Monday, June 9, 2014

Aram Saroyan's The Street: 40th Commemorative Edition

There aren't that many good books written in the sixties about what it was like to be young in the sixties. Mostly the sixties classics were written by older writers. Aram Saroyan, on the other hand, was a handsome, kind of carefree kid growing up in the golden age of self-invention and self-intention. In other words, our illusory moment of sex, drugs and rock and roll.

Well, actually, it wasn't that simple -- it never is.  Our era was rife with great big "ifs", wonderments about whether we'd see the next day. It was a tangential time. An experimental time, full of twists and turns, sudden appointments with destiny and great disappointments with the older generation that opposed us.

But I do believe, as I was coming of age at the same time Aram was, and getting into some of the same scrapes that this was an exceptional time to be alive. We were both were Poets in the Schools, courtesy in part due to Richard Nixon, believe it or not, supporting national arts programs.

Some of the schools we were sent to were very conservative and I remember some of my poems being censored. I can also remember Maurice Sendak's In The Night Kitchen being censored by librarians who put cotton diapers over Mickey's privates! By some happenstance miracle, I became an editor and got to publish Aram's novel The Street, which took off immediately, and also Maurice Sendak's winsome picture book with Ruth Krauss, Somebody Else's Nut Tree, one of the first quality paperbacks for kids to be sold in independent bookstores in America.

There was a revolution in bookselling going on too, and we were a part of it. Aram edited and published books, wrote essays and published poems in The New York Times. It was a delirious moment to be alive if you were writing, publishing, making music, weaving, throwing pots, fashioning leather clothes, celebrating ethnicity, making low budget films, or just plain being alive!

It was a weird time to be alive as well, for on the one hand there was rampant free speech, casual nudity, loud music, wild parties, inventive poetry and song -- and on the other hand there were assassinations, overdoses, violence in the street (a catchphrase at the time). Everything in the sixties was bubbling in the same great cauldron of unrest. In truth, it was a renaissance, and we haven't seen its like, or even come close to it, in 40 years. And it all happened, quite frankly, on the street!

Which is why the novel The Street is so important. This is the 40th year since it was published, it is still around being read, and that makes it a classic. This new edition is a facsimile of the original published in 1974 by The Bookstore Press. If  you want to know why this novel, more than others, rings so true  read The Street. There is a fresh permanence in the narration that is as singular as Aram's famous one-word poems. He speaks not only to us, but for us, for those of us who weathered the storm. And further, this novel is touching those Xers and Yers who today are asking us this question, "What was it really like?"


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