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American Book Review


DATE: Thursday  12/1/2011

TIME: Noon to 1:00 p.m.

PLACE: University of Houston-Victoria, Alcorn Auditorium (UW 204)

John Tytell


SPEAKER: John Tytell

John Tytell was born in Antwerp, Belgium. As part of a diamond trading family of Jewish descent who fled to America to escape Nazi oppression, Tytell grew up in New York City where he has lived for the majority of his life. Afflicted with vernal catarrh till the age of twelve, Tytell was confined to low-lit rooms by his eye's sensitivity, and the seeping fluids plaguing him during his waking hours. This condition prevented him from seriously taking part in the family's diamond trade where precision was a must, but it helped to introduce him to a world of reading.

As Tytell would later write about this time period in his book Reading New York, literature was both an escape from the gloom of his darkened bedroom, as well as a subversive act of defiance, because he was forbidden to read for fear that the strain would further damage his eyes. Tytell read Melville and Poe at this early age, and the sense of a great American literary foundation seems to have influenced his later work on the Beats, who were extensions of these nineteenth-century giants. The prose and poetry of these first American writers defined their century, as the Beats would later shape the twentieth-century course of American Literature.

The impetus for the book Naked Angels was a paper that Tytell presented at "The Last Lecture Series" held by Queens College, entitled, "The Beat Generation and the Continuing American Revolution." In terms of an advancement for the study of the Beats, both the paper and the subsequent book were incredibly important as a scholar had begun to seriously analyze major Beat texts.

Tytell's next book, Ezra Pound: The Solitary Volcano, earned him a nomination for the Pulitzer Prize in 1987, and established him as a major chronicler of America’s most important Men of Letters, and has never gone out of print. This career-making book was quickly followed by Passionate Lives, a study of both English and American writers, and the relationships that helped form their creative visions, which was translated into German and Korean.

The Living Theatre: Art, Exile and Outrage saw Tytell casting his eye from literature to the stage, where he saw the same rebellious spirit typified in The Beat culture, exert itself in the Living Theatre, which is both a New York and an American institution.

Tytell next teamed up with his wife, Mellon Tytell, whose photographic study of many Beat literary figures mirrored his own writing, to produce the book, Paradise Outlaws. The book is an overarching picture of both the major and minor figures of the Beat Generation. Mellon provided photographs of William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, as well as Carl Solomon, Jan Kerouac, and others, while Tytell wrote complementing descriptions of those depicted, and a text commenting on the significance and importance of the Beats. The book can be seen as a follow up to Naked Angels, but with the added advantage of a twenty-five year removed perspective, to the lasting importance of the now widely recognized literary movement—a movement he first brought into the realm of legitimacy.

Reading New York is Tytell's most recent work, and can be seen as a hybrid of memoir, biography of American writers, history of New York, as well as literary criticism. The book spans from Melville to the present day, and weaves Tytell's life with those of the mainly New York writers who had inspired him since those nights of reading in the dark, that lead him to a nearly forty year career in the printed word.

Paradise Outlaws: Remembering the Beats (1999)
The Living Theatre: Art, Exile and Outrage (1995)
Passionate Lives: D.H. Lawrence, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry Miller, Dylan Thomas, Sylvia Plath—In Love (1991)
Ezra Pound: The Solitary Volcano (1987)
Naked Angels: Lives and Literature of the Beat Generation (1976)

← Back to Past Speakers

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