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:

As you can see by the flaunting of Esquire Magazine, 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 #10: Maya Angelou

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

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Poets have long played the role of official or unofficial voice of the psyche of the American nation– calmer or critic, healer or scold– from Walt Whitman up to T.S. Eliot, Carl Sandberg, Robert Frost, maybe even Allen Ginsberg. In recent times that role was filled by Maya Angelou, exemplified by the reading of her poem, “On the Pulse of Morning,” at the 1993 Inauguration of William Jefferson Clinton as U.S. President.

Long a public figure, unafraid of controversy, Angelou carried a powerful presence matched with a compelling voice. In an era of unexciting literary figures, Maya Angelou stood out– why she’s been chosen as #10 on the Most Charismatic American Writers list.

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NEXT: Most Charismatic Writer #9.
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Also Rans #2: Edgar Allan Poe

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Edgar Allan Poe almost made the Most Charismatic list for two reasons.

1.)  His fiction remains powerful, recognizable, unique. A few of his poems (“El Dorado”; “The Raven”) are standards.

2.)  His image has become iconic.

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Almost made the list, but didn’t.

NEXT: Most Charismatic American Writer #11
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Most Charismatic #12: Allen Ginsberg

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

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The poem “Howl” dropped like a bomb on the literary world of the 1950’s.

Peyote solidities of halls, backyard green tree cemetery dawns,
   wine drunkenness over the rooftops, storefront boroughs of
   teahead joyride neon blinking traffic light, sun and moon and
   tree vibrations in the roaring winter dusks of Brooklyn, ashcan
   rantings and kind king light of mind,

It was a golden age of poets and poetry, dominated by names like Eliot, Frost, Sandburg, Rexroth, Berryman– not to mention a visitor from overseas, Dylan Thomas. But no one had seen anything quite like Beat poetry before.

What made the lot of them stand out was their sense of style. A unique look and way of acting and talking which inspired the derogatory term “beatniks.”

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For the first and only time in American history, poets– literary people– led the culture.

Allen Ginsberg stood at their epicenter. The debut of “Howl” in 1955 before 100 people at Six Gallery in San Francisco is one of the historic events of American literary history.

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Allen Ginsberg is #12 on the list of Most Charismatic American Writers.

NEXT: Also Rans #2
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Also Rans #1: The Literary Brat Pack

MOST CHARISMATIC AMERICAN WRITERS–

part of–

THE ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

johnSimonePhotography_jayMcInery_tamaJanowitz_bretEastonEllis_img(Photo: John Simone.)

Call them What Might’ve Beens. In the 1980’s a trio of literary stars, the creation of Paris Review icon George Plimpton and other New Yorkers, seemed ready to conquer the literary landscape and become larger-than-life cultural celebrities. Each had written a Big Hit book.

Jay McInerney had Bright Lights, Big City.

Tama Janowitz, Slaves of New York.

Bret Easton Ellis made a splash with Less Than Zero.

Yet their follow-ups were tepid at best. Opportunity passed. Their stars faded. They’re still out there, writing and publishing books. Ellis for one struggles mightily to regain attention, but the spotlight has moved on.

NEXT: Most Charismatic Writer #12.
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Most Charismatic #13: Gore Vidal

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

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WHY are we doing this series about charismatic writers? To show that, at one time in this society, creative writers mattered. They were at the epicenter of society’s debates. One of those figures was Gore Vidal.

An intelligent and glib rich kid from a well-connected family of politicians, Vidal was raised to believe he could be President. Instead he became a novelist and essayist. A competent novelist. A brilliant essayist. At that time– the 1950’s and 60’s– in the wake of Hemingway and other literary giants, “novelist” was one of the most prestigious and valued roles a young man could aspire to. Right after President. The new television age pushed the most articulate and photogenic writers into the media spotlight– Gore Vidal among them.

We’ve made him #13 on our list of Charismatic American Writers.. Here’s his most famous appearance– his argument with William F. Buckley (himself a writer and editor) on national TV during the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

NEXT: Also Rans #1
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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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Hemingway and Trauma

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

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Editor’s note: We’ll return to “live” coverage of the Tournament as soon as possible. Until then we’ll be making occasional posts regarding possible or likely participants in the tournament.
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INTERESTING to me is the way Ernest Hemingway so aggressively pushed himself to partake of experience, of the world and life– part of his process of self-creation as a writer.

Instinctively Hemingway knew that to be a great writer he had to put himself out there– beyond safety. As Jack London did before ever considering becoming a writer.

(NO writer worked harder at turning himself into a great writer, with all that goes into it, than Ernest Hemingway.)

Examine the most striking most emotional most vulnerable or compassionate artists– those more in tune with the universe than the run-of-the-mill rest of us– Van Gogh, Beethoven, Dickens, Dostoevsky, even Kurt Cobain– and you’ll see they experienced, at some point of their lives, extreme trauma and emotional pain.

Trauma is at the center of Hemingway’s best work, from the early short stories to his first two masterful novels, The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms.

Does this apply in any way to writers today? Is it an argument for putting oneself out there?

It’s not an argument for playing it safe. The standard route of schooling, certifications, workshops, seminars; of following the herd; has produced a great amount of competence, even talent. But no literary greatness.

It’s why we at New Pop Lit have looked for writers outside the established system, knowing they may have a deeper take on reality. Those who’ve had the toughest lives, faced the most hardship, bounced around the most– whose writing might appear offbeat or hyper-emotional or bizarre– might have a greater store of what some call talent or even have some of what others call genius.

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News at NPL Combine!

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WE’RE PLEASED TO ANNOUNCE that we’ve signed a distinguished author to run our official New Pop Lit Tournament Writers Combine. An eminently big name with every qualification– Count Leo Tolstoy himself! He’s vowed to put all “decadent” American writers through their paces to discover which of them are, in his estimation, the genuine article.

The Count has told us he desires that every possible candidate for the Tournament be required to go through his battery of tests– including those already selected. In our discussions with him he said something to the effect that “They need it!” Then later the Count muttered to himself, “Can’t wait to get that fat braggart with the short sentences in there!” As the Count has a thick Russian accent, we may have heard some of that wrong. We have no idea to whom he was referring.

We’re busy setting up the camp and practice facility which will be used for the Combine. Stay tuned for more news– only here, as our exclusive Tournament coverage continues.

Writers Tournament Combine!

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ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT 

WE NOTE the National Football League will soon commence their “Combine” used to evaluate new talent.

We at New Pop Lit have decided to conduct our own writing combine, examining renowned American writers past and present to ask the question: “Who’s good enough?” Who’s good enough to be included in the tournament’s remaining brackets?

Our crack commentators, @MelDiper, Norman Mailer, and Emily Dickinson will be back with us, covering this event AT the tournament venue as we winnow the field. Might be fun.

(We might announce the #8 seeds bracket first.)

Stay tuned.
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(Dartmouth photo.)