Love, H: The Letters of Helene Dorn and Hettie Jones chronicles a forty year friendship through their correspondence, as well as Jones’ occasional fragments of narrative, from the early sixties until Dorn’s death in 2004. It isn’t just a collection of letters; it includes faxes and e-mails. It covers a wide range of subjects – though mostly focuses on the personal struggles of motherhood, work in the publishing industry, and staying financially afloat.
This book is of interest particularly to those fascinated by women writers and artists. It is an area discussed by Jones and Dorn often through these pages. Although the book’s synopsis namedrops Allen Ginsberg and Timothy Leary, the focus of this book is not the usual Beat/countercultural heroes. They are given scant mention. Ginsberg is criticized early on for caring more about pot legalization than other political causes, but then only really enters the narrative after his death, as Jones laments his passing.
LeRoi Jones (later Amiri Baraka) is often mentioned because he was Hettie’s ex-husband, but the book does not dwell on their relationship. The deepest the book cuts to the relationship between “Roi” (as she called him) and Hettie is when his autobiography was released.
LeRoi/Amiri’s book (autobiog) has just come out. In it he has changed my name to Nellie Kohn. Throughout. Has change the name of Yugen to Zazen… Though not the names of real people – like men (Allen G., Burroughs, etc.) Tho it beats his trying to kill me for real-! But can you imagine? Joyce (Johnson) just read this to me over the phone…
How astonishing to be disappeared!
And did I ever tell you, b.t.w., when my name and that of my children – all of them good – were completely deleted?? I’m sure not. It was such a deep wound I don’t think I ever mentioned it. Ed (Dorn) wrote that there was a new edition of The Rites of Passage. He said there were many changes… The only change I could see was the complete deletion of dedication:
And the children
Fred, Chan and Paul”
Throughout the book there are constant reminders of how women were treated as disposable or invisible, cast off by the men in their lives. Yet Jones and Dorn continue their lives as artists as well as mothers. “We’d fled the norm for women then, because to live it would have been a kind of death.”
It is clear in reading this collection that Jones is a gifted writer. He letters to Dorn are wonderful, playful, and poetic. Yet sadly the book is not particularly interesting, and there are large sections wherein you are given little but the minutiae of paying bills and looking for work. Most of the letters come from the cultural dead zone that was the 1980s, skipping over more turbulent eras.
In 1986, working on an autobiographical project, Jones wrote,
And after this book is done I may not ever be interested to write about myself again. I never thot I was an “interesting” person anyway: interesting people are complicated and have problems, etc etc and fears and inhibitions blah blah but as far as psychology I’m so dully well-adjusted!
Indeed, the story that this book weaves is not exactly riveting, but the writing is beautiful and witty.
Love, H will be released by Duke University Press in October. You can pre-order it on Amazon.