Patti Smith’s Award-Winning Memoir, Just Kids, Now Available in a New Illustrated Edition

Hard to believe it’s almost a decade ago now since Pat­ti Smith’s Just Kids took over Barnes & Noble dis­plays, topped best­seller lists, won the Nation­al Book Award, and sent Wikipedia search­es for “Pat­ti Smith” into the stratos­phere. A mem­oir of her grit­ty New York sal­ad days with roommate/lover/best friend/soulmate/photographer Robert Map­plethor­pe, the book imme­di­ate­ly entered “that gold­en canon of clas­sic New York sto­ries about young peo­ple com­ing to the city to find out who they were meant to be,” as NPR’s Mau­reen Cor­ri­g­an writes.

Indeed, Just Kids should be con­sid­ered rep­re­sen­ta­tive, its full text now a locus clas­si­cus of bohemi­an find­ing-your­self-in-New-York sto­ries. (The embit­tered con­verse of the genre is for­ev­er crowned by Joan Didion’s “Good­bye to All That.”) But Smith didn’t rest on the many lau­rels the book gar­nered her. She released a wide­ly-acclaimed album two years lat­er, with a bonus track on the deluxe edi­tion called “Just Kids,” then col­lab­o­rat­ed with Colom­bian artist José Anto­nio Suárez Lon­doño on the (sad­ly out-of-print) Hecatomb.

In 2015, Smith fol­lowed Just Kids with anoth­er mem­oir, M Train, a trav­el­ogue of sorts—of her lit­er­ary pil­grim­ages and jour­neys through the city that embraced her. But as her work eth­ic shows, and as Just Kids doc­u­ments in detail, she didn’t just luck out in the big city but fought her way to cre­ative free­dom and inde­pen­dence with zeal and real self-con­fi­dence, believ­ing in the pow­er of poet­ry and rock and roll, and of her place among the six­ties roy­al­ty she encoun­tered while “still a gan­g­ly twen­ty-two-year-old book clerk, strug­gling simul­ta­ne­ous­ly with sev­er­al unfin­ished poems.”

“I felt an inex­plic­a­ble sense of kin­ship with these peo­ple,” she wrote, for exam­ple, of her run-ins with Janis Joplin, Grace Slick, and Jimi Hen­drix ahead of Wood­stock, a “feel­ing of pre­science” that she might “one day walk in their path.” She saw “infi­nite pos­si­bil­i­ties” in the Chelsea Hotel’s plas­ter ceil­ing, “the man­dala of my life.” You may call it faith, hubris, or delu­sion, but she sure showed us, and keeps show­ing us, that she earned her cred. Just Kids will inspire young artists for gen­er­a­tions, not only through its first, explo­sive print­ing, but through a pos­si­ble series on Show­time, who acquired the rights in 2015, and, now, in an illus­trat­ed edi­tion just released last week.

The book res­onates for its depic­tions of a bygone, decayed New York, when free spir­its could scrape togeth­er their artis­tic selves with next to noth­ing, with­out hav­ing to craft their every move for social media. Smith’s vivid­ly expres­sive writ­ing brings that lost world alive in a wild­ly suc­cess­ful exper­i­ment, as she told KCRW in a 2010 inter­view, to “infuse truth with mag­ic and love.”

She announced the book’s new edi­tion on her Insta­gram, a forum she has tak­en to with aplomb, as antic­i­pat­ing the “30th year since Robert Map­plethor­pe’s pass­ing.” A poignant reminder, espe­cial­ly since she wrote the book, she once revealed, as a deathbed promise to her friend.

The full-col­or illus­trat­ed edi­tion of Just Kids fea­tures nev­er-before pub­lished pho­tos, draw­ings, and oth­er ephemera depict­ing major fig­ures in Smith’s young life, like Sam Shep­ard, William Bur­roughs, and Allen Gins­berg, as well as her and Map­plethor­pe’s first Brook­lyn apart­ment, the icon­ic Max’s Kansas City, and the fire escape of the Chelsea Hotel. Order a copy here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Pat­ti Smith’s 40 Favorite Books

Pat­ti Smith, The God­moth­er of Punk, Is Now Putting Her Pic­tures on Insta­gram

Hear a Com­plete Chrono­log­i­cal Discog­ra­phy of Pat­ti Smith’s Fierce­ly Poet­ic Rock and Roll: 13 Hours and 142 Tracks

Pat­ti Smith Reads Oscar Wilde’s 1897 Love Let­ter De Pro­fundis: See the Full Three-Hour Per­for­mance

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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