Beyond the name-dropping, there is much to be gotten from this book. Norris gives us a good look at the passion for poetry that was the core of Elizabeth Kray's being. She introduces us to the idea that poetry is to be heard, not read. Norris also shows us how poetry, good poetry, that is, is not genteel and delicate. It is hard-edged and difficult. It is passionate. Maybe this is why the only poetry that most contemporary Americans are exposed to is in songs. Maybe it also explains the (to me) incomprehensible popularity of hip-hop.
In sum, The Virgin of Bennington is not about virginity, nor is it (except for the brief introductory chapter) about Bennington. It is about an extraordinary person, Betty Kray, and her exceptional creativity and energy in the service of poetry. It is also, indirectly, a story about the love that one gifted artist has for her mentor.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Introducing a Virgin: Miss Marketed June 8 2002
The Virgin of Bennington by Kathleen Norris is misnamed, mismarketed and misleading to potential readers. Described as a memoir beginning at Bennington college and moving on to her first years in New York, the book focuses much less on Norris's coming of age than it does on the events before, during and after her friendship with Betty Kray, the executive director of the Academy of American Poets.
The primary fault with the book does not lie with the author, who admits at the end of the first chapter that the story begins with "an untidy but cheerful job interview" at the end of her college years. It lies instead with whoever decided to sensationalize what could be described as a quiet but interesting book of tribute to a woman who devoted herself to poets and poetry. Norris's prose is clear and easy to read. But her description of her brushes with famous and not-so-famous poets in New York in the 1970's are not that interesting, as the encounters themselves tend to be of the mundane variety. The true kernel of this book is Norris's love and admiration for Elizabeth Kray, which is only briefly alluded to on the book's cover. In sum, a bit of a disappointment.
For a true coming-of-age memoir, check out Susanna Kaysen's Girl Interrupted or the more recent humorously written Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Was the title picked by someone who had read the book?
A valuable history of several decades of poetry and "poetry politics" in the United States. As many other reviewers have noted, the title has little connection, however, to the... Read more
Published on Dec 24 2003 by g3
2.0 out of 5 stars A Disappointment
This book has been poorly reviewed by the professional reviewers, and I believe Kathleen Norris has been badly advised by her editor. Read more
Published on April 23 2002 by Jerry Bakker
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful memories, a good read.
Good book to read with a cup of coffee. I would like a sequel please! Perhaps a more detailed look at life after having moved to South Dakota? Just a thought....
Published on April 16 2002 by "ihawke88"
5.0 out of 5 stars A great biography of Betty Kray
If you're looking for a juicy read, this isn't it. If you're looking for more about the author Kathleen Norris, this will provide you with new information about her, but only about... Read more
Published on April 15 2002 by Cara Lynn
2.0 out of 5 stars A Disappointment
The Virgin of Bennington by Kathleen Norris--A Disappointment.
I've read much of the acclaimed fiction produced by the "stars" of Bennington College's literary programs,... Read more
Published on April 12 2002
2.0 out of 5 stars Loses momentum
This is less a memoir than two separate books that don't fit together well as one. The opening section, about Norris' feelings of marginality as she enters Bennington and then... Read more
Published on March 9 2002
1.0 out of 5 stars False advertising
Don't be misled by the promotion: this book is only 20% coming-of-age memoir. (Although, given how dislikable the author's youthful self is - charmlessly naive, blandly... Read more
Published on Nov. 25 2001 by Eric Krupin
5.0 out of 5 stars A Change of Pace for Norris Fans
Some fans of Kathleen Norris will no doubt be disappointed in this book. It is not brimming with one spiritual insight after another, unlike her previous nonfiction work. Read more
Published on Sept. 27 2001
3.0 out of 5 stars An observer of life both pleases and disappoints
The key to this book is in the first line--"I became Nick Carraway." Norris does indeed record life around her as though she is observing it, and her role in it, from a... Read more
Published on Aug. 23 2001 by D. L. Fecteau
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