New Pop Lit Writers Combine Day One

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

cabins
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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.)
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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.

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(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.)
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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.)
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(Next: “Combine Day One” continued.)

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Overheard at NPL Combine

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

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(Norman Mailer.)
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NOTE: Some stray comments among themselves were inadvertently made by our broadcast team at the New Pop Lit Writers Combine. A partial transcript.
***

Mel Diper:  “What I don’t want us doing is smiling. No grinning. No smiling. Notice I never smile when the camera is ON. I’m an expert! I never smile. Never smile. Experts don’t smile.”

Norman Mailer:  “I wouldn’t say I smile, I mean, I’d never say I never smile because I do in fact smile only very rarely, very occasionally but I could never say never categorically that I never smile after all ‘never’ is a term of some fixity some fixed authority some like fecal tangibility and I’d not go there. No. Never. I mean, never in the statement, not the smile.”

Diper:  “I just don’t want us with fixed Howdy Doody grins like the hosts at the Winter Olympics. Grinning like idiots. Katie Couric and the guy. They never stopped smiling! It was a freak show. Scary.”

Mailer:  “Yes, ghoulish, I entirely agree.”

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Diper:  “–grins plastered over their faces. Even when snowboarders wiped out, breaking legs or in body casts. Thought  I saw one of them in a body cast anyway. What a crazy sport. Guy in a cast. There they are. The NBC hosts. Grinning! My God! But Couric has had so much plastic surgery all she can do is grin.”

Mailer:  “I look forward to Vidal wiping out on something, as a matter of fact. Or Lillian. Or Mary! Did the Count put up an obstacle course?”

Emily Dickinson:  “You shouldn’t wish bad things on people, Norman. We are all writers. Well, not Mel, but everyone else. The participants.”

Diper:  “Are you prepped and ready, Emily?”

Dickinson:  “Am I ready? In a sense, I’ve always been ‘ready.’ then again, I’ve never been. I am concerned about the large peering glassy objects and the red lights.”

Mailer:  “Cameras, my dear. Cameras! Hon, those are cameras.”

Dickinson:  “I’m not your ‘hon,’ Norman.”

Diper:  “Uh, Norman, nowadays there’s something called ‘mansplaining.’ We’re never supposed to mansplain. Not on camera anyway. So please watch that.”

Mailer:  “The feminists, you mean? Had ’em in my day. Conflicted with them often. Is Emily, I mean, Ms. Dickinson, is she– or let me direct my question to you directly, Emily– I trust I may be allowed to call you Emily? My question is: Are you a proto-feminist? Sorry– an amusing idea.” (Turns to Mel.) “Mel, were you just mansplaining to me about mansplaining?”
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Our NPL Combine Coverage Team

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

Speed_bag

OUR EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE of the New Pop Lit Writers Combine begins soon. We have a first-rate team in place, both for conducting the exercises, and covering the event for the public.
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COMBINE DIRECTOR AND ASSISTANT DIRECTOR

Director of the Combine is Count Leo Tolstoy.

Tolstoy

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Count Tolstoy’s assistant is a sarcastic individual who was introduced to us simply as “Vladimir.”

Vladimir_Putin_2015

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REPORTERS

Chief Analyst: Mel Diper @MelDiper.

Mel Kiper

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Commentator #1: Emily Dickinson.

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Commentator #2: Norman Mailer.

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To add authenticity to their coverage, both Ms. Dickinson and Mr. Mailer will be participating in all tests and drills with the other writers. Better than the Winter Olympics! Don’t miss a minute of it.

 

 

 

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.)

The Macho Fifties

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

James Jones

In the wake of Ernest Hemingway, who made the idea of the Great American Novelist respectable– even macho– the 1950’s was the heyday of the male American novelist. The decade showcased a score of ambitious new male authors, if no great ones, all pursuing the traditional novel.

Among them, James Baldwin, Saul Bellow, John Cheever, Ralph Ellison, James Jones, Norman Mailer, James Michener, J.D. Salinger, Irwin Shaw, William Styron, Gore Vidal, and Herman Wouk. At the end of the decade but ably writing about it, J.F. Powers and Richard Yates.

(Throw in playwrights Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, William Inge; poets from John Berryman to Kenneth Rexroth to the Beats; and short fiction writers like Truman Capote, and the list becomes more impressive.)

The role of novelist was thought of not as an effete pursuit but as masculine as working construction– and as fast a road to celebrity as pop singer or baseball player. A legion of men leaving military service in particular wanted to be novelists. They wanted to be Hemingway.

Not every one of these men can make the tourney brackets.

Should any of them?

 

#2 Selections Aftermath: Fuller Report

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

Scott wide shot

As hinted at by the photos posted previously, the Tournament site became a wild place last Saturday after the #2 seed announcements.

The Big Four dropped back into town so Ernest Hemingway could join Scott Fitzgerald in the celebration. They held court at the new bistro. Norman Mailer joined the two for a time but couldn’t keep up with their drinking. Mailer was last seen staggering out the back door after losing an arm-wrestling contest to a grinning Hemingway. Mailer hasn’t been seen since. Scratch one of our commentators.

emily-dickinson painting
At the same time, Emily D joined the two friends. She wore a sleek white dress, and spoke to Scott while Hem was engaged in his arm-wrestling.

“I am small like the wren, and my hair is bold,” she told Scott, “as is my pen. If you would have the leisure to speak to me, I should feel quick gratitude.”

She fell instantly in love with him, but was also intensely intimidated by Scott and by the situation. While Hemingway bellowed nearby.

