New Pop Lit Writers Combine Day One

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

cabins
***
A bus pulled up at the gate to the training camp. Exiting were thirty-some American writers, most of them not yet selected to the big tourney and wanting to prove their qualifications. Joining them were a handful of the already selected– Ernest Hemingway most prominently; he of the famous grin– out to have a good time but also confident they could prove themselves in any field; against any assortment of literary competition.

Old_Bus_(3658175083)***
Also among the group were our two correspondents, Emily Dickinson and Norman Mailer, the first already in the big event, the other desiring very much to be in it.

Jonathan Franzen, one of the last to step off the bus, blinked at the piercing sunlight.

franzen
(Jonathan Franzen.)
***
Awaiting the group were the Combine’s Director and Assistant Director. Count Leo Tolstoy wore a brown cassock, with an enormous Orthodox cross hung around his neck. Dark-browed, bearded, and tall, with Slavic features, he was a formidable-looking man, with formidable-looking eyes.

220px-Tolstoy_kramskoy

(Kramskoy portrait of Tolstoy.)
***
His shorter assistant, Vladimir, appeared equally Russian, but was fairer in hair and complexion, and stockier. More akin to a blond bulldog. He wore white shorts and a white t-shirt. Around his neck was a whistle. Facially he resembled a particular Russian president.

They scrutinized the American writers with curiosity and some scorn. Neither of them was easily impressed. Their attitude toward the Combine was, “You’re here to impress us. Show us what you can do.”

The writers, awaiting instructions, broke into small groups. Ernest Hemingway stood with his friend F. Scott Fitzgerald, who he’d convinced to sign up for this.

fsfbookcover

***
“It’ll be easy to stand out in this crowd, Scott,” Ernest assured his friend while speaking out of the side of his mouth. “The others are mugs.”

Hemingway carried a football under one arm while shadowboxing with imaginary opponents, hoping the Coach (he saw the Count as a coach) would notice. Hemingway paused and slapped Scott on the back, almost knocking him down.

“You will not need that,” Vladimir said to Hemingway.

“What?” the writer asked.

“That!” Vladimir said, pointing to the football, which Hemingway quickly placed on the ground.

Next to Hemingway, Scott looked delicate. Terrified but determined. The perpetual scrub team player eager to make good. His blue eyes considered. He was not without talent. Whether it would impress the formidable count/coach as well as the scouts and analysts was another matter.

“Line up, please,” Vladimir instructed, blowing his whistle twice.

Count Leo stepped from behind his assistant. He perused the lot of them, black eyes considering. Tiny Emily, scrawny Mary Gaitskill and Joyce Carol Oates, and unimpressively short Truman Capote, Scott Fitzgerald and Norman Mailer, among others, were almost beneath his notice. They didn’t look like great writers. “Clerks,” he muttered in Russian. To his mind it’d be a task to coach them up.

450px-Joyce_carol_oates_8333(Joyce Carol Oates.)
***
Two in the crowd appeared to have potential– Hemingway, who he’d heard much about, and another tall writer, Franzen, who’d been advertised to the Count as “The American Tolstoy.” Leo observed the transparent arrogance of both men and thought, “Good.”

The Count murmured in Russian. Vladimir translated in a loud voice.

“Count Leo has your submitted manuscripts. He will assess them before deciding your testing regimen. We are here to evaluate your suitability to be presented to the world as great writers.”

Much sarcastic emphasis on the word “great,” as if only Russians could truly be great at the art. It was a voice of authority. Vladimir told the group to stow their gear in their cabins. They were to reassemble at the nearby training ground in precisely one hour. He blew the whistle sharply, twice, to show he meant what he said. The writers scattered.

Hem serious
(Ernest Hemingway.)
*******
(Next: “Combine Day One” continued.)

Advertisements

Is This the Face of Literature?

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

georgerrmartincommons

 

 

 

 


(Pictured: George R.R. Martin.)

–OR IS THIS THE FACE OF LITERATURE?

jonathanfranzencommons

(Pictured: Jonathan Franzen.)
*******

ON THE WEEKEND of the much-ballyhooed Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor fight, we see as possible match-up between the two poles of the lit-world now, two of the more UNcharismatic, uninteresting individuals who could be found. Yes, they’re writers– which is why much of the country is fascinated by the contest between an over-the-hill boxer and a brawling Irishman– while the happenings of the lit world fascinate only a few elitist cliques in New York. (Fans of the “Games of Thrones” TV show are more interested in dragons than in whatever feckless ideas popped out of George R.R.’s head.)

