Most Charismatic #6: Jack London

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

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Jack London? Yes. In his time, a wildly popular author who to this day is as read world wide as in the United States– despite being quintessentially American in voice and outlook. Rugged, tough, outspoken, London lived the vigorous life and embodied in his person and work the outsized energy and spirit of adventure which propelled the American people and land to first place among nations. London is Charismatic American Writer #6.

Also Rans #3: Charles Bukowski

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

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Charles Bukowski has inspired more bad writing than anyone on the planet, ever.

He could be called the most ANTI-charismatic American writer of all time. His appeal is the sheer ugliness of his person, poems, and prose. Call it gutter realism.

Bukowski appeals to many of us at times in our lives when we feel the sudden attraction of life’s underside. (Or when we accidentally end up on that underside.) Especially if that attraction is strengthened by whiskey or wine. Then the prose magically shines. We “get” it. To our numbed minds, Bukowski’s writing becomes the most glamorous art we’ve ever experienced.

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Back on our feet, however, alcoholic filters removed, the poetry and prose become once again crude and ordinary. We perceive that Charles Bukowski is hardly a fit model for anybody. Particularly an ambitious writer.

GIVEN that, enough of a mythos has developed around this quintessentially American literary character that he almost made the M.C.A.W. list– despite his writing.

NEXT: Most Charismatic American Writer #8.
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Most Charismatic #9: Truman Capote

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

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The 1950’s and 60’s saw the rise of the Television Author. That person called upon to be the Voice of Literature for the video-numbed masses on talk shows hosted by David Susskind, Johnny Carson, Dick Cavett and the like. Of course, the writer was supposed to behave like a celebrity– a character– and Truman Capote was very good at it. Here he is on the Tonight Show:

This was a time when literature and writers mattered.

Others such as Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal also embraced the spotlight, but Truman Capote edges them out in our assessment by being a more distinctive character, with a memorable persona and voice (immortalized in two recent movies, one starring Philip Seymour Hoffman). He was, if you will, a stronger, more recognizable brand. With his innovative non-fiction “novel,” In Cold Blood, Capote created a bigger, more noteworthy work. (Which Mailer tried to match, and failed to.)

Truman Capote then takes the #9 spot as a Charismatic American Writer.

NEXT: Also-Rans #3.
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Most Charismatic #11: Ayn Rand

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

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Ayn Rand? How did Ayn Rand make the Most Charismatic list?

First, her novels spark with energy and charisma, with larger-than-life characters and dramatic happenings.

Ms. Rand herself– a rather short and squat Russian emigre with a thick accent– could never live up to creations like Dominque Francon and Dagny Taggart. Though she tried.

Her ideas and persona, however, were so strong a cult of acolytes grew up around her. Ayn Rand created her own intellectual scene, herself at the center of it, complete with cigarette holder, cape, and piercing eyes.

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Not enough for the top-ten all-time Most Charismatic American Writers— but enough to be listed right outside, at #11.

NEXT: Most Charismatic Writer #10!
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Most Charismatic #15: Norman Mailer

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

Norman Mailer

NO WRITER tried harder to be charismatic. No author worked harder at being a celebrity– from running for mayor of New York City to directing and starring in low-budget movies to trying to levitate the Pentagon to writing a book about Marilyn Monroe to appearing on television talk shows to stabbing his wife, Norman Mailer was always chasing headlines. Mailer took the phrase “Advertisements for Myself” (one of his book titles) literally. The Harvard grad’s main problem was he didn’t have a lot of charisma. Articulate? Yes. Verbose? Very much. Norman Mailer could talk all day. But his writing and persona lacked the certain “Oomph!” which goes along with being a true celebrity.

Still, we give him an “A” for trying, and place him at Number Fifteen of America’s Most Charismatic All-Time Writers.

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NEXT: Who is #14?
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Who Are the Most Charismatic American Writers?

THE ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

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AS SIDE FEATURE to the big tournament (still officially on hiatus) we’re presenting a scientific assessment of the–

“MOST CHARISMATIC AMERICAN WRITERS”

–with aid from the boys at Scientific Customized Analysis Marketing Inc., who’ve been helping us with the Tournament itself.

FACTORS

Which factors have we used to determine as nebulous a quality as charisma?

A.) WHETHER OR NOT they’re cultural icons. Iconic figures in their time and ours.

-How large was/is their cultural footprint?-

The goal after all for writers (and promoters of writing and writers) should be to increase the literary art’s footprint in this society. This world.

B.) EXCITEMENT OF THEIR WRITING. How charismatic is their poetry or prose? Did it, in and of itself, create excitement for literature? For themselves?

