My True Stories by Brenda Frazer, formerly Bonnie Bremser, is a collection of four previously unpublished manuscripts covering the years from 1959 to 1983. Poets and Oddfellows (1959-61), Drug City (1961-67), Artista (1967-70), and Cherry Valley Ballads and Stories (1970-83) have been kept hidden on the shelf for ages. Now Brenda provides the reader with new insights into one of the most pulsating times of the 20th century: the Beat era. Having lived together with prominent figureheads like Allen Ginsberg and his circle of friends, Frazer provides a unique and unprecedented female viewpoint.
The first book of the series, Poets and Oddfellows spans the turbulent years 1959-61 after Brenda had met and married Beat poet Ray Bremser. Written during the 1990s, it is the first book in the series, and it depicts her first meeting with poet Ray and the first months of their relationship. The events in Poets and Oddfellows are the pre-story to Troia: Mexican Memoirs (first published in 1969 and reissued by Dalkey Archive Press in 2007). “I had taken a fancy in describing my experiences in NYC in the booming ’60s, 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,” Brenda writes. In Poets and Oddfellows, the Bremsers try to reach a unifying spiritual state through marijuana and hallucinogens. Peyote, magic mushrooms, and marijuana strengthen Brenda’s conviction that her dedication to Ray is never-ending.
It was in the 1990s that Brenda started to rework another manuscript, Artista, a travel narrative of 1967-1970, after Ray had been to jail in New Jersey. Revising and editing her manuscripts was a long and intense process that took decades. Looking at Brenda’s sequence of life writing, Artista follows Troia. Drug City and Artista used to be one long and disrupted manuscript written in 1974-1975. The original travel narrative consisted of the Bremsers’ time in Guatemala, interspersed with flashbacks to New York City in the time before they had left. In 2007, Brenda shortened the original text she had written in the 1970s, isolating the parts about the New York drug scene, which became Drug City. The Guatemala sections were the basis of the new version of Artista.
In 1999, after retiring from her position as a soil classifier and soil map surveyor with the US Department of Agriculture, Brenda returned to her accumulated manuscripts and began writing Cherry Valley Ballads and Stories. The book covers her time at East Hill, an abandoned and isolated farm on Ginsberg’s upstate New York estate, where the family lived with a community of writers, artists, and filmmakers. Brenda wrote in her 1999 journal: “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.”
Frazer’s four previously unpublished texts are early documents portraying a woman struggling to survive in a rough world. Her four memoirs stand apart unifying a life work that in form and content may be the most troubling and provocative of all female Beat life stories.
All four books can now be ordered from the small British printing press Death of Workers Whilst Building Skyscrapers. In 2020, Death of Workers published Frazer’s chapbook Some American Tales. The 34-pages chapbook can be seen as a preview of My True Stories.
Pre-order options can be found at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/deathofworkers/my-true-stories-by-brenda-frazer?ref=project_build. The collection of all four beautifully bound books will be presented inside a folio box, but books can also be purchased individually.