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The Virgin of Bennington

3.39  ·  Rating details ·  360 Ratings  ·  44 Reviews
Shy and sheltered as a young woman, Kathleen Norris wasn't prepared for the sex, drugs, and bohemianism of Bennington College in the late 1960sand when she moved to New York City after graduation, it was a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire. In this chronicle, Norris remembers the education she received, both formal and fortuitous; the influence of her mentor ...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published April 2nd 2002 by Riverhead Books (first published April 1st 2001)
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Tiffany Reisz
Oct 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Another glorious Norris book. I think I'm addicted to her voice. A great read for writers. It speaks of the dangers of early success and being married to the false notion that writers must be crazy and depressed. Plus it sheds light on Kathleen's mentor Betty Kray, the mentor and muse every writer dreams of.
Feb 18, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: my Good Reads friends
Recommended to Keith by: No one.
After I read this book, I wrote to Kathleen immediately. I mentioned something like "I think its the best book you've written." Dakota, I said, was Kathleen trying be a writer. Cloister Walk was a writer trying to be a writer. Amazing Grace was a writer trying to be Katheleen. The Virgin of Bennington is Kathleen being Kathleen. She was commissioned to write this book by its principal character, who she worked for and with upon graduation from Bennington College, and who, because of their friend ...more
Jan 20, 2013 rated it it was ok
Recommended to Jan by: Mrs. Lucille Berkowitz, my first cousin twice removed
Shelves: memoir
Poet Kathleen Norris's coming-of-age memoir of 1970s literary New York is rather flatly written and clogged with name-dropping of literati and Warhol-era glitterati. It's also obtusely self-congratulatory. While she seems proud of her virginity during her early years at Bennington, she sleeps her way into a job at the American Academy of Poets via a liaison with a married professor, then details other sexual liaisons that may have helped her career throughout the book.

She condemns the ambition
Dec 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing
In response to some of the reviews of this book, I DO “do poetry” and am loving every moment of Kathleen Norris’s discussions of it. And the fact that this book could also be seen as a eulogy to Betty Kray makes it even better. How wonderful that Norris tells us about Betty and her ceaseless devotion to poets and poetry. I am delighted to know about Betty Kray-a person about whom I would know nothing if not for Norris’s eloquent tribute to her and the poets she served. This book is marvelous in ...more
Mar 26, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I think this is one of my favorite books. I read it when it came out sometime during my first year out of college, then again within a few years of moving to NYC, and again this past week. If you are involved in literary NYC, love Joan Didion's "Goodbye to All That," love poetry, and love NYC (but grew up elsewhere and have a strong sense of home), you will love this book.

My copy is underlined and dog-eared in a way that I usually do not annotate books. I get choked up on the subway reading it.
Jan 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
This memoir starts out to be the story of Kathleen Norris and her years at Bennington College and in New York City. Soon it is taken over by Betty Kray, her boss, mentor, and friend. Kray was the executive director of the Academy of American Poets, and hired Norris as an assistant while she was still a college student. Norris describes a heady atmosphere of working to promote poetry in the city of New York and encountering numerous intensely gifted poets of the time (1969 and the early 70s). But ...more
Fran Darling
Dec 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I read this book over 10 yrs. ago. It was a very interesting autobiographical look at a young girl's education at the very liberal Bennington College and subsequent move to New York city to start her writing career. She worked at the Academy of American Poets as an assistant for over 7 yrs during the cultural "revolution" of the 1960's and early '70's. Kathleen is a beautiful, insightful writer. She comes to grips with her own personal development as a writer and as a person in the midst of this ...more
Jul 04, 2010 rated it really liked it
A nice complement to the Patti Smith memoir I just read, as this also is a young woman's coming of age in NYC in the early '70s while becoming an artist. I enjoyed the first 2/3 of the book, which is a chronologically disjointed straight memoir of going from being a shy, Midwestern girl to a shy, urban sophisticate. Throughout the book she writes of her mentor, legendary champion of American poetry, Betty Kray. However, the last third of the book is a mini Betty Kray biography and tribute, which ...more
Kathleen Norris' books have been a comfort to me. Her poetry speaks volumes and her books on Christianity have a permanent place on my shelf and in my heart.

The subject of this book is more autobiography, it is her coming of age story and I think it is excellent. She lived in NYC at a wild time and had a dream job. Norris got to experience parts of life that I would have been afraid to try - still probably am.

