Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Library Tragedy

As I'm preparing a likely return to Philly after a year away, I'm surprised to hear of this properous city closing eleven branch libraries. What!? Many of them are in the poorer districts of the city, which most need their enlightenment. (I'm fond of libraries-- they're where I found my education.)

Even the downtrodden city of Detroit, in so much worse financial condition, has not stooped to such remedy.

Meanwhile I assume the planned expansion of the Main center, like a temple to affluence, continues apace.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Local Contest

I've been requested to post this info:

City Paper Fiction Contest 2008
WHO: You, the short story writer who lives in the Philly area.WHAT: A short story written by you, previously unpublished, around 3,000 words or less.WHAT ELSE: Winner gets printed in CP and a $500 gift certificate to Joseph Fox Bookshop! Also there will probably be a public reading, details TK.WHEN: Your entry must be delivered to City Paper by Fri., Dec. 19, at 5 p.m. Do this. You can do this.WHERE: Stories should be e-mailed to gimmefiction@citypaper.net or mailed the old-fashioned way to City Paper Writing Contest, 123 Chestnut St., Third Floor, Philadelphia, PA 19106.HOW: How about you send us your best story right now?Helpful links:http://www.citypaper.net/blogs/clog/2008/11/25/cp-writing-contest-important-prize-update/http://www.citypaper.net/articles/2008/11/20/give-us-fictionhttp://www.foxbookshop.com/--

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Novel of the Year

PRIVATE SCREENINGS by Lawrence Richette
--a book review by King Wenclas--

"She had become one of those beautifully unreachable women you saw on the Upper East Side wearing a secular halo composed of utter poise and a frightening lack of need."

"The usual gargoyles: God, it takes far less time to get tired of the rich than they would ever dream. Not that this bunch even looked particularly well-dressed: stripped of their plastic and their family names, they'd have rated, at best, a corner table at Wendy's."

"I walked home in an effervescent mood, the kind you enjoy even while you tell yourself it isn't going to last. The rain stopped by the time I reached One Hundred and Tenth Street. Broadway gleamed darkly in the light that poured out of the markets, through the windows of saloons."

I don't like giving quotes from novels, because novels count for their effect not on a well-written sentence, but an accummulation of sentences put together in the right way to create a picture; an experience. For Richette's latest novel, a love story set in New York City at the end of the 1980's, I could give a hundred such quotes which by themselves don't mean a great deal, but placed artfully in-and-out of a compelling narrative in short bursts they add a three-dimensional depth to the tale.

It's a story about a struggling young screenwriter and his struggling young actress wife; but really it's a story about New York, the variety of settings, people, incidents, jammed together like a mosaic; variety which gives the glittering island its appeal. Private Screenings captures this magical, awful place better than any novel I've read. Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City in comparison is an outline, a sketch; while Richette's, covering roughly the same time period, is a deep-hued painting.

The three things I loved about this book:

1.) The narrative voice of the main character-- the screenwriter-- falling in-and-out of love with several women, including his wife. The narrator has the mad unpredictable energy of an artist; doubts, analysis, scorn, sarcasm, jubilation, disappointment: temperament. The final stage: wisdom; appreciation of the things of life. The novel is first the voice: fast-paced nonstop wit and energy, like the city.

2.) I loved the characters, wonderfully portrayed; likeable, maddening, real. From Victor the quack filmmaker to Quentin the jaded friend to rich girl Jill and Holly the prize-- Tony's wife-- toward which he seems to be fighting the entire book; to other quirky types found only in New York like Manfred the Eurotrash pimp. All rendered humorously, as types, yet by the end of the novel becoming to us real people.

3.) This occurs through the novel's warmth, the quality I enjoyed most about the book; a quality obtained through the author's love of humanity, and, for all his satirical jabs at it, of the city he's writing about.

