The author shares a memoir of life at liberal, bohemian Bennington College in the 1960s and her friendships with Jim Carroll, Denise Levertov, Erica Jong, James Merrill, Stanley Kunitz, and other notable poets.
Having spent her sheltered high school years in Hawaii, Kathleen Norris was woefully unprepared for Bennington College in the 1960s. Confronting its culture of drugs, sex, and bohemianism, she felt like Alice down the rabbit hole, without recognizable signposts or directions. But it was also at Bennington that she discovered a great love of poetry, which carried her to New York City at a time when a new generation of poets was emerging and shaking up the establishment.Working behind the scenes on behalf of these poets was Elizabeth Kray, a pioneer in arts administration who ran the Academy of American Poets and was known for her creative programs and compassionate support of poets. Norris took a job working for Kray at the Academy. By night, she received a different kind of education at Max's Kansas City and other clubs with Andy Warhol's crowd.The Virgin of Bennington is her memoir of that time and place - of her friendships and encounters with writers, including Jim Carroll, Denise Levertov, Gerard Malanga, Erica Jong, James Merrill, James Wright, and Stanley Kunitz; of New York City, with its nightspots, taxicabs, rooftops, railroad apartments, seedy lofts, and elegant townhouses; and of her own development as a poet. It is a love letter to the city that fueled her imagination, to poetry, and to Betty Kray, who sustained her during the tenuous balancing act between naive experimentation and the responsibilities of adulthood, who convinced her that it was possible for a person to "live by her wits," and then showed Norris that she herself was capable of doing so. And it is the story of the events that led to her decision to leave New York for a small town in South Dakota with the man who would become her husband, a move she chronicled so memorably in Dakota: A Spiritual Geography.