Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Somerville Writer Steven Ford Brown: Explores the Punks Among the Brahmins

Somerville Writer Steven Ford Brown: Explore the Punks Among the Brahmin

By Doug Holder

I got an email from Somerville writer Steven Ford Brown recently inquiring about an alternative school in Cambridge in the 70’s called “ Trout Fishing in America” the title of a Richard Brautigan novel. I wondered why Brown was interested in such a piece of arcane information. Brown, who is currently in Barcelona, emailed me back that he recently edited a book on the work of American poet John Beecher, a political activist and great nephew of Harriet Beecher Stowe. Brown wrote: “As far as the Richard Brautigan and what I am up to, I have been working on a book for a long time: ‘Punks Among the Brahmin: A Cultural, Political and Social History.’ It is about change in Boston and Cambridge. How the cities moved from small conservative Irish Catholic enclaves to what is seen as some of the more liberal cities in America.

Brown has decidedly eclectic interests and his book will include the communes, the alternative schools, the head shops, the gay and feminist bookstore, the music venues, the alternative presses, newspapers, and the literary small presses form 1950 to 1980. Brown continued: “ Add to that the counter-culture protests of the era, the demolition of entire neighborhoods, the forced busing and segregation issues.” Brown wrote that he has been talking to everyone including a cabdriver who told him about a group of girls in the 60’s/70’s from the Cambridge housing projects called the Easties. The Easties were notorious for kicking, well…. you know what, out of any guy who had the temerity to mess with them.

Brown is also interested with the writers of this era who pounded the Boston/Cambridge/Somerville pavement. Folks like Richard Yates of “Revolutionary Road” fame, George Higgins known for his novel “The Friends of Eddie Coyle,” as well as John Cheevers. And if any folks out there have a list of literary presses in the Cambridge/Boston/Somerville area from 1950 to 1975, well Brown would be much obliged for access to them.

When I read this I was all over it like a cheap suit, a dog on a meat truck, I was on it like a hornet, like a fly on that proverbial mound of… For years I have discussed with friends of the need for a book like this. I have even entertained the thought of writing about the small press poetry scene in the 80’s and 90’s. So hopefully when Brown gets back to the states we will have a chance to talk, and maybe I can help in some small way.

Brown has lived in the same apartment in Somerville for the past 22 years. He cut his teeth as a journalist in 1973 writing for alternative magazines down South. He profiled artists and writers like Diane Arbus, Charles Bukowski, Allen Ginsberg, Richard Hugo, etc. Looking him up on Wikipedia is an eye-opening experience. He has extensive experience as a rock music critic, he founded his own small press Thunder City Press (Later becoming Ford-Brown&Co), and has published folks like Richard Brautigan, Bei Dao, Mark Doty, Paul Zimmer, and the list goes on. He directed/managed research for George Plimpton's PBS TV interview series "The Writer in Society." He is an accomplished translator, and a featured writer at Boxing Herald.Com And this is only the tip of the iceberg. Brown has actively been involved with the Somerville arts scene of the years, but has had a lower profile recently. After his extensive travels are over, he may be spending some more time in the ‘ville, and who knows I might convince him to come to a Bagel Bards meeting at the Au Bon Pain. Can’t blame a guy for trying, now can you?

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