C.) EXCITEMENT OF THE ARTIST. Did the writer create a visible persona? Become a larger-than-life personality? Did a myth grow up about the individual? About the person’s art and life?

The folks at S.C.A.M. Inc. broke this down further for us, into precise data points not unlike baseball sabermetrics. Or whatever the fellows at FiveThirtyEight.com come up with to justify their not-always-accurate-in-fact-usually-wrong predictions about politics.

-Do we claim our assessment as scientific?-

We do so claim this! If it’s scientific, it must be correct.
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OF the more than 200 literary names analyzed, we’ll present, soon, the Top Fifteen Most Charismatic.

NOTE: Not included were those writers whose biggest claim to fame was in another art form or medium. Which means, no Bob Dylan, Hunter S. Thompson, Patti Smith or Eminem. Sorry! Literature FIRST.

NEXT: #15
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Noir Master: Chester Himes

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

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AMONG the writers we’ll be considering for the remaining slots in the tourney when it resumes are several noir “pulp” writers– notable among them Kenneth Fearing and Chester Himes.

Himes created two unforgettable pulp fiction characters: Harlem detectives Coffin Ed and Grave Digger Jones.

Chester Himes also was a master of vibrant description– not overwhelming the reader with detail but using just the right colorful words and phrases– like a painter using daubs of paint– to make the writing seem to jump from the page. An example:

A car coming fast down 127th Street burnt rubber in an earsplitting shriek to keep from running him down. Seen in the car’s headlights, his sweating face was bright red and muscle-ridged; his blue eyes were black with panic; his grayshot hair in wild disorder.

(From The Real Cool Killers.”)

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Note the subtle use of euphony in these two sentences: “shriek to keep”; “his blue eyes were black with panic.” A bit poetic.

A writer worth study for those wishing to reinvigorate the writing art, and reconnect it to the populace at large.

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Latest Tournament Selections

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

frost(Photo of a young Robert Frost.)

Have the Tournament judges had it with novelists? This seems to be the case with the latest selections, the #5 seeds, all poets.

A.)  T.S. Eliot

Once THE biggest name in the poetry game– “The Wasteland” remains, perhaps, the most famous of all American poems.

B.)  Robert Frost

Talk about famous poems by famous poets. The title “The Road Not Taken” has become part of the national conversation. For decades Robert Frost was the widely-known face of poetry in America.

C.)  Maya Angelou

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For a couple decades until her death in 2014 Maya Angelou was the face of American poetry– aided by her performances at Presidential inaugurals. Who’ll rise to the forefront to replace her?

D.)  Allen Ginsberg

This beat poet’s entry into the “Most Famous American Poem” sweepstakes is “Howl.” An audacious bid for greatness. Allen Ginsberg never came close to writing another poem with similar impact.

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The Strange Case of Thomas Stearns Eliot

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

T.S. Eliot

Poetry icon T.S. Eliot, originally penciled in for either a #4 or #5 seed in our tourney brackets, did indeed become a British citizen, in 1927– renouncing his U.S. citizenship in so doing.

One would think that being an American writer involves, at minimum, identifying oneself AS American.
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As important, we’ve received word that Mr. Eliot has no plans to attend the Tournament! (We’re still negotiating this aspect.)

The question’s on our mind
We ponder all the time

With so many writers to squeeze into 64 spots, do we include Thomas Stearns Eliot as one of them?

If anyone cares to make the case for Eliot as an American writer, DO SO. We’ll gladly post it. 300 words. newpoplitATgmail.

Appreciation #3

Philip K. Dick by D.C. Miller
Philip K Dick
ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

 Philip K. Dick’s claims to greatness don’t rest on the clarity of his style, or the sophistication of his characterizations, but on his depth of immersion in postmodern American culture. It’s no coincidence that his best novels were completed during the last period of his life, when he lived in Orange County near Disneyland – as Baudrilllard reminds us, a world presented as imaginary, in order to make us believe that the rest is “real”, when in fact all of Los Angeles and the America surrounding it are no longer real, but of the order of the hyperreal and of simulation.” Already in 1984, Jeff Kinney, the editor of the magazine Gnosis, was comparing him to L. Ron Hubbard, as well as Swedenborg, and predicting the emergence of a “Dickian religion” with the Exegesis, Dick’s 8,000 plus pages of mystical writings, at the centre. Today, Dick resembles a figure, who instead of describing reality, dreamed the future we’re inhabiting – a future of flattening characterization, incoherent and contradictory transmissions, disintegration. If every revolution in art is a return to realism, no other writer today is as necessary.
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D.C. Miller is at @dctv_od
Library Tower Los Angeles