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Kolm came to New York in 1970 and got a job at the Strand bookstore, where he worked with Tom Verlaine and Patti Smith. Kolm's career in NYC independent bookstores spanned some forty years. After he left the Strand in 1975 he got a job at the Eastside Bookstore on the corner of Second Avenue and St. Mark's Place where he worked with the future owners of St. Mark’s Bookshop: Bob Contant, Terry McCoy, Peter Dargis, Tom Evans and Ross Lumpkin. It was during this period that Kolm experienced the highs and lows of the pre-gentrified East Village; incidents he later incorporated into his fiction. In 1979 he began working at New Morning Bookstore in Soho, at 169 Spring Street (New Morning was owned by High Times magazine). When it became clear that New Morning was going to close, Ron landed a job at the original Coliseum Books on 57th Street; a position he stayed at for twenty years, with a four-year sabbatical in the mid-1980s, when he worked at St. Mark's Bookshop. During this hiatus there was a 'fiction revival' in the Lower East Side, and Kolm published stories in many of the small magazines that thrived during those years: Joel Rose and Catherine Texier's Between C & D magazine, Kurt Hollander's Portable Lower East Side, Michael Carter's Redtape, the Gary Indiana issue of New Observations and Bob Witz's Appearances (Ron later became an editor of this magazine). When Coliseum Books closed, Kolm worked for a year at Shakespeare & Co. on Broadway at Astor Place, before being rehired by the new Coliseum Books on 42nd Street. When that store closed due to the changing nature of bookselling, Ron continued his career at Posman Books in Grand Central Terminal. That location closed in late 2014 because of impending construction, and moved to Brookfield Place in the World Financial Center. The Brookfield Place store closed in 2015. Kolm now works at the Posman Bookstore in Chelsea Market on the west side of Manhattan.
By 1980 Kolm established his own small press; Low-Tech Press. Before calling it quits a decade later, he had assembled a backlist of ten books (The Low-Tech Manual, Five Plus Five, Girlie Pictures and several Mike Topp titles). As he said to Levi Asher of Literary Kicks: "I published Art Spiegelman, Tuli Kupferberg and Hal Sirowitz, among others."
Kolm's publications include The Plastic Factory (Red Dust, 1989), Welcome to the Barbecue (Low-Tech Press, 1990), Rank Cologne (P.O.N. Press, 1991), Divine Comedy (Fly By Night Press, 2013) and Suburban Ambush (Autonomedia, 2014). He has collaborated on a novel, Neo Phobe, written with Jim Feast (Unbearable Books/Autonomedia, 2006). In May 2015 Unknown Press brought out a collection of his Duke and Jill stories (Duke & Jill) that had been widely published in various journals and anthologies: Too Much: Tales of Excess (Unknown Press), Have a NYC 2: New York Short Stories and Have a NYC 3: New York Short Stories (both published by Three Rooms Press), The Hobo Camp Review and Public Illumination Magazine among others. (The MTV music video director, Jim Spring, turned the longest story, 'Bad Karma,' into a film. The musicians Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon have cameo parts in it. Bad Karma is archived in the New Museum in NYC.) A collection of Kolm's short fictions, Night Shift, came out from Autonomedia in 2016 (all of the pieces in it were previously published). His work can also be found, along with the other Unbearables, in the Outlaw Bible of American Poetry edited by Alan Kaufman (Thunder's Mouth Press, 1999), and in Up Is Up, But So Is Down: New York's Literary Scene, 1974-1992 (New York University Press, 2006). (In the introduction to Up is Up..., editor Brandon Stosuy thanked Kolm for giving him access to his archives.)
In 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015, Ron Kolm participated in Michael Rothenberg's and Terri Carrion's international event, One Hundred Thousand Poets for Change (100 TPC). In 2013 he became a member of Brevitas: a community of invited poets who email 1 to 2 original poems (14 lines maximum) to the group on the 1st and 15th of each month. Kolm has also been the featured weekly poet in the Poetry Super Highway three times; the second was in January 2014 and the third was January 2015. He's had new work published in MungBeing, Urban Graffiti, Gathering of the Tribes and Jeffrey Cyphers Wright's Live Mag!.
Kolm read at the 2014 Sprachsalz in Hall, Austria, in September, 2014. He previously read and performed his work in Prague, in 2012, and in Florence, in 2013.
In June, 2014, Ron Kolm became a member of PEN.
