The true story of an undiscovered Beat Generation poet who hung out with Kerouac and Ginsberg in San Francisco in 1955.
Beat Chick is a period drama loosely based on the life experiences of Joanne Joseph, who, in 1950’s San Francisco, was an aspiring poet and one of the few female members of the notorious “Beat Generation.”
Idealistic, but very ambitious young poet Janet St. Vincent Levine manipulates her way into what she believes is a dream job – becoming personal assistant to Lawrence Ferlinghetti, publishing pioneer of City Lights Publishers and owner of San Francisco’s now famous City Lights Bookstore. Although not yet considered a peer, Janet is soon hobnobbing, getting stoned (and in and out of bed) with the likes of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso and other up and coming writers in Ferlinghetti’s social set — later known as the Beat Generation. Upon attending the historic first reading of Allen Ginsberg’s landmark poem Howl, she meets her personal poetry idol, Kenneth Rexroth, an older man who her City Lights friends openly disparage. Nonetheless, Janet is delighted when Rexroth takes interest in her work — and in her. When their “collaboration” becomes an affair, she falls in love with him, only to realize too late that Rexroth has begun claiming some of her work as his own.
Things go from bad to worse as when Janet suddenly finds herself a player in an infamous groundbreaking legal case for free speech. Her boss, Ferlinghetti, is brought to trial on charges of obscenity and selling pornography after publishing Howl. During the trial, Janet realizes she is pregnant, and the most likely father – married man Rexroth – has completely abandoned her. Janet decides eventually that her only recourse is to travel across the U.S. border for an illegal abortion. Once there she is confronted with the prospect of a frightening and dangerous operation in an unsanitary house of horrors. Penniless, alone and with the clock ticking, Janet contemplates whether to go through with the abortion or to find the courage to go on a new path. Should she take the “easy way out” that might ultimately kill her? Or should she defy the strict social mores of the 1950s and be a single, unmarried mother? Which decision will get her home to San Francisco fastest and back on the road to gaining recognition as a poet?
Beat Chick is not only a compelling personal journey of the main character who struggles to carve out her identity as a poet in a very chauvinistic, male-dominated world, but it is as well a chronicle of important events of the 1950’s which still have enormous social relevance today. In addition, Beat Chick contains many excerpts from the poetry of the era, as well as testimony taken directly from the actual Ferlinghetti obscenity trial transcripts.
Location: Tijuana, Mexico
Prudence Wright Holmes
New York, NY