Fitzgerald’s green eyes were indeed entranced by the poet. He gazed at her wistfully– but two glasses of wine were too much for Emily and she fled back to her room, vowing to ever remain. Scratch our other commentator.

Fitzgerald was later carried off unconscious himself, but has promised not to take another drink while in training. An observer, Raymond Carver, remarked that this “was a good thing. A small thing, but a good thing.”

The rest of the night is blurry. Hemingway stood in the middle of the street challenging any writer to a fight. Herman Melville and Mark Twain wondered whether or not to intervene. Just then a dogsled pulled up. Jack London stepped out from behind the pack.

jack london
“What’s doing?” he asked.

Herman M pointed to swaggering Hem, as if to ask for a favor.

Jack London, an authentic tough guy, knocked the bear out with one punch. Melville thereupon picked up the sprawling writer, threw him over his shoulder, not without difficulty, and the Big Four went back to their camp to resume fishing in the morning.

The night culminated at the coffeeshop across the street, which was packed to the rafters when Jack Kerouac stepped to the podium.

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“This reading this coffeeshop this small all-American town incredible big porch big bridge in the mist this Emily Dickinson evening of beatitude writers everywhere without beginning or ending, heavenly, man. O Whitman! O Salinger! O Twain! It’s Saturday night all over America.

“I think of Hemingway bears, Scott purple pink ties, Mailer Pound Plath noisemakers hepcat Walt Whitman writers sucking on beers and pipes scratching into paper nutty wild jazzy sweet words people are yelling or whispering blown boom trombone insights and attitudes to the beat of their inner peace,

“I think of soft smart Wharton Eliot Updike Redcoats sky-high with their reps happy to be part of this sacred gathering prayerful celebration,

“I think of all writers everyplace carrying on the tradition, man, karmic drinking of this art this experience, this too-musical too-cool tournament give me the vibe the beat the bebop syncopation keeping me going man while I sneak out the back door back stairs back on the road back into the starry Van Gogh heavenly night.”
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Next: More analysis of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ayn Rand. More “Appreciations” from real guest writers. Possibly an answer to our Trivia Question.

Report from the Venue

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There’s a palpable buzz in town today. People suspect something big may occur. I figure they’ve heard the loud voices coming from the Selection Committee room. But there’ve been other happenings. Among them:

-Several mysterious writer figures have booked into the Grand Hotel.

-The Poetry community, practitioners of the art who’ve taken up residence in the area, have undergone a change in mood. Initially euphoric that one of their number was the second name chosen, they’ve now dropped, as is their nature, to the other extreme. Speculation exists that it’ll be many seeds before another poet makes the brackets. I’ve heard grumbling. “Where’s Eliot?” they’ve asked. “At least Eliot! Or Poe? How can you leave out Poe?” I don’t tell them that Poe’s entry, when it occurs, will have more to do with his fabulous stories than his poetry.

-The poets are especially ticked-off at sudden rumors that T.S. Eliot isn’t even American! (More about that controversy upcoming.)

-At the same time, a coffeeshop is poised to open at the end of the main street. Poetry advocates have been seen inside, directing workmen. There’ve been arguments about where to place the tables. Poets, as is their nature, seldom agree about anything. The poets must see the coffeeshop as a way to lobby for their kind. Poets have been known to host impromptu readings at such places.

-The Big Four have been conveniently sent out of town to scout for pine trees. Good American pine will be needed to construct the outdoor arena in which the matches will take place. Before they left, Herman Melville was seen to duck quickly back into the Grand Hotel, possibly to see one of the new visitors. All is speculation! Then the four left. Hemingway was grinning, impossibly happy to be with his new compatriots. They’re supposed to locate tracts of pine, but word in town is that instead they’ve gone hunting and fishing.

-Some of the writers– Joyce Carol Oates among them– have located an exercise room in the basement of the old hotel. I dropped in to take a look. It’s not at all like a modern gym, but instead has equipment last used in the 19th century– dumbbells and boxing gloves. When I glanced around I saw Mary McCarthy, or someone who looked like Mary McCarthy, using the heavy gloves to punch out a silhouette of Lillian Hellman. Oates watched, egging the burgundy-haired woman on. “Bunny” Wilson the lit critic– an extreme longshot to make the event– stood by as well.

emily-dickinson painting

-Emily D, overwhelmed by the excitement of past days, has taken to her room. She’s assured me through her new friend, Sylvia Plath, that she’ll be back as guest commentator as soon as she’s able.

-In the meantime we’ve been forced to take on as Emily’s temporary replacement, Norman Mailer. He must sense that he’ll not be chosen in the next few brackets, and so has time on his hands, is eager for any way to gain the spotlight. (Also upset that the “OPA! protesters have switched their attention to the Big Four instead of him.) Or, as he explained to me,

“I reluctantly concluded that with the inevitable reaction against maleness, of which I’m of course the embodiment, as well as being the essentially pre-eminent literary figure of his time, I, Mailer, caught in this really predictable and shitty existential crisis of identity, this primordial mentality truly American, American-ness sense of existential angst– dread, dread!– the mountains of critical response to this figure Mailer who’s always stood independently for this instinctively pure essence of writer, I say essence because it’s so anally basic, this maw of warm shit excreting itself from the corpus of the art, the community, expressing itself against this symbol of male willness, I, Mailer. . . .”

This isn’t what he said exactly. I’m giving a shortened facsimile. If I were to post his full explanation for why he’s signed on as a substitute commentator, I wouldn’t have enough space.

Even Mailer senses the electricity in the streets. That something, as early as tonight, is about to break. We hope to be able to give a report, as well as an announcement of the #2 seeds, within the next several days.