Historian Robert Siegle describes Kolm as "an editor and facilitator for magazines and presses as well as a writer of fiction and poetry" who "carried boxes of little magazines around to bookstores, passed around copies of new work, and connected people" in general, noting that "wherever we look along the networks that hold together the diverse creative talents who constitute this cultural revolution, we find Kolm."
In 2012 Ron Kolm became a contributing editor of Sensitive Skin Magazine, and the editor of the Evergreen Review. (His tenure at the Evergreen Review came to an end in 2015, when the magazine was purchased by OR Press.)
On June 6, 2013, Kolm was presented with an ‘Acker Award’ at a ceremony in the Angel Orensanz Foundation by Clayton Patterson, for his editorial work. Ron Kolm and Jim Feast, who was also given an award, got them largely for their work at the Evergreen Review.
The Ron Kolm Collection
The Ron Kolm papers (some 35 cartons of correspondence, notebooks, objects, chapbooks, signed first editions and runs of literary magazines) were purchased by the Fales Library at New York University, where they now reside. The Finding Aid to the Ron Kolm Papers is available online: The Ron Kolm Papers Since placing this collection in the NYU Library, Kolm has continued to build archives of Downtown materials, with an emphasis on Unbearables publications (the novels they've published, runs of magazines and other ephemera). There are now archives at: The University of Rochester library, the Avant Writing Collections at Ohio State University (John M. Bennett, Librarian/Curator), The Poetry Collection at SUNY Buffalo (Michael Basinski, Curator), the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, the main branch of the New York Public Library, the Museum of Modern Art library and the library at Poets House in New York City.
Kolm became friends and colleagues with a group of writers who would come to exemplify the "Downtown" scene of the 1970s and 80s ("Downtown" in this context means anything below Fourteenth Street in Manhattan). In 1985, Kolm, Bart Plantenga, Mike Golden, and Peter Lamborn Wilson founded the Unbearables, a loose collective of poets and artists based on Wilson's precepts (written under the nom de guerre Hakim Bey), as set forth in his seminal book, TAZ (Temporary Autonomous Zone). Hakim Bey posits that one can liberate a public space, do an event on it, and then relinquish it, not wishing to become 'the oppressor.' The Unbearables (they took their name from a short story by Mike Golden, the editor of Smoke Signals magazine) used this aesthetic in the staging of their actions: they picketed the New Yorker magazine, complaining about the bad poetry being published therein; they lined the Brooklyn Bridge every September 13 (right up until 9/11, when they stopped) and read erotic poetry to people walking home from work, they took over the New School and mounted a series of anti-seminars. Their first reading series was at the Life Cafe in the East Village. David Life, the owner of the Life Cafe, gave them berets and renamed them 'The Unbearable Beatniks of Life.' Shortly after this they did an event they called 'The Crimes of the Beats,' during which they dropped the word 'Beatnik' from their name, becoming simply 'The Unbearables.' They later read or performed their work at the Poetry Project at St. Mark's Church in the Bowery, Gathering of Tribes and the Bowery Poetry Club. Their usual targets are literary cliches, which they attempt to deconstruct with humor.
Kolm has been one of the editors of their anthologies: Unbearables (1995), Crimes of the Beats (1998), Help Yourself! (2002), The Worst Book I Ever Read (2009) and The Unbearables Big Book of Sex (2011) all published by Autonomedia. They are currently working on their sixth one, From Somewhere To Nowhere: The End of the American Dream.
The Unbearables, who as of October 2013 included Kolm, Sharon Mesmer, Max Blagg, Chavisa Woods, Michael Carter, Jim Feast, Bonny Finberg, John Farris (d. 2016), Peter Lamborn Wilson, Merry Fortune, Joe Maynard, Shalom Neuman, Jill Rapaport, Thaddeus Rutkowski, Hal Sirowitz, Sparrow, Susan Scutti, Mike Topp, Lee Klein, Carl Watson, Carol Wierzbicki, Bart Plantenga, Tom Savage, Steve Dalachinsky, Yuko Otomo, Tsaurah Litzky, Fly, Karen Lillis, Mitch Corber and many others, continue to publish and perform in a variety of configurations and at a plethora of venues.
- In Taylor, Marvin J., ed., The Downtown Book (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005, p. 149).
- Suburban Ambush, (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989, p. 23)
- The Fales Library Guide to the Ron Kolm Papers
- Unbearables.com – official website of The Unbearables
- Sensitive Skin magazine