Arts & Culture

Writer Chris Kraus reads from latest work

Kraus touches on controversial #MeToo blog post in response to audience query

Staff Writer
Monday, October 1, 2018

Chris Kraus’ recently published biography of Kathy Acker — “After Kathy Acker” — delves into the life of the 1970s feminist and iconic postmodern literary figure.

Last Thursday, the McCormack Family Theatre was home to author Chris Kraus as she shared excerpts out of her latest book, “After Kathy Acker,” a biography about punk poet and sex-positive feminist writer Kathy Acker, who found fame in the 1970s before fading from the limelight.

Kraus was invited to speak on campus as a guest for the Writers on Writing Reading Series hosted by the Literary Arts department.

Although born in New York City, Kraus spent her childhood in Connecticut and New Zealand. Graduating with a Bachelor of Arts from Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, she worked as a journalist for five years before returning to the United States. Kraus, who is most notably the author of novels such as “I Love Dick,” “Aliens and Anorexia,” “Torpor” and “Summer of Hate,” has also dabbled in other artistic ventures, such as films and staged performances.

While her earlier work was more performance-based, Kraus made the transition to writing full-time with her exemplary novel “I Love Dick” in 1997. Kraus really only began writing “in (her) late 30s, and the book didn’t come out until (she) was 40,” Kraus explained.

“I Love Dick” has been taught in ENGL 1710R: “Recent Experiments in American Fiction,” an upper-level class taught by Timothy Bewes, a professor in the English department. Kraus’s book “really formed the premium text for everyone,” Bewes said.

Kraus’ latest work centers around the life of postmodern literary icon Kathy Acker. After a student questioned the blend of fiction and nonfiction in her work, Kraus explained that her writing is often a mixture of the authentic and factual. She used a lot of material found in external archives and would “sometimes … import stuff from (Acker’s) diary,” which would contain personal bias and perspective, she said. For instance, Kraus looked at Acker’s correspondences and personal notes on her own work, which were found in literary archives.

Kraus also discussed her own personal relationship with Acker. “She was my absolute idol,” Kraus said, adding that learning of Acker’s death “just broke my heart.”

During the talk, an audience member asked Kraus to comment on a recent blog post, in which she took a controversial stance on the 2017 Title IX investigation brought by Nimrod Reitman, a former New York University graduate student, against his doctoral advisor Professor of German and Comparative Literature Avital Ronell, who was found guilty of sexual harassment in 2018 by an NYU investigation and is on leave for the academic year. In her Aug. 19 blog post, Kraus took the defense of Ronell, citing Reitman’s “accusations couched in the disingenuous sentiments of #MeToo,” she wrote.  “Reitman — or any Ph.D. student at NYU — is hardly an innocent,” Kraus further wrote.

During the event, Kraus responded that she “would not have (initially) gotten involved. … It was after Nimrod Reitman brought a lawsuit against Avital — a multimillion-dollar lawsuit — and he’s already a wealthy person with a legal team of seven lawyers, and she has no personal wealth. She is 66 years old. That just seemed so excessive.”

“I guess I wrote (the blog post) more from an emotional place than a logical place,” she added.

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