Brenda Frazer (aka Bonnie Bremser) was the subject of an extensive post on The Allen Ginsberg Project back in February of 2017 and we strongly advise you to go back there and take a look, read more about this remarkable woman and accomplished writer.
But to update Brenda’s story – In November 2020, Lucy Wilkinson‘s wonderfully-named Death of Builders Whilst Building Skyscrapers Press, coming out of Glasgow, Scotland, released Some American Tales, a carefully-chosen collection of previously-unpublished writings.
“I came across Brenda Frazer (or previously Bonnie Bremser) after reading a small piece of prose in Richard Peabody’s A Different Beat: Writings by Women of the Beat Generation. Her voice stood out because it felt so personal and stuck with me for sometime. I researched and found her poems in Fuck You: A Magazine of the Arts. I was fascinated by her voice and her story and decided to try and track her down. I emailed various contacts, but to no avail, I waited and I waited, nearly giving up. In March 2020, my dad passed away and I was staying at my mums. I opened an email that I didn’t recognise and it read “hope you can wait and meet – Brenda”. It was an obscure email. I was ecstatic. We planned a video call and she told me she saw herself as more of a prose writer, revealing many unpublished manuscripts. I knew from that moment that I wanted to support and share her work..”
Some American Tales can be seen as a taster, because, this April, Death of Builders Whilst Building Skyscrapers will be releasing (hopefully) the bigger picture of Frazer’s writing –
My True Stories – four new titles, four manuscripts – Poets and Oddfellows, Drug City, Artista, and Cherry Valley Ballads and Stories – all four elegantly encased inside a folio box with stunning artwork by Erin Black (each book, however, will be available and may be purchased separately)
The press is currently conducting a Kickstarter campaign – see here (essential to the books’ release) and readers are strongly encouraged to contribute.
Poets and Oddfellows spans the years 1959-1960 when Brenda married the poet Ray Bremser and they lived in Hoboken, New Jersey. It is “my idea of how a love story can be written. Somewhat romanticized by my feelings but all true events”, she writes. “The events traumatized me to a degree that I tried to remember how much in love I was when I was writing. It is probably my first and last attempt to fictionalize and still maintain my own identity.”
Drug City, covering the period from 1961-1967, “already had a structure from (an) old manuscript of Artista, written when I was trying to renew myself as a writer and try to salvage events and memories that my current more conventional situation required I forget.” The book charts Brenda’s experience on the amphetamine-fuelled streets of New York’s Lower East Side. It recounts her time existing without Ray, after returning from Mexico after giving their daughter up for adoption.
Artista (1967-1970), in both its old and revised incarnation, documents vividly (and disturbingly) their travel together in Guatemala, following his incarceration in New Jersey. It “involves my worry about Ray’s continuing addiction and my abandonment of him for a new lover. Also, I felt a need to describe a dancer’s life”(Brenda, to make money, worked for a time as an exotic-dancer) “tawdry but still a young woman’s yearning for physical expression.”
She began working on Artista in 1974, following her divorce from Ray – “It was never published as written, a disappointment. And I carried that manuscript with me over the years while I went back to school and got a position as a soil scientist with the USDA.”
That manuscript and much else remained unpublished. She returned to her accumulated manuscripts on her retirement, but not without disenchantment – ‘I pushed myself to work”, she recalls, “and yet the more I forced the writing, the less satisfaction I took in it. In fact, I came to the writing with a sinking feeling that I had wasted my time.”
Thus, her self-depreciating remarks on the final volume – Cherry Valley Ballads and Stories (covering 1970 to 1983) is “again, like Poets and Oddfellows, me trying to be a writer. Using every tool I’d developed and stopping just short of fictionalizing. It is the last mention of Ray and a new love, Bill, which I embraced though a forbidden domestic situation. This book ..the last of the series.. is probably my most active development of character – mine of course – trying but not really succeeding in being a strong woman.”
“trying but not really succeeding”? – we may have to disagree with you on that
Women in the Beats have been occluded, and Brenda/Bonnie one of the most significantly occluded. But the time is now right for a belated, and justified, reassesment. Commenting on her earlier book, Troia, critic and scholar Ann Charters writes, “I still believe that Troia is the most extraordinary memoir ever written by a woman in the Beat circle” (no small praise!) –My True Stories will hopefully amplify that.
Lucy Wilkinson on Fraser – “For me, all of her writing is about feminine transformation, the pain and bliss which comes with that. Also, she doesn’t sensationalise the idea of empowerment which I think is important. It resonates with me. I find it deeply moving and inspiring.”
We’re big fans too
Do find time to drop by and support this important writer via the Kickstarter fundraiser. You have until March 14th