By Lorraine Gibney
On Saturday, August 11th, I had the privilege of interviewing writer, poet, and playwright Tom Savage at the LGBT Community Center on West 13th Street. For more than three hours Mr. Savage freely discussed his fascinating escapades as a prolific writer during the 1960s—when he hobnobbed with the most iconic figures and writers of the 20th century.
Mr. Savage is a native of Greenwich Village. He lived on Charles Street until he was seven years old and then moved to MacDougal Street. He attended the High School of Commerce in Manhattan where his best friend, Wally Stachera, was unlike Tom and most “flower children” of the 1960s; Wally joined the military and served in Vietnam. Regarding his own feelings about that period, Tom explained, “I always felt myself to be more a beatnik, and more akin to them, than a hippie, for whatever that was or is worth.”
Tom’s love for the written word was directly influenced by his family, as well as by friends, cultural events, reading, writing, and attendance at lectures. His parents, Thomas Upton Savage Jr. and Anna Joyce Savage, thought culture and education were important. His father wrote articles for small magazines; Tom was once given a photo of his father, with the caption “Writer,” by the (bar) Kettle of Fish. At an early age Tom wrote a play in verse called Fall of the Bastille. The piece was largely based on the French Revolution of July 14th, 1789.
Tom, an intellectual and atheist, became interested in Buddhism after reading the Herman Hesse novel Siddhartha. Tom’s practice of Buddhism included a routine of meditation for twenty minutes a day. Initially, he practiced meditation to control his bouts with epileptic seizures. Eventually, he developed a greater interest in Buddhism and lived in India for three and a half years.
Naropa Institute, in Boulder, Colorado, was founded in 1974 by a Tibetan teacher and writer named Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a major figure in Buddhism. Allen Ginsberg and others created a collective for writers and poets at Naropa. In 1975, Tom became a colleague of, and friends with, Ginsberg and his long-time lover Peter Orlovsky. Ginsberg is most recognized for his poem Howl, and for many other works associated with the 60s generation. Mr. Orlovsky was an American poet and actor, appearing in the films Pull My Daisy, Me and My Brother, and Chappaqua.
In the 1980s, the epidemic of AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) killed many of the artists living in Greenwich Village. As a sensitive man, Tom Savage experienced great loss; many of his friends died from AIDS or hepatitis. Fortunately, Tom was always cautious while the sexual revolution was in full force. He experimented with sex, and drugs; however, he was careful—acknowledging the high stakes of one mistake.
During my interview with Tom, he admitted that Grace Paley was one of his favorite people. Ms. Paley was an American author, poet, teacher, and political activist. A famous quote written by Grace Paley reads, “You become a writer because you need to become a writer—nothing else”.
In the course of interviewing him, I discovered that Tom Savage is an intelligent, kind, and loving soul. As a writer and poet, I found our conversation to be very informative and quite an honor. I believe that in the future Tom and I will become good friends. His dedication and expertise in literature has been a blessing to me. Mr. Savage…Namaste!
Books by Tom Savage:
Sonnets Mostly (135 collaborations with Bill Kushner). Afghanistan, 2015
From Herat to Balkh and Back Again. Fly By Night Press, 2015
Bamiyan Poems. Sisyphus Press, 2005
Brain Surgery Poems. Linear Arts Books, 1999
Political Conditions Physical States. United Artists Books, 1993
Processed Words. Coffee House Press, 1990
Housing, Preservation, And Development. Cheap Review Press, 1988
Filling Spaces. Nalanda University Press, 1980.
Slow Waltz on a Glass Harmonica. Nalanda University Press, 1980
Personalities. Jim Brody Books, 1978