Avant-garde stars shine at first Acker Awards


ackers photo

Standing, from left: Chandra Ratner, a documentary filmmaker who is making a film on Fred Jordan; Ken Jordan; an unidentified woman; Ron Kolm and Jim Feast, award recipients in the editor section. Fred Jordan (in wheelchair), is former vice president and editor in chief at Grove Press, where he worked for more than three decades starting in 1956, and was managing editor of the company’s magazine, Evergreen Review. Authors who he worked with as editor include Samuel Beckett, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Pablo Neruda, Vaclav Havel, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Marguerite Duras, Harold Pinter, Eugene Ionesco, Tom Stoppard, Abbie Hoffman, David Dellinger, Alan Lomax, David Mamet, Monty Python, William Vollmann, Art Spiegelman, Alan Kaufman and Kathy Acker. Photo by Clayton Patterson


BY CLAYTON PATTERSON | On June 6, at the Angel Orensanz Center on the Lower East Side, the first annual Acker Awards were held.

The Acker Awards were created by myself and Alan Kaufman. Soon we expect other cities to join in. (See ackerawards.com.)

The Acker Awards are a tribute 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. It’s named after novelist Kathy Acker, who 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 award itself was created by San Francisco graphic designer Sammy Dwarfobia. Those who attended also received an awards poster created and printed by legendary San Francisco rock poster artist Chuck Sperry, as well as a box containing a piece of ephemera selected by an award recipient and given to me. The box was assembled with the help of Celina Leroy. Also critical to making the event happen was Klara Palotia. Klara was the intellectual energy that kept everything working and in motion.

We much appreciate and are honored that Angel Orensanz allowed us to use his venue to hold the New York ceremony.  Angel’s building is the Carnegie Hall of Downtown New York.

The night started off with a solo sax performance by Avram Fefer. A local Lower East Side musician, Avra also is a clarinetist, bandleader and private teacher. He recorded with The Last Poets, Archie Shepp and many others. He now has 10 CD releases as a leader or co-leader and is featured on numerous recordings as a sideman.

The night was filled with positive energy and the recipients were grateful to be given such an honor. Steve Cannon of Tribes probably summed it up best, by saying so many of the recipients were the people always giving and so seldom are they thanked or appreciated in return for their service to community. At the Acker Awards, Cannon was honored to be remembered.  He went on to say that it was highly unusual to have such a wide range of avant-garde culture covered by one award, thus bringing together in one place so many of the amazing contributors to New York City avant-garde culture.

The award was a true representation of so much that the old creative L.E.S. stood for. This night was like all the different creative factions uniting under one roof for a brief moment in time. Thank you, Steve.

There were many high points during the ceremony. Jerry Pagane was the most enthusiastic winner. He could hardly contain his joy and gave a very heartfelt thank you.

Peter Missing summarized how impossible it is for an artist to remain living and creating in this new, gentrified New York City.

Patricia Smith, a winner in the poetry section, a four-time individual champion of the National Poetry Slam, the most successful poet in the competition’s history, treated the audience by reciting one of her award-winning poetry slams.

Cynthia Carr, winner in the biography section, was a little more modest because of how overwhelmed she was feeling having recently won a Lambda Literary Award for memoir/biography and having been a finalist for the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize, awarded by Columbia Journalism School and the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University, for her book “The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz,” and now an Acker Award, as well.

The evening in New York was a memorable one, and Alan Kaufman was just as pleased with how successful the San Francisco program worked out.

This is just the beginning. There will be more to come.

The only dark spot, if this could be seen as one, was the lack of presence of Soho House. Those trying to sell Soho House to the L.E.S. were talking about how great the L.E.S. is, how they love and are so enamored with the creative L.E.S. So much in love that they did not send one representative or show any connection to the award ceremony.

The last note I got was from one of the Acker winners, who said the principals involved in Soho House had promised her they would contact her, but after they were rejected by Community Board 3 for a liquor license, she didn’t hear from them again.

It seems that Soho House feels the same way toward the old-school, creative L.E.S. as the old-school, creative L.E.S. feels toward Soho House. I see them as just another version of a “Housewives” show — all gossip and no meat. To each his own.

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