The best parts, for me were about her job. She worked for the American Academy of Poet
Emilia P
Jan 11, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: real-books
I am a little sad about how long it took me to read this book.
Let it be said--the Bennington stuff only lasts for one chapter. And it mostly a reflection on how people went a little crazy, and she just didn't and that was okay. Most of the book was about her being a young poet and person in New York City in the late 60s, doing some unwise things, being timid about some things, and learning to use her sense of wonder to write good poetry. I liked learning about how poetry has to be both art and c
Lee White
Apr 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book left me wanting to know more: More about Norris' years at Bennington (which was really only touched on), more about Norris' time and transition in South Dakota (so I need to re-read Dakota), and more about her mentor, Betty Kray. I found Kray to be a fascinating and inspiring woman, and I've never read another book that so beautifully captures the role a gifted mentor can play in the life of a young woman. Based on the title, this book wasn't quite what I expected, but it was insightfu ...more
Jul 26, 2008 rated it really liked it
Reading this book is like getting a good dose of literary history, along with name-dropping of folks like Patti Smith, Jim Carroll and Andy Warhol's assistant, Gerard Melanga. But it's not just the name-dropping that is fascinating; after all, celebrity gossip is not enough to entice a reader of literature. It's also a story of a writer coming into her own, with help from Betty Kray and Experience. Inspiring and wise, that's what both Betty Kray (as director of the YMHA, Academy, and Poets House ...more
Mar 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I liked this alot. This book is, in many ways, a celebration of Betty Kray. While it does touch a lot (especially in the beginning) on the author's experience at Bennington doesn't take all that long to get her to New York City. Working for Betty Kray she came into contacts with poets at a time when Betty Kray was finding ways to get poets more in the public eye and life. In fact the artist - in -residence programs available through the NEA have Betty to thank (and often don't thank ...more
Feb 15, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography, memoir
The Virgin of Bennington is Kathleen Norris's memoir of her time in New York City during college. I was thrilled to learn that our quiet town librarian had tasted the seedy life in the 1960's complete with sex, drugs, new and old friendships, and even a love affair with a college professor. She also explores her decision to leave the big city and come back to our small town to focus on her writing (this is something I always wondered about as a kid -- why does she choose to live in this boring t ...more
Sep 08, 2008 rated it really liked it
I think this book will appeal to those who enjoy or are interested in the making of poetry, the art scene in New York in the sixties through eighties, or to fans of Kathleen Norris. I'm glad that I read Dakota and the Cloister Walk before reading this. The Virgin of Bennington is a lovely memoir of a certain time and place, and of an important mentor and friend of Norris's, Elizabeth Kray. As usual with Kathleen Norris, her prose is often perfect, and always moving. A very good book.
Jan 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is the first Norris book I've read, mostly by accident. Her prose is engaging, thoughtful, and honest. The stories of her coming of age in New York and the influence of Betty Kray weaves a eloquent story of the mistakes, regrets, and lessons learned. It tells of what a life well lived looks like.
S. L.
Apr 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
It's amazing to me that anyone doesn't like this. Here is an autobiographical work without the word "I" on every page, not to mention a look into the world of the great poets....By itself it may be a little thin, but read as one piece out of her whole body of work, it's perfect.
Dec 05, 2008 rated it really liked it
This is K. Norris' narrative of the beginnings of her life as a poet, of the 1960's in NYC, of the astringent effect of poetry on our souls. Names the names of modern poets whose work we ought not miss.
Jun 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
If you ever choose to read the Cloister Walk also by Kathleen Norriss read The Virgin of Bennington. Cloister Walk makes so much more sense if you read the Virggin first. I didn't wand was confused!
These are true stories. They are about Kathleen's life.
Feb 05, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2014
I stumbled upon this book in the tiny Hoosick Falls, NY library New Book section. I hadn't heard of it, but because I'm about to read Quotidian Mysteries by Norris again, this time for our Savoury book club, I decided to check out her memoir and read it first.

