MY TRUE STORIES / Brenda Frazer [All 4 books inside Slipcase]
This is a PRE-ORDER. The books are currently being prepared for the printers. Hopefully an end of April / Start of May release.
Death of Workers Whilst Building Skyscrapers presents, My True Stories - a collection of four manuscripts by Brenda Frazer: Poets and Oddfellows, Drug City, Artista and Cherry Valley Ballads and Stories.
Brenda Frazer has been a poet and writer since the late fifties, contributing to the Beat Generation and beyond. Her poetry has been in little magazines from the mimeograph revolution in the 60’s and she published her first publication in 1966, Troia, an emotional account of her time in Mexico with her poet husband Ray Bremser and their child, Rachel.
My True Stories offers a female perspective that is raw and exposing, accounting the contradictory turbulence of poverty and joviality that was experienced by the Beat Generation, the lower east side Manhattan scene of the sixties, and the communal movement of the early seventies.
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 We planned a video call and she told me she saw herself as more of a prose writer, revealing many unpublished manuscripts.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.
I had already read her first published long manuscript, Troia written in 1963. The book tells of her and her husband Ray Bremser’s time in Mexico and the loss of their daughter Rachel in 1961-2. It was also this book that incited me to find out more about Brenda Frazer or “Bonnie Bremser”. From here, Brenda and I worked together to publish Some American Tales (2020), a collection of poetry and prose.
(The day-to-day writing of Troia is described in Drug City. Troia was published in 1966 by Croton Press and again by Dalkey Archives press in the 1990s, titled Troia: Mexican Memoirs.)
The collaboration was enriching and Brenda sent me four powerful memoir manuscripts about her life from 1959 to 1983: Poets and Oddfellows, Drug City, Artista, Cherry Valley Ballads and Stories. After reading them, I was compelled to share her work.
The first book of the series, Poets and Oddfellows spanning the years 1959-60 was written during the 1990s: “I had taken a fancy in describing my experiences in NYC in the booming ‘60’s, and also to resolve my feelings of deep love and disappointment for Ray Bremser. I was a ‘fool for love’ as Ray Charles sang it. Young love and the injustice we suffered under the law in New Jersey.” It was also during this time that Brenda became interested in her long manuscript Artista, a travel narrative of the time 1967-1970, after Ray had been to jail in New Jersey. The travel narrative consisted of her time in Guatemala and it was interspersed with flashbacks to NYC of the time before they had left. The manuscript was too long, so it was shortened, isolating the parts about the New York drug scene, which became Drug City and the Guatemala sections became the new Artista. Brenda started working on Artista in 1974 after divorcing Ray Bremser and living on a dairy farm (described in Cherry Valley Ballads and Stories): “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.” The manuscript remained unpublished. In 1999, Brenda returned to Artista to revise and edit the manuscript.
Historian of Beat Literature and friend of Brenda Frazer, Heike Mlakar writes in her introduction to Artista: ‘With Brenda’s book, I find that there isn't much romanticism left amidst poverty, hunger, and female exploitation. Road life definitely implied different demands for women of the Beat Generation.’
Brenda returned to her accumulated manuscripts in her retirement and in 2000, she began writing Cherry Valley Ballads and Stories. Brenda Frazer wrote in her journal in 1999: “I had written regularly for several years, journaling and working on a manuscript about my time with poet husband Ray Bremser. I pushed myself to work 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.”
My True Stories is undoubtedly a life work.
Blurbs of the series in the words of Brenda Frazer:
Poets and Oddfellows (1959 - 1961) “is my idea of how a love story can be written. Somewhat romanticized by my feelings but all true events. 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 (1961 - 1967) “already had a structure from the 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.”
Artista (1967 - 1970) “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, tawdry but still a young woman’s yearning for physical expression.”
Cherry Valley Ballads and Stories (1970 - 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 as the last of the series of 5 is probably my most active development of character — mine of course — trying but not really succeeding in being a strong woman.”
I want to thank Brenda for letting Karolina and I publish these books for her and give us the responsibility to carry on sharing her “true stories”.
For us to go ahead with printing, (not handmade this time but still beautifully designed and crafted), we need to get enough pre-orders.
The books will be sold individually or as a collection in a limited edition folio. You can see all the options in the rewards section.
If you would like to do some further research on Brenda Frazer, then I recommend Troia which you can purchase on the internet on a variety of websites or Some American Tales which actually has some extracts from Artista and Cherry Valley Ballads and Stories. The book is an option as one of the rewards!
For further reading on female beat studies, I recommend Heike Mlakar’s Merely Being There Is Not Enough—Women’s Roles in Autobiographical Texts by Female Beat Writers; and also Richard Peabody’s A Different Beat: Writings by Women of the Beat Generation
The execution of the project is fairly simple and as soon as the funds have been raised, we can go to print. After that, I will update you on a delivery date for your book. I am hopeful that this will be at the end of March.
Thanks for taking the time to read this and always support small press publishing.