BY CLAYTON PATTERSON | As the tide of gentrification and the money it brings in its wake continues to wash away the creative culture that made the Lower East Side a world-renowned artistic center, I feel the need to somehow save, at least, an impression of what made the L.E.S. such a creative force.
Creating my L.E.S. archive gave me an overview of the community, which inspired me to produce, with the help of others, three history anthologies: “Resistance: A Radical Social and Political History of the Lower East Side,” “Captured: A Film/Video History of the Lower East Side” and “Jews: A People’s History of the Lower East Side.”
The basic idea behind the books is to pick subjects that are of interest to me. Then, the next step is to find editors and writers who are related to the subject of the book or had an interest in the material. Next, develop a general history showing where the content fits into the history of the neighborhood. Finally, try and collect as much information that defines the subject of the book.
My approach in these works was to layer the more publicly recognized between the lesser-known people. For example, when a reader is looking for an Allen Ginsberg, they can come across Ira Cohen or Lionel Ziprin. By placing everyone shoulder to shoulder, it makes everyone equal and opens the door to discovering new people, ideas and subject matter.
The next step in preserving the area’s cultural history came about in an odd way. The writers organization PEN was soliciting a list of names for a recipient of the Benjamin Bradlee Editor of the Year Award. I heard about this award, suggested Jim Feast, and started a mini-campaign pushing Jim. One of the first people I contacted was Alan Kaufman. Born and raised in the Bronx, and now living in San Francisco, Alan is a writer, and has published a number of anthologies and books. His latest book, “Drunken Angel,” is drawing comparisons to Bukowski.
Alan immediately got involved. But as we discussed campaign strategies, the idea rose to the surface: Let’s create our own award.
We both agree that one of the major components that fueled so much of the creatively in New York City and San Francisco was the cheap rent and the chance to live an inexpensive lifestyle. And now gentrification has basically killed the muse. Our world has changed, so let’s find a way to bring recognition and honor to the creative individuals who inspired so much of what N.Y.C. represents and who have made, and continue to make, a significant contribution to our avant-garde culture.
Alan suggested we call the award the Acker Awards. It was agreed.
Kathy Acker (1947-1997), born in New York City, had lived on the border of the L.E.S., was a radical thinker, had an original voice, produced novels, plays, essays, and was a performance artist.
The Acker Awards are a tribute given to members of the avant-garde arts community who have made outstanding contributions in their discipline in defiance of convention, or else served their fellow writers and artists in outstanding ways. The award’s novelist namesake, in her life and work, exemplified the risk-taking and uncompromising dedication that identifies the true avant-garde artist.
Acker Awards are granted to both living and deceased members of the New York or San Francisco communities. The cities were chosen for their historic linkage as centers for the avant-garde. In time, though, communities in other cities will be asked to participate.
The providers of the Acker Awards are Alan Kaufman (San Francisco) and Clayton Patterson (New York City). The recipients were determined through extensive discussion with members of the arts communities in both cities.
This year’s recipients will have the opportunity to both nominate and vote for future recipients of the Acker Awards. For more information go to: http://www.ackerawards.com.
The Acker Awards ceremonies will be held in New York City and San Francisco, Thurs., June 6, 7 p.m. local time. The New York event will take place at the Angel Orensanz Foundation, 172 Norfolk St., and the San Francisco event will take place at VIRACOCHA, 998 Valencia St. at 21st St., in the Mission District. Both ceremonies are open to the public and free!