Frequently dubbed the “Godmother of punk,” 64-year-old rocker-poet-visual artist Patti Smith’s groundbreaking style and unflagging integrity have garnered her numerous admirers ranging from R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe to Johnny Depp.
But it’s Smith’s heartbreaking memoir, “Just Kids,” about her struggles as a young artist in New York in the late ’60s and early ’70s, and her intense relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, that has people talking about her gifts as writer in a whole new light. The work has spent most of the year on the New York Times bestseller list, and won the coveted National Book Award for non-fiction in 2010.
What is striking about ‘Just Kids’ is not only how well written it is — impressively well written — but the directness, the lack of self-conscious irony, in it throughout,” says National Book Foundation executive director Harold Augenbraum. “She conveys creativity, intellectual toughness and vulnerability, all at once. That’s rare.”
What’s more, Smith was granted the Polar Music Prize this year, following in the footsteps of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen as recipients of the prestigious Swedish award. “She’s as much of a rock star and a poet as either of those guys,” points out David Fricke, senior writer at Rolling Stone who worked with Smith to serialize “Just Kids” for the magazine. “Dylan recognized her as a kindred spirit seeing her perform in the early days. What they have in common is that they’re all still very active and creative.”
Never one to rest on her laurels, Smith is reportedly penning another memoir, working on the “Just Kids” screenplay with Tony Award-winning playwright John Logan, writing a mystery novel and recording a new full-length album for Columbia Records. “Outside Society,” an anthology that spans her recorded work from 1975-2007, was released last month on Columbia/Arista/Legacy.
“Without regards to commerce or petty trends,” says Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers, “she rocks the world.”
Title: Singer-songwriter-poet-literary sensation
Role model: “(Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers) has developed a school for young people to study music,” Smith told Time magazine. “He tries to set an example for young people to take care of their body and mind.”
Career mantra: “I learned from Ralph Nader that each of us through our actions can magnify our community.” (Time)
Philanthropic/political passions: Smith is an outspoken supporter of the Green Party, has performed at numerous anti-war concerts and supports the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, which provides financial assistance to musicians facing illness and disability.