Virgin Of Bennington Hardcover – Jan 11 2002
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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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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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.
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.
Most recent customer reviews
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 morePublished on Dec 24 2003 by g3 from the UP
This book has been poorly reviewed by the professional reviewers, and I believe Kathleen Norris has been badly advised by her editor. Read morePublished on April 23 2002 by Jerry Bakker
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
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 morePublished on April 15 2002 by Cara Lynn
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
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 morePublished on March 9 2002
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 morePublished on Nov. 25 2001 by Eric Krupin
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 morePublished on Sept. 27 2001
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