Alysia Abbott pays tribute to the gay, single-parent dad who raised her in bohemian SF
AA I'd always wanted to be a writer, or an artist. But after watching him struggle financially, I pursued steady-paycheck work in cushy corporate structures (which I now hate). I also didn't know if I had his native talent, or could be as intellectually rigorous and pure. I always had our story to tell, but worried I wasn't worthy of it. The idea of writing Fairyland and having it not meet my own expectations was unbearable. Now I realize perfectionism is the enemy of creativity. To succeed, you have to be willing to fail.
SFBG When Steve was facing mortality, he wrote that you'd probably better appreciate his writing after he'd passed on. What do you think about his literary legacy now?
AA I'm embarrassed to admit I really didn't read my father's books until ten years after he died. During his lifetime, the work's weirdness, its attraction to transgressive figures and ideas threatened me. I accused him of not being a "real writer" because no one had heard of him and he didn't make any "real money." What a terrible thing for a daughter to say!
Researching for Fairyland, I came to respect his contributions and integrity. All the writers I know today have to be such master self-promoters. My father was almost embarrassingly naïve in this regard. That may be why few people know his work today. But he was so devoted to writing, and supporting writers that impressed him, even if that effort did nothing for his own career.
I now really love several of his poems and books, especially Lives of the Poets — but some still make me uncomfortable. I'm not sure if it's because they aren't good, or still too "out there" for me.
SFBG After so many years, how do you feel about returning to SF? Many of your father's creative generation are dead. It's a much yuppie-er burg.
AA San Francisco is very different from the city I knew in 1974, or even 1994. I've worried that those who remember the old San Francisco, or appreciate its history, are dwindling — they've died or been forced out by Ellis laws. But new residents are attracted by the city's beauty just as we were. And though much better-heeled, these tech workers and professional types are also trying to reinvent culture, if with much greater odds of profit — and interest in profit.
Wed/19, 7pm, free
City Lights Books
261 Columbus, SF
Thu/20, 6:30pm, free
San Francisco Public Library
100 Larkin, SF
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