Thursday, April 21, 2011




Choices, choices. Does Truman Capote have a large enough body of work with one great nonfiction book and a handful of decent stories? If so, who does he displace? Joseph “Catch 22” Heller? Herman Wouk? Caine Mutiny’s strawberries are part of the culture. Prolific icon Philip Roth? Richard Yates? Yates wrote a few great stories and at least one pretty good novel. As did J.F. Powers. Richard Wright? Can Wright be left out? Or Thomas Wolfe of a few giant novels? Or observant journalist and novelist Tom Wolfe? “The Right Stuff” and “Bonfire of the Vanities” are terms known by those who haven’t read the books.

We’ll see that 32 places isn’t a lot.

Playwrights? August Wilson? Langston Hughes? Neil Simon??? Will Neil Simon’s plays last? Will David Mamet’s plays last? In any sales job one meets individuals who quote from Mamet: the Glengarry leads; coffee is for closers, and such. Should any past but now largely forgotten playwrights like Clifford Odets get in?

32 slots isn’t a lot.

Why isn’t Ralph Waldo Emerson listed yet? Henry David Thoreau? Theodore Dreiser? Robert Lowell? Erskine Caldwell? Remember Tobacco Road. David Foster Wallace of our own time. Bret Ellis. Henry Miller. Joan Didion. Thomas Pynchon. James Dickey. Updike will likely have to take a space, like it or not. Hart Crane Wallace Stevens John Ashbery (ugh!) William Carlos Williams Maya Angelou Alice Walker James Cain Philip K. Dick IsaacAsimovNormanMailerEdithWhartonBernieMalamudSaulBellowSinclairLewisJamesJonesPearlBuckWilliam(EdgarRice?)Burroughs help!

32 spots isn’t a lot.


  1. I say leave out Heller. Ever try to read Catch-22 after Slaughterhouse Five? I have--tried being the operative word. I think the reverse would be possible.

    Also, worried that the good people of Concord, MA may be overrepresented. How many tournament participants can come out of that one tiny conference?

    You could pass over Mailer--unless he's threatening you.

    I hope you keep Richard Wright and all the playwrights you name. Also the Wolves--fight promoter's dream! Ken Kesey? His characters are iconic.

  2. My suggestion would be to exclude any writing done to be performed - playwrights included. Otherwise you have to throw TV and movie writers into the mix. And while people like Aaron Sorkin ("You can't handle the truth!") and David Simon (The Wire) would be no-brainers, beyond that thing would get pretty murky.

    I don't think you can leave Heller out. Catch-22 is a classic.

  3. Is there any room for a Jim Harrison by any chance?

  4. Oh, I'd love to squeeze Michigan writer Jim Harrison in. Don't know if we can. I am going to listen to all arguments made and "lobbying" done for individual writers. The sixteenth and last seed will consist of extreme longshots, quirky choices.
    Literature was originally meant to be performed. See Homer. Or Shakespeare. This is still the case with good poetry.
    The problem with TV and movie writing is that the artwork is the produce of a committee. If one studies, say, the career of David Selznick, it's found that directors and producers are famous for rewriting the "text."
    I'm considering James Agee, a known screenwriter who created other literary works.
    But this tournament is an argument for the primacy of literature as we know it. Unfair, maybe. Sorkin and others cash in for the big bucks. What's their interest in the literary art? Have they created novels or poems or even plays which are any good?
    I recall Elia Kazan ended up writing novels. They weren't bad, but not good enough.
    We won't have many playwrights in, but the big names like Williams and Miller deserve spots.
    Can we get more feedback on these topics?
    The "Selection Committee" is considerin g everything said.

  5. I'm not arguing for exclusion of performing arts pieces based on artistic merit, but rather because of the practical limitations of the 64 slots, and then the murkiness of the collaborative arts (especially movies, where scripts are more like suggestions than gospel).

    But Sorkin is a little different. "A Few Good Men" was originally a play, remember, and then he went to Hollywood to adapt it for the screen. And he is known for not allowing any ad-libs on his works. Among many other things, he's written the movie of the decade with "The Social Network," on which there was no ad-libbing, from what I understand.

    Jim Harrison should definitely get consideration, IMO.

    Another argument against the "performing arts" is that of music. I could make the case that Eminem, for example, is the greatest poet of the past 15 years, as well as being the best-selling musical artist during that time. It's a slippery slope.

  6. [Interesting side note: Sorkin wrote "A Few Good Men" on cocktail napkins between acts at a theater in NY where he was serving drinks to pay the bills.]

  7. In some ways the only interesting poetry of the last 30-some years has come from performance artists, many with hip-hop backgrounds, and not from the academic poetry world.

  8. What about Don Delillo? Edward Albee? Mario Puzo? James McEllroy? Cormac McCarthy?

  9. Please don't overlook the great genre writers like Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Harlan Ellison, and Jim Thompson. Chandler and Hammett too, of course. And Poe. And Lovecraft. I'm not saying they should be included, necessarily, but they should be considered. Oh, and Louis L'Amour. Seriously. Even so, it's gotta be Hemingway for me...