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L.A.'s Literary Scene: There's a Theme Here

September 15, 2002

David Ulin may be incapable of seeing the big themes in Los Angeles literature ("Anthology, Like L.A., Goes Its Own Way," Sept. 2), but that doesn't mean they are not there.

The major influence of prewar writing was the California bohemian tradition. This tradition was a humanist one, and also a politically progressive one, begun by the likes of Mark Twain and Jack London, and ultimately including people such as Carey McWilliams, Louis Adamic, John Steinbeck and Upton Sinclair. Los Angeles gave them a lot to write about.

During and after World War II, the tradition became, appropriately, much more apocalyptical, as reflected by people like Aldous Huxley, Nathanael West, Malcolm Lowry (West and Lowry had their feet in both camps), Thomas Mann, Charles Bukowski and Oscar Zeta Acosta.

Ulin didn't see the patterns because he is incapable of feeling the passions engendered by both sources of Los Angeles literature.


Los Angeles

Lionel Rolfe is the author of "Literary L.A.," published by Chronicle Books in 1981.

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