Read Widow Basquiat Online

Authors: Jennifer Clement

Widow Basquiat

Also by Jennifer Clement

A True Story Based on Lies

The Poison That Fascinates

Prayers for the Stolen

Copyright © 2000, 2014 by Jennifer Clement

Introduction copyright © 2014 by Michael Holman

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Broadway Books, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.

Broadway Books and its logo, B \ D \ W \ Y, are registered trademarks of Random House LLC.

Originally published in Great Britain, in slightly different form, by Payback Press, an imprint of Canongate Books, Ltd., Edinburgh, in 2000. This edition originally published in Great Britain by Canongate Books, Ltd., Edinburgh, in 2014.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Clement, Jennifer.

Widow Basquiat : a love story / Jennifer Clement.—

First American Edition.

pages cm

1. Basquiat, Jean-Michel—Friends and associates. 2. Basquiat, Jean-Michel—Relations with women. 3. Mallouk, Suzanne. 4. African American artists—Biography. 5. New York (N.Y.)—

Biography. I. Title.

N6537.B233C59 2014

813’.54—dc23       2014014500

ISBN 978-0-553-41991-7

eBook ISBN 978-0-553-41992-4

Cover design by Elena Giavaldi

Cover photograph by Duncan Fraser Buchanan


For Suzanne


Suzanne, you are a cartoon.

Jean-Michel Basquiat

“Widow Basquiat” was a morbid nickname, given to me by Rene Ricard, many years before Jean-Michel died.

Suzanne Mallouk


by Michael Holman

As a friend, artistic collaborator in his band Gray, screenwriter of the Miramax biographic film
and subject of many interviews for the purpose of shedding light on his work and life, I consider myself rather knowledgeable on the subject of Jean-Michel Basquiat, and I can tell you, without equivocation and with some considerable jealousy, that the most thoughtful, inspiring, comprehensive, funny and heartbreaking document of any kind on Basquiat’s life is, without a doubt, Jennifer Clement’s book
Widow Basquiat.

Clement’s book is specifically about Basquiat’s relationship with his “widow,” and his first great love, Suzanne Mallouk. Though Basquiat and Mallouk never actually married, art critic and close confidant Rene Ricard saw fit to bestow upon Mallouk this proprietary, romantic and shrouded title.

Widow Basquiat
is a collage/dance of Clement’s stark, poetic prose as if written by the proverbial “fly on the wall,” which does a back-and-forth cha-cha-cha with Mallouk’s own hilarious and honest memories, finished off with a tango dip of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s own “graffiti-inspired” titles, secondhand observations and absurdist limericks.

Widow Basquiat
brutally captures the rise and fall of this tortured love affair, as it is complicated by Basquiat’s meteoric ascendance to the pantheons of art world history. There is feeling, biting humor, shocking abuse of all sorts, bitterness and sweet rhapsody enough for everyone. Read this book and you will never, ever forget it.

Michael Holman


She always keeps her heroin inside her beehive hairdo. The white powder hidden in the tease and spit. The cops can’t find it. The drug addicts can’t find it. Suzanne holds her head high. She’s carrying a world without corners. She’s holding up the sky. Slight enough to go down chimneys, Suzanne looks like a little girl dressed up in her mother’s clothes. She wears Love That Red lipstick by Revlon and has blue-black hair and white skin. She closes up all the buttons on her shirt.

Suzanne can knit, ice-skate, sing, read palms and smoke dozens of cigarettes to keep warm inside. Little girls love her because she tells them, “Hey, little missy, I can hear your heart.” They think she’s a music box.

When Suzanne was ten years old her mother said, “Let’s have a tea party.” They sat together at the kitchen table. It was the first time Suzanne ever drank tea. She put four teaspoons of sugar in it. She said, “It’s too cold.”

Her mother said, “I’ll only tell you this once so mark my words.”

“I broke the rocking horse,” Suzanne said.

“You of all my children were made like an angel. But you want to look over the edge to hell. Always know where that line is and never cross it. And here are nine kisses,” her mother continued, “for every year of your life.”

While she kissed her again and again on the forehead, Suzanne wished her mother wore lipstick so that the kisses would be painted on her and everyone would know.

She wanted to say, “But I’m ten really.”


Suzanne’s mother claims to be a witch. She puts her head down, claps her hands and concentrates. She calls this “cursing people.” Once a man who owned a television store in town asked her, “Who winds you up in the morning?” That night his store burned down. But she can’t stop Suzanne’s father from beating up the kids.

“He’s an Arab,” she says, “What can I do? Curses don’t get into those black eyes.”

Suzanne has a scar on her forehead from when he threw her down the stairs. It is shaped like the number 5.

Her childhood is worn with sounds: chairs against walls; “You good-for-nothing punk!”; the snake-belly slide of a belt, the soft drum sound of a three-year-old’s head against a wall; “You good-for-nothing punk”; tears that mix with Cap’n Crunch cereal; “You good-for-nothing punk”; a hand the size of a maple leaf slapping; the twist and crack of arms and wrists; “Walk on tiptoe, shhh,” whisper. “He’s home.”

“Don’t worry, honey,” Suzanne’s mother says to Suzanne. “One day you’ll set the world on fire.”


Four draft dodgers and Suzanne sit at the kitchen table. Suzanne’s mother is known in the underground of draft dodgers so men come to Orangeville, Ontario, Canada, to sit at this table dressed in love beads and leather bracelets to ask Suzanne where they can get some pot. Suzanne giggles and pulls some plastic bags filled with marijuana out of her white knee-high boots.

Suzanne wears paper dresses and maxi-coats. One draft dodger likes to tease her by burning cigarette holes in her dresses. Another one tells her if the war ever ends he’s going to come back and marry her.

“I’ll never marry anyone,” Suzanne says. “No man is big enough for my arms.”

I had very hardworking parents. My father had a painting/construction business that at its height employed forty men. My mother had a nursery school in our house. She took all children. She did not close the door to any child. There were normal, autistic, blind and crippled children. There was nowhere for these disabled children to go. My mother was a real radical. During the Vietnam War she took in American draft dodgers. I was too young to know what this meant. These hippies with
long hair and beards would just appear at the dinner table. During those Vietnam years my mother must have taken care of forty of these young men. My father was against this and I heard them fighting over it. My father thought they were cowards. My mother thought they were pacifists and she thought that they were too young. My mother became known in the underground of draft dodgers, and boys from all over America came, knowing they would get food and a roof over their heads. They would sleep on the living-room floor.

My father was intelligent and hardworking. He taught himself everything. He drove a big Cadillac so that we would be like the children of the doctors and lawyers. However, he was domineering and violent. He believed that we would respect him if we feared him. We feared him.


Suzanne walks down the steps from her bedroom. In the hall her mother is feeding a child who is tied with a rope to a chair. The little boy is tied up so he will not mutilate himself. He scratches his face until it bleeds. The doorbell rings and two more children with Down syndrome arrive. This is Suzanne’s mother’s latest business venture. There are no facilities for abnormal children in Orangeville.

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