Joyce Glassman Johnson


Born 1935

Beat Generation Muse & Memoirist

It is New Years Eve. Joyce Glassman is attending a party with her friends Elise Cowen and Allen Ginsberg at the home of Lucien Carr:

Mostly Lucien talked on and on with Allen about the past, events that had happened twelve years ago. Stories about the West End, and an apartment on 115th Street, and a girl called Edie Parker, and Joan Burroughs, the woman who had died. It was as if part of Lucien had gotten stuck back there and eternally lost and he'd ended up becoming what he was not supposed to be. At midnight some people down in the street blew whistles. It was 1957.(Minor Characters, Joyce Johnson)

Johnson wrote a memoir of her experiences with the Beat Generation personalities, especially her affair with Kerouac. Minor Characters which won a National Book Critics Circle Award is subtitled "A Young Woman's Coming-of-Age in the Beat Orbit of Jack Kerouac." Johnson was 21 years old, a Barnard college graduate working in the New York publishing industry when she met Jack Kerouac. The so-called "king of the Beats" was 13 years older.

Johnson knew Allen Ginsberg through a college friend who had dated Ginsberg. It was Ginsberg who fixed Johnson up with Kerouac in January 1957. A few months after their affair began, Kerouac's life would radically change as a result of the publication of his second novel, On The Road.

Johnson's memoir is a sensitive recollection of the Beat Generation personalities, men and women. Minor Characters is also another take on how women were to fit in to the "New Vision" as conceived by the early Beat philosophers (Burroughs, Ginsberg, Kerouac, Carr). A period, that already was being viewed nostalgically by Lucian Carr some 15 years later.

Johnson passed through the Beat vortex as it was melting away. She was less traumatized and less scarred then say Joan Vollmer Burroughs or Carolyn Cassady. But she also tells of others who were not able to get through the maze.

There is Elise Cowen's story. Elise was Joyce's college friend, who had dated Ginsberg. Johnson tells the sad tale of her friend who drifted around the New York and San Francisco scenes, wrote poetry, and eventually flung herself through a closed window and fell to her death, out of the vortex.

The role of women in the Beat vortex continues to be examined. Joyce Johnson is an important contributor to that study.

Joyce Johnson

Pitching Record YEAR TEAM ERA W L IP ER BB K 1983 Beats 2.78 3 9 68 21 23 40 1984 Beats 3.44 19 12 254 97 81 164 1985 Beats 3.55 5 2 114 45 41 131 1987 Beats 4.02 0 5 47 21 26 2 1991 Beats 3.21 11 12 219 78 103 132 1992 Beats 3.91 13 11 191 83 74 111 1993 Beats 3.35 11 9 212 79 89 134 1994 Beats 4.09 9 13 187 85 79 115 1995 Beats 2.48 12 11 105 29 28 59 1996 Beats 2.63 6 10 113 33 36 64 10 Seasons 3.40 89 94 1510 571 580 952

I see the girl Joyce Glassman, twenty-two, with her hair hanging down below her shoulders, all in black, like Masha in The Seagull-- black stockings, black shirt, black sweater-- but unlike Masha, she's not in mourning for her life. How could she have been, with her seat at the table in the exact center of the universe, that midnight place where so much is converging, the only place in America that's alive? As a female, she's not quite part of this convergence. A fact she ignores, sitting by in her excitement as the voices of the men, always the men, passionately rise and fall and their beer glasses collect and the smoke of their cigarettes rises toward the ceiling and the dead culture is surely being wakened. Merely being here, she tells herself is enough.


I'm a forty-seven-year-old woman with a permanent sense of impermanence. If time were like a passage of music, you could keep going back to it till you got it right.

--Joyce Johnson, Minor Characters

1997 Dharma Beats Roster

1997 Joyce Johnson Cosmic Player Plate
Published: December 20, 1996

© 1996, 1997 by the Cosmic Baseball Association