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Not again: New York maligns Los Angeles literary scene

December 11, 2012|By Hector Tobar
  • L.A.'s poet laureate, Eloise Klein Healy.
L.A.'s poet laureate, Eloise Klein Healy. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles…)

Those New Yorkers really have a problem with us Angelenos.

Maybe it’s because we have the temerity to live in this wonderful Mediterranean climate (the forecast today in L.A. is for a high of 70 with rampant sunshine; in Gotham, it’s 47 and gloomy). Who knows? But for some reason not even our literary enterprises are immune from their snarky comments.

“Los Angeles finally gets a poet laureate — just a few decades after Brooklyn.” So reads the headline in  “Page Views,” the bookish blog of New York's Daily News.

L.A. named its first poet laureate last week. This was a cause for hilarity for the Daily News.

“Let’s not make too much fun of Los Angeles,” writes blogger Christopher Young. “After all, the city has long enjoyed a strong literary reputation, central to the noir of Raymond Chandler, the postmodern paranoia of Thomas Pynchon and the writings of, er, Lauren Conrad.”

That’s a typical New York slight: place two of our California literary lights alongside a vacuous former reality TV “star.” I’d like to point out however, that Lauren Conrad’s novel “L.A. Candy” was foisted upon us by HarperCollins, that esteemed publishing house based in New York.

That’s another kind of slight we’re quite used to in Los Angeles: New York publishing making money from selling the rest of the world visions of our supposed superficiality.

Young points out that even though the city of New York does not yet have a poet laureate, at least two of its boroughs (Queens and Brooklyn) have had such a position for several years. (Wait, so New York City is actually behind Los Angeles in the poet laureate race, then?)

After noting that Eloise Klein Healy was named L.A.’s first poet laureate, Young writes: “Healy has long been considered a stalwart of the city’s literary scene. (Apparently, an L.A. literary scene actually exists.)" To that comment, this L.A.-born author of three books can only say this: Your ignorance of the true life of this polyglot city of poets, novelists, nonfiction chroniclers, booksellers and book lovers is quite astounding, Mr. Young.

Give me a ring next time you’re in L.A., and I’ll show you the city that gave us works by Didion, Fitzgerald, Brecht and many other writers so famous that even the readers of the New York Daily News have heard of them. It’s a city where Beat poets lived and live. It’s the city that created a literary genre. It's a city where a new American literature is being born. It's a city with a literary scene where all sorts of strange influences mix together (a little bit of Korea, a little bit of Mexico, a little bit of Iowa, a little bit of everywhere). On the other hand, maybe that's all just a bit too exotic, spicy and unexpected for your New York tastes.

hector.tobar@latimes.com

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