ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT
(First in a series.)
THE FIRST THING you see when encountering Literature-with-a-capital-L (pronounced “Lit-ah-CHAH”) is a collection of cardboard figures little different from the cardboard figure of rock singer Conrad Birdie parked in a promoter’s office at the beginning of the movie musical “Bye Bye Birdie.” The intent in both cases is the same– but in one case the intent is disguised via layers of pontifications from professors in bow ties.
Is the intent to build up an art? To further artistic progress? To improve American culture?
Or is it to justify one’s career existence and resulting paycheck? To avoid the fate of an actually difficult job, such as grinding heavy iron bars, or cleaning toilets, or McDonald’s?
The reader who graduates from comic books to dragon fantasies to more thoughtful and realistic novels, wondering what it’s all about– and who are the best at it– is first handed not the writer, not the work, but the reputation. The cardboard cutout.
In this short series– before our Tournament writers return from summer vacation– we’ll examine how and why those reputations are created. The layers and justifications. Information you’ll not find in a classroom. We’ll look behind the cardboard and the classroom.
(Photo from Chicago Reader.)
Interesting, then, that 2017 saw the opening of a years-in-the-making American Writers Museum in Chicago. Rooms of cutouts. Spacious halls. Like all museums, it’s as much mortuary as tourist attraction. Literature Embalmed. Yep, THAT’ll bring the art form back!
The Museum tells you that THESE are the canonical American writers. Gaze at them in obeisance. No effort required. The matter has already been decided.
“Nelson Algren” by Joseph S. Pete
ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT
Nelson Algren loathed the film adaptation of “The Man with the Golden Arm,” refusing to be photographed by a marquee of a movie he “had nothing to do with” and saying Frank Sinatra’s take on down-on-his-luck vet Frankie Machine made it look like he was trying to recover from a cold instead of quit morphine.
But it landed the Detroit-born Chicagoan a windfall he used to buy a beach cottage in the Miller neighborhood of nearby Gary, Indiana. One winter, he bought a six-pack from a package store and took a popular shortcut across an iced-over lagoon, but the ice cracked and gave way, plunging him into frigid water. Though delirious, he warned rescuers not to venture onto the brittle ice and instead throw a rope to drag him out.
Algren was always like that, empathetic.
His compassion was why he was known as “the bard of the down-and-outer.” Some think he developed a fondness for life’s castaways and woebegone losers after he was jailed for five months in Texas for stealing a typewriter during the Great Depression. They blamed his stubborn attachment to the squalid underbelly of outsiders and sinners for his waning stature, even after he won a National Book Award for Fiction, saying he remained fixated on the downtrodden while society started to view the world in a more optimistic light.
Maybe Algren cared too much. Nobody wrote as well about addicts, the poor, the hustlers, the wretched refuse just trying to get by.
Joseph S. Pete is an award-winning journalist, an Iraq War veteran and a Baconfest Chicago Poet Laureate who’s been widely published in journals like Lumpen, the Blue Collar Review, Stoneboat and Prairie Winds.
WHAT will the print version of New Pop Lit look like? We’re not sure! All we know is that Detroit’s most kickass young artist, Alyssa Klash, has done the cover for us. We also know that the issue will contain dynamic– no, nuclear– writing of the like you’ve never seen. We guarantee it!
Underground legend Jessie Lynn McMains has provided a story about two young women that’s stronger than anything by Mary Gaitskill at her best.
Chicago’s best story writer Thomas Mundt has given us as bizarre and well-written a tale as you’ve ever read.
A host of other fantastic writers will be presented; talents like Terry Sanville, Kathleen Crane, Robin Dunn, Colin James, Wred Fright, Brittany Terwilliger, Dan Nielsen– each writer unique; exploring the idea of pop literature in an original way. And more.
We intended our first issue to be unlike any literary journal ever seen. A new direction. Literature produced with a DIY attitude and a zine edge.
NEW POP LIT The Print Version will debut in Detroit June 19th at the Allied Media Conference. Watch for it!
Does NEW POP LIT need a home base?
Which will be the key spot in the upcoming paradigm shift– the “Third Way” pop literature change?
We’re scattered around the Great Lakes area– a rough semi-circle of Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee. For the time being, this will be our epicenter of activity. We plan to focus on all these towns. BUT– at some point, possibly early next year, will we need to focus more on one location? This may depend in part on the response we receive from the various cities.
What are the benefits and drawbacks of each town, from a literary/publishing standpoint?