SAN JOSE, Calif. – Kerouac, Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti- the names evoke images of smoke-filled San Francisco jazz clubs filled with goateed men wearing black berets- but the Beat generation was not just a boys’ club. Too often the women of that artistic movement have been pushed into the shadows, their works and contributions marginalized.
Poet ruth weiss (who has been spelling her name in all lower case since the 1960s) was as equal an artistic force and influence as many of her Beat contemporaries, and she is still going strong at 93. On March 8, weiss will receive Cinequest’s Maverick Spirit Award after the world premiere screening of the moving story on her life, ruth weiss: beat goddess. Previous Maverick Spirit Award recipients include Nicolas Cage, Elle Fanning, J.J. Abrams, Neil Gaiman, and Harrison Ford.
While still a young girl, weiss fled Nazi Germany with her family before the start of World War II and settled in Chicago. During the 1940s she led a peripatetic existence, returning to Europe for a few years after the end of the war and then moving back to Chicago to live in the bohemian artists’ colony before hitchhiking to San Francisco in 1952.
In San Francisco, weiss eagerly joined the literary and music community that was fast developing in North Beach. She began holding some of the earliest poetry slams at The Cellar where readings would dovetail into spontaneous jam sessions with local jazz musicians. As Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady and others left New York and came to San Francisco they embraced and popularized the scene that weiss had helped pioneer. Legendary San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen dubbed weiss the “goddess of the Beat Generation.”
For weiss, music and poetry have always been linked.
“Jazz and poetry come from the soul. The unexpected is always around the corner,” weiss said in a 2012 interview.
The life and art of weiss is the subject of the documentary ruth weiss: the beat goddess, which will premiere at the Cinequest Film & Creativity Festival before the Maverick Spirit Award presentation. Filmmaker Melody Miller brilliantly captures the work, the legend and the soul of weiss.
Following the screening, weiss will read her poetry while accompanied by musicians Hal Davis, Doug O’Connor and Rent Romas. Weiss will then accept her award and participate in a panel discussion with Miller, Poetry Center San Jose President Robert Pesich, Beat Museum founder Jerry Cimino, Brenda Knight, author of Women of the Beat Generation; and Frameline Film Festival co-founder and noted photographer Daniel Nicoletta. Poets Kmart (Kimy Martinez) and Gary Singh will also read at the event.
The event takes place on March 8 at the Hammer Theatre in downtown San Jose. It will open with the reading of a pair of Beat poems by two of the festival’s favorite poets: Kimy Martinez and Gary Singh. Tickets available in advance at www.cinequest.org, and, if available, at the door.
Cinequest fuses innovation with the arts to empower great creations and to connect audiences, youth, artists, and innovators with these creations and with each other—forging community, joy, and our future. Set in Silicon Valley, Cinequest’s uniqueness, impact, and legacy result from applying this powerful integration of creativity and technology to democratize opportunity and to transform lives. Cinequest does this through the Cinequest Film & Creativity Festival, Mavericks Studio, and Picture The Possibilities global youth programs.
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