Welcome to Helen Weaver’s web!
In the art of weaving, a web consists of warp and woof. The warp refers to the lengthwise threads under and over which the crosswise threads—the woof—are woven. The phrase “warp and woof” is sometimes used as a metaphor for the underlying structure on which something is built.
My website reflects the fabric of my life. In it you will find the things that interest me the most: above all, books, of which I’ve written three:
The Daisy Sutra: Conversations with my Dog, the story of my beagle mix Daisy and of my discovery, toward the end of her life, of the validity of animal communication;
The Larousse Encyclopedia of Astrology, of which I am translator, general editor, and co-author; and
The Awakener: A Memoir of Kerouac and the Fifties, an intimate look at my life and times with Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Lenny Bruce, and some other wild characters I met in Greenwich Village in the fifties and sixties.
In addition to those, I’ve also translated some fifty books from the French of which one, Antonin Artaud: Selected Letters, was a finalist for the National Book Award.
I guess you could say that my whole life is a little warped, in that a warp is also defined as a twist or aberration, a deviation from the normal course of things: In my case marriage and children were the road not taken. No regrets! It’s been an interesting ride full of surprises and synchronicities–and yes, bumps and spills–but as every reporter knows, the worse the experience, the better the copy.
As for the woof element–there is nothing like a dog, and my love for them and for all animals is an essential part of the fabric of my life. I even like spiders: they’re weavers, too!
Right now I’m finishing up a book about astrology and science, and the dialogue about astrology that I had with my scientist father, the late Warren Weaver, toward the end of his distinguished career. I’ll let you know when that book–Translation of Light–is available.
Meanwhile, here are a few of the reviews of The Awakener, which City Lights published in November, 2009:
Weaver met Jack Kerouac in November 1956 and found him “absurdly handsome,” writing in her memoir that he had “a high forehead with a lock of hair that fell over it” and “a kind of perpetual squint, as if too much light was coming into his eyes.” They had a tumultuous two-month affair, and she recalls their fights as well as the tender moments, like those during their first night together: “I can still hear the way he muttered ‘perfect breasts’ under his breath, as if he were talking to himself or taking notes in one of his little nickel pads.” She paints a romantic picture of Greenwich Village in the 1950s and ’60s, when she worked in publishing and hung out with Allen Ginsberg and the poet Richard Howard and was wild and loose, getting high and falling into bed almost immediately with her crushes, including Lenny Bruce.
Kerouac, of course, was averse to editing, claiming: “Writing comes from God. Once you put it down, it’s a sin to go back and change it!” Weaver, now a noted translator, would have been wise to edit — or, better yet, delete — passages on astrology, Buddhist practices and animal communication.”
Nevertheless, the book is a pleasure to read. Her descriptions of the Village are evocative, recalling a time when she wore “long skirts, Capezio ballet shoes and black stockings,” and used to “sit in the Bagatelle and have sweet vermouth on the rocks with a twist of lemon.” Early on, she quotes Pasternak: “You in others: this is your soul.” Kerouac’s soul lives on through many people — Joyce Johnson, for one — but few have been as adept as Weaver at capturing both him and the New York bohemia of the time. He was lucky to have met her.
—Tara McKelvey, New York Times Book Review
In her book The Awakener: A Memoir of Kerouac and the Fifties the translator and writer Helen Weaver provides a lush picture of her short, turbulent affair with the Beat writer that changed her life. In Weaver’s swirling memoir, readers will get a fresh perspective on Jack Kerouac and his magnetism as a man and writer.
Weaver was 25 in the fall of 1956 when she met Kerouac. The product of a sheltered childhood, Weaver’s world was shaken by Kerouac while he was on the cusp of publishing On the Road, the novel that would make both his career and the Beat Generation. Kerouac was passionate, kind and irresponsible, as well as prone to drunken depressions. The book is an exploration of the bohemian counterculture in New York’s Greenwich Village and the radical changes that would come to American society. Weaver also was involved both politically and sexually with the censored comic Lenny Bruce in the 1960s, and later became both a noted translator of the French philosopher Antonin Artaud and an astrologer. The Awakener is a vivid look at the 1950s Beat era and Weaver’s winding path to personal enlightenment.
—Dylan Foley, Newark Star-Ledger
Firsthand witness to the beat literary movement, Weaver (Antonin Artaud: Selected Writings) pays homage to the man and the writer Jack Kerouac, whom she met and fell in love with in 1956. Befriending Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and comic Lenny Bruce, she makes these iconic counterculture figures tangible and captures New York’s Greenwich Village of the ’50s and ’60s. The memoir reveals the author’s own awakening—from discovering rock and roll through her personal sexual revolution to Buddhism. A lover of words and language, Weaver—immortalized in Kerouac’s Desolation Angels as Ruth Heaper—writes this book “as an act of atonement” to Kerouac: “I rejected him for the same reason America rejected him: he woke us up in the middle of the night in the long dream of the fifties. He interfered with our sleep.” She moves from translator to writer, but states she is “uncertain whether it was the story of my own life or the story of the remarkable people I had known.” Ultimately, it’s both. Photos.
In the latest in a long line of kiss-and-tell memoirs about Jack Kerouac, Weaver, translator of over fifty books from the French, chronicles her brief love affair with the author against the backdrop of the 1950s in Greenwich Village. She works in publishing, undergoes psychoanalysis, and becomes part of a literary circle that includes Allen Ginsberg, Richard Howard, and Dan Wakefield. Unlike Kerouac, she is swept into the cultural revolution of the 1960s, embracing New Age ideas like Native American spirituality, goddess worship, witchcraft, and astrology. Weaver writes in a clear, straightforward style, candidly discussing her feelings about Kerouac and others, including her roommate Helen Elliott and her rival for Kerouac’s affection, Joyce Johnson. Her analysis of Kerouac’s life, work, and reputation is intelligent and on target. In the end, Weaver regrets that her own rejection of Kerouac paralleled that of a literary establishment that only came to appreciate him after his death. Verdict: Readers interested in the role of women in the Beat Generation will enjoy this book alongside earlier works like Joyce Johnson’s Minor Characters and Carolyn Cassady’s Off the Road.
To read a couple of excerpts from the book, go to Excerpts.