Remembering Lita Hornick

Lita Hornick (1927-2000) –  photo with caption by Allen Ginsberg – “Lita Hornick in her dining room, dessert for our lunch, Richard Boseman‘s “The Norseman” on her north wall, we thought to visit Franz Kline exhibition at the Whitney Museum a few blocks from her Park Avenue apartment. Writer, critic, excellent art and poetry patron, February 2, 1995″ – photo (c) Estate of Allen Ginsberg

Lita Hornick,  New York-based editor, publisher, patron of poets and art collector – (and author in her own right – she wrote the first critical dissertation, back in 1958 at Columbia University, on Dylan Thomas, several years before her legendary engagement with Kulchur magazine, (and subsequently Kulchur Books) – was a formidable presence.

Mention should be made of her two books published by John Giorno’s Giorno Poetry Systems, Kulchur Queen, a festschrift (1977), and the provocatively titled To Elizabeth and Eleanor – Great Queens Who Loved Poetry”, featuring her poetry collaborations (including two, “Cataract” and “I Am So Happy”, made in conjunction with Allen and Peter Orlovsky).
There were also several self-published books (notably The Green Fuse, her memoirs), Night Flight, and, another great title, Nine Martinis.


William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac on the cover Kulchur #4

But it is as supporter of the arts, not necessarily active participant, that she will best be remembered, most particularly for her patronage and stewardship (“managing editor”) of Kulchur magazine (which she took over, officially, in 1962, from its founder, Marc Schleifer – Allen’s pivotal poem, “The Change, Kyoto-Tokyo Express, July 18, 1963″, appears in 1964, Kulchur 13, the Spring issue)

The magazine (which ran for 20 issues) was, without doubt one of the major and seminal literary magazines of the Sixties – “essential reading”, Jed Birmingham declares it, in an otherwise less-than-sympathetic review-piece.  “One reason for this”, he writes, “is the editorial and creative presence of the then Leroi Jones (Amiri Baraka). The other impetus behind these magazines” (he includes Jones’ Yugen and Diane di PrimaFloating Bear alongside it) “is Donald Allen’s New American Poetry Anthology or, more correctly, the poetic ferment of the 1950s that made that anthology not only possible but absolutely necessary.”

Hornick initially assigned guest-editors to the magazine (in #5, it was Gilbert Sorrentino, in #6 it was Joel Oppenheimer). Starting with Kulchur #7, it was run by her but supported by an editorial board of Jones, Sorrentino, Frank O’Hara, Joseph LeSeur, and Bill Berkson, before being edited by her alone.

In 1966 she decided to alter the focus of Kulchur away from periodicals and cultural commentary and towards book publishing. Kulchur Press continued as a significant imprint. The first book it published was a contemporary poetry anthology Poems Now, edited by Jones/Baraka’s then-partner, Hettie Jones. Over the course of the Press’s run (into the “80’s) it published a number of notable books, among them Ted Berrigan and Ron Padgett‘s Bean SpasmsBy far the venture’s most successful book was Screen Tests, a book of poetry by Gerard Malanga accompanied by photographs of individuals taken by Andy Warhol.

In 1970 the name of the organization was officially changed  from Kulchur Press to Kulchur Foundation “to reflect its work as an arts funder and grant-giving agency as well as a publishing venture”.  An important benefactor of the Museum, Lita was responsible for organizing stellar reading series during the 70’s and ’80’s at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (Allen gave a reading  there in 1981 with John Giorno and William Burroughs)

Listen to Lita Hornick, in 1972, interviewed  (alongside another important figure of the New York art and literature avant-garde, John Bernard Myers) on WNYC (New York radio) – here

Lita Hornick’s archives, an invaluable collection, are part of Columbia University’s special collections – see here

Lita Curtain Star (Lita Hornick), 1988 (silk-screen on eight canvases by Andy Warhol – currently in the collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art

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