Celebrating NZ Book Month, Jack Ross on 'The book that got me started ...'

13 March 2012

Celebrating NZ Book Month, Jack Ross thinks about 'The book that got me started ... ' and tripping across Kathy Acker.

The year: 1987. The place: Edinburgh (‘Athens of the North', according to David Hume and his Enlightenment buddies; ‘Reykjavik of the South', according to Tom Stoppard). I was browsing through the shelves of a little second-hand bookshop called Tills – a fairly common pastime for me as I made my halting way to the university and that horrible PhD thesis which obstinately refused to get written. I saw a fat Picador paperback with the words 'BLOOD AND GUTS IN HIGH SCHOOL, Plus Two' on its spine, and opened it up.

My first response was, I suppose, that this was too good to be true. It was full of dream-maps, Persian language lessons, passages of ranting obscenity ... It just had to be second-rate, beneath serious literary notice – and yet, and yet ...

Reader, I bought it. And so began my love affair with the works of the late lamented Kathy Acker, wildest of wild girls, high priestess of post-feminist haut punk. My thesis did get written in the end, but by that stage it didn’t really matter – the virus had entered my blood. I was doomed for life to be a cut-and-paste deconstructionist, cutting my meat from the exposed entrails of a moribund civilisation – with a crazed Gothic prose-style and a bad case of the Black Tarantula blues.


Born and educated in Auckland, Jack Ross has a PhD in Comparative Literature from Edinburgh University. He teaches New Zealand literature and creative writing at Massey University in Auckland. Ross is the author of numerous novels, short fiction and poetry collections and, with Jan Kemp, is the co-editor of the 'New Zealand Poets in Performance' series published by Auckland University Press.