After the first few chapters, I wasn't sure I was going to continue. I got weary of her stories of life as a Bennington College student, with all its drug, sex, and navel gazing drama. I trudged on though, through many chapters telling of t
Jodi Mae
Jan 26, 2011 rated it liked it
This is mostly a book about the unstoppable Betty Kray; a fascinating, brilliant, energetic woman who fiercely believed in the written word in the form of poetry. She advocated for poets both locally and internationally, was the first to initiate the idea of poetry readings, and was an arts administrator extraordinaire. Somehow she took a young, wet behind the ears, Kathleen Norris, under her wing and devotedly mentored her within the BIG city of New York. Kathleen's memoir of life at Bennington ...more
Margaret R
The title to this book is clearly misleading. It is really a biography for Elizabeth Kray who was a mentor for Kathleen Norris. Betty started many of the efforts to make poetry and poets more well known in the US. Kathleen worked for her for a few years and Betty supported her efforts to become a good writer.
I did enjoy learning names of poets that I should consider reading as well as other authors and books that I should read.
Had I stopped before the final 2 chapters, I would have rated this 1
Aug 27, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: poets, writers, anyone trying to navigae their way towards a career
Kathleen Norris' beautifully titled book is really more of a loving eulogy for Betty Kray, the forward-thinking arts adminstrator behind the American Academy of Poets, than it is about "the Virgin of Bennington". Like Norris in the late 1960's, the book can't quite decide if its about the craft and vocation of poetry, or about finding one's way out of college and into adulthood. It's worth reading for the sense of history, as far as the changing landcape for American poets that has a strong lega ...more
Katherine Pershey
Mar 21, 2009 rated it did not like it
Shelves: unfinished
Ack. It took me forever to get through this, and I still don't think I'll finish the last 30 pages. I have liked some of Norris's other books, but this one just fell so flat for me. I get it that she ran with a lot of literary luminaries, but it felt like a lot of name dropping. It would have been better if it were a more standard nonfiction account of the beginning of poetry arts administration rather than an awkward memoir hybrid that felt impersonal and distanced yet strangely self-obsessed. ...more
Jul 07, 2013 rated it liked it
I read this book after having read her earlier books Dakota and Cloister Walk and I found it fascinating to read from whence she came and to also see that her woman who was such a great mentor to her, was in many ways more open and less didactic than Norris. I loved reading about the history of poetry readings, poetry in the schools and how the various poets related to one another. But I finished feeling that while I learned much about contemporary poetry, I learned less about Norris because she ...more
Skylar Burris
Jul 28, 2012 marked it as unfinished
Trying to decide which Kathleen Norris book to read next by reading all of the Kindle free samples. Well, it won’t be this one. I think it just won’t be inspiring for me. Her college stories depress me. I don’t know if it’s because I went to college in the 90’s instead of the 60’s, because I went to a large public university instead of a small private liberal arts college, or because I went in the south rather than in the north east, but the consistent and widespread, sad debauchery narrated her ...more
This book is not quite as long and is very readable. It is Kathleen Norris' autobiography. It tells about her wild life at Bennington and then as a young poet in New York in the 1970's, before settling down to a staid married life in rural South Dakota. She worked for the Academy of American Poets and has some interesting information about them and about their founder Betty Kray.
Jim Morris
Oct 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This memoir recounts Kathleen Norris' fish-out-of-water experiences in New York City literary arts scene of the early 70s. It is a beautiful tribute to her mentor at the time who helped bring out her own poetic and literary voice.
Aug 13, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir-biography
Part personal memoir and part tribute to her mentor, Elizabeth Kray, this book meanders in revealing aspects of Norris; young adult years, while also relating much about the American world of poets in the 1970s. There are some gems of thought here and some good book references.
Sep 21, 2009 rated it it was ok
NOT about her time at Bennington, NOT really about being an innocent among the wilds, more about her mentor at the Academy of American Poets, Betty Kray.

Which is fine, but it was NOT SOLD AS A BOOK ABOUT THAT.
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Kathleen Norris was born on July 27, 1947 in Washington, D.C. She grew up in Honolulu, Hawaii, as well as on her maternal grandparents’ farm in Lemmon, South Dakota.

Her sheltered upbringing left her unprepared for the world she encountered when she began attending Bennington College in Vermont. At first shocked by the unconventionality surrounding her, Norris took refuge in poetry.

After she grad
More about Kathleen Norris...
“Poetry was a discipline grounded in experience that drew its life and worth from a source much greater than oneself, and as it realized its potential to touch others in their innermost being, what [Kathleen] Fraser has termed their "yearning side," it could be a profoundly communal act. Poetry, when it succeeded, did so in ways that were not quantifiable, and did not look much like worldly success, but that might be summed up as the joy on the face of a girl in a dingy classroom who finds a kindred spirit in a poem by Garcia Lorca.” 1 likes
“...the imagination works not so much through inspiration as through perseverance. One must slog through the false starts, spot the wrong words and hold out for the right ones, and above all, be vigilant about staying on the path of revision, no matter how uncomfortable or even painful the journey might become.” 0 likes
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