Bill Berkson was a poet, art critic, bon vivant, and joyful participant in the best of postwar and bohemian American culture. Since When gathers the ephemera of a life well lived, a collage of bold-face names, parties, exhibitions, and literary history from a man who could write "of [Truman Capote's Black and White] ball, which I attended as my mother's escort, I have little recollection" and reminisce about imagining himself as a character from Tolstoy while tripping on acid at Woodstock. Gentle, witty, and eternally generous, this is Bill Berkson, and a particular moment in American history, at its best.
Bill Berkson collaborated with many artists and writers, including Alex Katz, Philip Guston, and Frank O'Hara, and his criticism appeared in ARTnews, Art in America, and elsewhere. Formerly a professor of liberal arts at the San Francisco Art Institute, he was born in New York in 1939. He died in June 2016.
To celebrate the release of his memoir, Since When: A Memoir In Pieces, SFAI and City Lights Books will be hosting an event featuring talks by Constance Lewallen, Gordon Knox, Jonathan Lewallen, Siobhan Mora-Lopez, Amanda Eicher, Doug Hall, Gay Outlaw, and Mac McGinness.
Critical Acclaim for Since When: A Memoir in Pieces
"Imagine an ideal friend, someone of good character, honorable, congenial, smart, well-read, judicious, articulate, self-aware, open-minded, and socially graceful, a gifted writer at the center of New York’s and the Bay Area’s artistic communities for sixty years. That ideal friend is Bill Berkson, and in this marvelous book he tells the true and fascinating story of his life and times." —Ron Padgett
"Since When captures the throbbing zeitgeist of a NYC/California experimental poetry/art rhizome and brims with dazzling encounters and glamorous portraiture of some of the best, most talented minds, including the author’s own parents and their coterie. Enthralling conversation, quotation, and astute commentary: Judy Garland! Ezra Pound! Greta Garbo! Frank O’Hara! Joan Mitchell! Amiri Baraka! Poet and art critic Bill Berkson spanned high and low: uptown/downtown zones of radical art mind. The Bohemian, dandyish, psychedelic, and the troubling hegemonic follies of a USA growing old because it 'entered the twentieth century first’ (G. Stein) all romp in here. Bill had a shining boyish inquisitiveness, phenomenal memory, and a panoramic intelligence. Read this and eat your heart out for the belletristic, wild, and intimate days of the New York School. Entertaining—you feel you are in a very glamorous movie—but never shallow, this is serious history, required reading." —Anne Waldman
"It’s tough to write a blurb about one of the most effortlessly cool and genuinely wise people you’ve ever met, especially when they already said it best with their high school yearbook quote: 'Plato or comic books, I’m versatile.’ That was Bill, all the way. As his student, the main theme was, 'Be kind, be clear, and a little humor goes a long way,’ a message that impacted our class deeply and continues to do so to this very day. This memoir is a celebration of his life and friends as told by Bill Himself, in that gentle and knowing voice, tales of getting karate chopped at by Norman Mailer, drinking with Joan Mitchell, long nights with Frank O’Hara, Elaine de Kooning, and Amiri Baraka, to name a few. Essential reading for any and all!" —Devendra Banhart
“Bill was a still point in a turning world. He made grace and kindness, careful intelligence and everyday happiness, seem properties of a social commons—where you found yourself, when around him, and missed, when not. This beautiful book immortalizes that spell.” —Peter Schjeldahl