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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Star Power

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

Misty-Copelandunder armor

(Ad photo of Misty Copeland for Under Armor.)
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Should writers just write?

Should ballet dancers just dance?

Ballet has been most popular– and most relevant– when it had stars to put out front. Most famously, the star pairing of Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev in the 1960’s.

Today ballet has Misty Copeland, prima ballerina at New York City’s American Ballet Theatre. Walk into any Macy’s store and you encounter a large poster of Misty Copeland. She appears in TV commercial after TV commercial, on the cover of magazine after magazine. Feature articles everywhere.

The result? Ballet matters. Little girls grow up dreaming of being the next Misty Copeland. Dance schools are filled– a flow of new talent streaming into the art.

Think about it: The marginal art of ballet(!) has developed a more prominent personality, a more important cultural phenomenon, than the entirety of literature with all its schools, publishing companies and publicity departments. This is failure, people. Across-the-board failure.

American literature once had stars. Our goal as a literary project is to find or create new ones. Specifically, the Great American Writer.

This tournament is our way of resetting the standards and examining the nature of literary star power.

The Writer as Public Figure?

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

J-D-Salinger-TIME-1961

THE UNSTATED PREMISE of those who are touting the new movie about J.D. Salinger, “Rebel in the Rye,” is that his absence from the lit scene for decades created mystery about him. They’re hoping to capitalize on that mystery.

There’s something to be said for this viewpoint. There are multiple examples of performers and artists who achieved a level of lasting fame because they removed themselves from the scene at an early age. Greta Garbo, Marilyn Monroe, and James Dean jump immediately to mind. In the lit game, Sylvia Plath. Mystery has been an essential component of charisma for a long time. (See fan dancer Sally Rand. The brief, unsatisfied glimpse.) Or look at the most famous person in history. The mystery of Jesus’s death and resurrection is the most compelling part of the Gospel narratives.
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Yet J.D. Salinger was able to vanish because his literary celebrity had already been built. He wrote at a time when writers mattered.

How much more difficult the task is now, when even the biggest name writers walk around as virtual unknowns, not part of the conversation of general culture– a culture 1,000 times noisier than it once was.

Can one create mystery and charisma about a writer by keeping that person offstage– yet somehow still get the word out?

NEXT: “Star Power.” A Counter-Argument.