'Beatchik' Honors Stories of Bohemian Women
By: LANNAN M. O’BRIEN, August 11, 2014
Jerrine Egloff’s hands unfolded imaginary stationery as she described opening the letter from Paris, written on thin onion skin paper with blue ink. She was 21 years old and the letter was addressed to her from Gregory Corso, a American poet of the Beat movement in the 1960s.
“It was a love letter,” she said, her eyes widening as she described the beginning of a dramatic 11-year pen relationship with the man whom she now knows as “mean” and “disturbed.”
The story is one of many in her new book, “Beatchik: Tales of Women in American Bohemia,” released last week on Amazon.com under her maiden name, Jerrine Wire, that connects the lives of bohemian women in the ‘60s.
Ms. Egloff, who co-owns the Crane Herb Company in Mashpee and Sebastopol, California, with her husband, Bill Egloff, spends her winters in California and the rest of the year in Manomet and Woods Hole. But her most recent book is set in Boston, where she lived in her 20s, inspired by personal experience and written in the spirit of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.”
The bohemian women she writes about were the women who “stepped out of the ’50s,” she said, to take control of their own lives.
“They were the women who were against war, the ‘Ban the Bomb’ women,” Ms. Egloff said. “They were the women who wanted to dress differently. They didn’t want to be confined by Harper’s Bazaar magazine.”
They believed in natural childbirth, free love, vegetarianism and whole wheat bread, all of which were rare for that time period, she said. Yes, they were the minority, but these women were instrumental in a cultural shift in America—and although many saw their actions as “un-American,” they viewed their independence as patriotism at its best.
Their stories are seldom told and often overshadowed by the male poets of the Beat Generation, but Ms. Egloff was determined to give them a voice. Publishing the book has also helped her tell her own story, as she was and continues to be one of those women.
“I think a lot of the time the woman’s story is dismissed,” she said. “Why should it even be considered?”
In one chapter of “Beatchik,” Ms. Egloff shares her first experience taking psychedelic peyote with a friend. The two discovered new levels of thinking as they flipped through art history books, seeing old works of art in new ways.
“I had never known anybody who took psychedelics and I didn’t know what to expect,” she said, adding that from then on, taking peyote became a sacred experience.
Ms. Egloff comes from a family of strong women, including her maternal grandmother, Elinore P. Stewart, the author of a book that is frequently used in women’s studies courses, “Letters of a Woman Homesteader.” She raised her four daughters—one of whom, Kalliope Egloff, is a resident of Mashpee—to be equally as strong and independent.
“Beatchik” is her second published work, after a story titled “Japanese Walk,” about the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan. The new book is currently available for pre-order on Amazon and will be sold in Barnes & Noble and several small, local bookshops in the coming weeks.
“I hope it helps people understand more about what it means to be bohemian,” Ms. Egloff said. “It [the concept] may have affected your life more than you know.”
Plus, she said, it is a good story.