National Book Award winner Just Kids is a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle prize.
Just Kids describes Patti Smith's evolution as an artist and relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe. Her language though sparse is elegant and tasteful.
She was a sickly child enchanted by reading, which fired her imagination and the urge to express herself. She resented being female until she read Little Women. Inspired by the character of Jo, she decided she would write a book. A visit to the Museum of Art in Philadelphia transformed her. and she dreamt of meeting an artist to love, support, and work side by side with.
She was tall, skinny and according to her father, wasnÂ’t attractive enough to find a husband. She attended Glassboro State Teachers College but an unplanned pregnancy forced her to drop out.
After placing her child for adoption and being laid off from a minimum wage job, she decided to go to New York. She had friends studying at Pratt Institute and hoped she find work at a bookstore. Unbeknownst to her, the friends had moved so she lived on the streets, going hungry until she was hired as a cashier in the ethnic jewelry section of BrentanoÂ’s uptown store. Robert Mapplethorpe purchased a piece she was fond of and later rescued her from a bad date.
Together they became friends, lovers, and most importantly artists. Patti encouraged him to take photographs, and he encouraged her to read her poetry to audiences. They made a pact to never leave each other which they kept, even after Mapplethorpe acknowledged his homosexuality.
Their alliance included friendships with Janis Joplin, Jim Carroll, Allen Ginsberg, and Todd Rundgren.Â Sam Shepard bought her the guitar she wrote most of her songs on. She lived with Allen Lanier, who would become the keyboard player for the Blue Oyster Cult.
MapplethorpeÂ’s development as an artist gained traction after he began taking photographs with a Polaroid camera. Initially his primary subjects were celebrities, artists, socialites as well as the album cover for Horses. Eventually, he began documenting the gay S & M scene provoking outcries of obscenity.
In 1986 Mapplethorpe was diagnosed with AIDS. On March 8, 1989 he asked Patti to write their story. He died the next day. Thankfully she kept her promise.
Just Kids documents a period of social change and a unique relationship. The National Book Critics Circle prizeÂ will be decided March 10.
Their story is for anyone who likes biographies, art, or music and especially those who fancy themselves creative.