DO WE NEED A NEW CANON?

The answer: YES!!! “Literature” needs to be rethought from top to bottom. It needs to get its head out of the 18th century and realize presentation is all. Mistakes that led to a canon of unreadable and/or bland writers have led to the condition of the literary art now— marginalized within the culture of greater America. Or: No one cares.

How do we get people to care?

NEXT: “Who Creates the Canon” Part II

Trendlines

Eugene_O'Neill_1936

(Who is this writer?)

THE ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

THE FORTUNES of writers can change quickly– even in a short period of time. After all, five years ago Jonathan Franzen, after his big bird novel, was considered THE top current living American novelist, and Donna Tartt was far back in the pack; a once-young phenom who’d never lived up to her hype. A flop here; a big success there, and things turn around.

WHO’S UP?

Donna Tartt.  Tartt’s novel The Goldfinch put her at the forefront of contemporary American novelists. More importantly, it all but assured her a spot in the Tournament.

Octavia Butler.  Has sci-fi writer Butler turned from egregiously unrecognized to mildly over-recognized with the shifting winds of politics and approval? It helps that science fiction itself is on a credibility upswing. As the world becomes more technological– as it turns into science fiction– this upswing is likely to continue.

Gertrude Stein.  With even a new opera out about her, “27,” building on an appearance this decade in Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” (poorly played by Kathy Bates), Stein’s standing as a persona, if not a writer, continues to climb.

Philip K. Dick.  With so many young people on social media identifying themselves with and as robots– with the knowledge people will soon enough be hybrid robots, androids and the like– Dick’s arrow of relevance is pointing upward.

Mary Gaitskill and Philip Roth.  Two writers who each began with modest trendy success via edgy short fiction collections– Mary Gaitskill with Bad Behavior in the late 80’s; the recently-retired(??) Philip Roth with Goodbye Columbus in the early 60’s. Through sheer staying power; cranking out unexceptional novels on a steady enough basis– each novel geared toward the thoughts of the intellectual hive mind of the moment– they’re considered to be writers of serious heft, in a society and age known for its shallowness. Everything is relative.

****

WHO’S DOWN?

Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson.  Once considered the top American intellectual and a major poet, today he’s seldom heard from. Stray quotes of his appear occasionally on twitter.

Eugene O’Neill.  This most Irish of American writers was still ranked in the 60’s and 70’s as top American playwright along with Tennessee Williams. O’Neill’s plays seem not to have endured (though one was recently produced on Broadway), possibly because they haven’t made outstanding movies. We have room in the tourney for a mere handful of playwrights. O’Neill is at risk of not making the cut.

Jay McInerney.  The literary reputation of the Manhattan literary “brat pack” of the 1980’s hasn’t fared well; McInerney’s rep least of all, as he was the first of the bunch, and made the biggest splash with his stylish short novel Bright Lights, Big City.

Jay Mc w Marla Hanson

Critics and publicists acclaimed McInerney the next Scott Fitzgerald– Jay has been trying to live up to this prediction in big novel after big novel, ambitiously failing to do so. Fitzgerald famously quipped, “There are no second acts in American life.” One of the few individuals the quote applies to is Jay McInerney.

Sinclair Lewis.  Won a Nobel Prize, I’m told. Lewis once said, “Our American professors like their literature clear and cold and pure and very dead.” Lewis’s work is fairly dead, though he’s taught not in colleges but high schools.

Jonathan Franzen.  The “American Tolstoy” as Time magazine or someone equally feckless proclaimed– or a second-rate Irwin Shaw? Time will tell. Shaw at least was a fairly good short story writer. Franzen may make the tourney on hype and reputation alone, though as a persona– as someone pushed to be the face of American letters– he’s been something of a dud.

Thomas Wolfe and John Dos Passos.  Speaking of Irwin Shaw, there are a host of American authors “of the moment” once thought capable of writing the great American novel; who received a ton of critical and popular attention. Then they slid slowly, painfully slowly, down the mountaintop. For Wolfe and Dos the slide continues. Our activist character “Cherry Bomb” would attribute it to them being white males and wrongly valued or “privileged” to begin with. I imagine Cherry saying, “They’re like blondes in California; throw a rock and you’ll hit a dozen of ’em.” But some of the gang aren’t bad reads, to this day. We’ll discuss those at a later date. With others like John Dos Passos and Thomas Wolfe, the quirky and the wordy, a case for the defense is harder to make.

****

Which writers are “of the moment” now?