James C. Hormel LGBTQIA Center

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A bit About Abbott

Poster/Publicity, 1977
Steve Abbott (1943-1992) was a poet, critic, editor, novelist and artist. He holds a unique place in San Francisco's literary world as one of the founding editors of the bay area's newsletter Poetry Flash and as the editor of the literary journal Soup. He counted among his friends Dennis Cooper, Aaron Shurin, Kevin Killian and Allen Ginsberg.

Abbott was raised in Lincoln, Nebraska, graduated from the University of Nebraska, and attended Emory University. In the mid-1960s, he was involved with the Students for a Democratic Society. And, in 1968, he declared himself a conscientious objector.

Soup cover
He married Barbara Binder in February 1969 and came out publicly later the same year. Their daughter, Alysia, was born in December 1970. Tragically, in August 1973, Barbara was killed in an automobile accident. The following year, Steve and Alysia moved to San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district, where Steve became involved with the literary scene.

Abbott was a frequent contributor to The Advocate, The Sentinel, and the Bay Area Reporter. He participated in many poetry readings, and, in 1981, he organized the Left Write conference. Steve was also a respected critic and the first to use the term "new narrative" to describe the work of Bruce Boone and Robert Gluck.

Left Write! transcripts
The Steve Abbott Papers (GLC 77) contain correspondence, subject files, works by Abbott, publications and writing by others, photographs, and computer disks. The correspondence includes some letters to family members, friends, poets and writers, and publishers. Of particular interest are the letters to his wife Barbara which include an illustrated letter written to their daughter Alysia. Notable correspondents include Dennis Cooper, Aaron Shurin, and Allen Ginsberg.

Clipping regarding draft trial
The subject files contain materials gathered about and documenting Abbott's different interests. Of note are the conscientious objector materials and clippings, reviews of some of Abbott's published work, Abbott's posters and publicity for readings.

Abbott's work forms the largest part of the collection. It includes draft, manuscript and final printed copies of his poetry, stories, essays, and books. Wrecked Hearts, The Lives of the Poets, Holy Terror, View Askew, Holy Titclamps, and Stretching the Agape Bra are all represented in the collection. There is also some artwork in the form of cartoon/comics, drawings, and collage.

His writing covers a variety of subjects from the Watts riots in Los Angeles to the future of gay culture in the years following the AIDS crisis. My favorite piece is "The Touching Ballad of Princess Lulu Magoo," a handmade book, illustrated and written by Abbott for his daughter Alysia. The drawings are beautiful and mounted on pages torn and stained to simulate aged vellum. The fable is a lovely example of Abbott's innocent approach to complex concepts.

Page from The Touching Ballad of Princess Lulu Magoo
As a writer, critic, editor, artist, conscientious objector, bisexual husband, gay father and single parent, Steve Abbott could have found himself narrowly delineated by labels. Fortunately for us, he colored outside the lines and defined his own artistic and intellectual landscape.

Abbott died of complications due to AIDS on December 2, 1992. His novel The Lizard Club was published posthumously.

Last year, W.W. Norton and Company published Alysia Abbott's Fairyland: a Memoir of My Father (New York). The memoir draws in part from the Abbott Papers (at the library) and from his journals (which are retained by his daughter). Her website www.steveabbott.org contains a wealth of interesting archival material about his life and their relationship.

If you'd like to find out more about Steve Abbott, please come take a look at the Steve Abbott Papers (GLC 77) which are available through the San Francisco History Center, 6th floor, Main Library. The photographs are available during the hours for the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection.

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