One can finally say it's an accomplished novel, a whole; carrying resulting aesthetic effect-- the artistic power of accomplishment. Form: the novel in balance, so that this incident in Chapter One touches that occurence in Chapter Fourteen, the harmony conveyed to the reader subliminally, not kicking-in fully until the end. Each part of the story, each character, fits, with nothing extraneous. Richette creates not flash, not smoke-bomb rock show pyrotechnics (though the story has pyrotechnics), so much as a sustained vibration of intensity and mood.

Most needed from the American novel today is this novel's optimism; a realistic optimism which comes from enduring the knocks of life. Tony the main character survives crazed and desperate scenarios to arrive back at the starting point of life that is the culmination of experience.

Brilliance is an effect that lingers after the object which created it has passed from view. Private Screenings achieves this.

(The book is available through Xlibris and Amazon. Buy it!)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Book Festival


I'm informed that this weekend's Poetry Pavilion feature at the Festival of the Book in Philly is busing in the usual establishment poetry retreads, from Jorie Graham to Gerald Stern to Lloyd Schwartz to John Hollander. It appears there remains much work in Philadelphia for the Rebellion to do!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Sister Cities

Seven months in Detroit have reminded me that Philadelphia's problems are not problems. They're irritations and warnings more than problems. Overall things are working well.

For a more cautionary tale see one of my other blogs,

(I may return to Philly in a few months or I may not.)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Book Reviews

At another of my blogs, http://www.kingwenclas.blogspot.com/, and with a soon-to-be-announced new one, I've returned to my original focus as a writer, when in 1992 I began a literary review zeen called New Philistine. That focus-- that goal-- was to reinvent the book review. In future months, ambitious attempts will be made here and elsewhere to do the same.
THE QUESTION of new styles of book reviews involves Philadelphia. For seven years America's most exciting literary movement was based in Philly. The book people at the city's largest newspaper, by shunning this movement, missed an opportunity which would've benefitted themselves and their paper greatly.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

What About New York?


For those considering moving to NYC, my own brief experience:

I was going to move to New York City instead of Detroit. I had a job lined up. I began searching for an apartment. The only thing I could afford was an illegal basement apartment. I looked at a couple of such; one in Queens, one in Brooklyn.

Because of pipes, only a person shorter than 5'7 or so could stand up in the Queens place without hitting his or her head. I didn't relish forever crouching.

The Brooklyn basement apartment was in Crown Heights. (Calling either of these "apartments" is being generous. They were holes in the ground.) This one was about the size of a small bathroom (the bathroom itself was down the hall), or a walk-in closet. A bed-- no room for anything else. There were no windows. A Soviet-style prison cell. The landlady wanted two months rent cash up front. Though the room was obviously off the books, she wanted credit and bank info so she could do a credit check. She was suspicious of my job info, looking over recent pay stubs from Philly. I sat on the bed and began filling out one of her forms while she stood in the hallway with the door open. (The room wasn't big enough for both of us.) Though it was September, a mild day, I was sweating profusely in the windowless room. There seemed to be no air. It was difficult to breathe. I wondered what it'd be like in July.

"You can buy a fan," the woman said.

To push around the room's hot air? This was an underground dungeon.

"The previous tenant was here six years," she told me.

"Oh yeah?" I returned. "Who was he? Quasimodo? Phantom of the Opera?"

I moved to Detroit.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Last Call

This is last call for those Philadelphia writers who said they'd send me essays (5 to 500 words) about the Philly li scene. Simply, "What's good or bad about Philadelphia for a writer?" A take-off point.

Soon with this blog I'm moving on to other topics and happenings. (Reviews, commentary, poetry.)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Bonnie MacAllister

"Philly Lit Today": Commentary from Philly Writers

#6 in a series--

What’s right in Philadelphia:

Blam Poetry Series in East Falls

I attended this last month, and there were only two poets I knew (after doing this performance artist thing since 1992, this is rare), and everyone was talented! I highly recommend this joint to all area and visiting poets.

Host Adam Coben wrote, “Well the last Blam!! was a completely full house with people sitting on the floor...we have more floor space and chairs if you want them on the 31st...little different perfromance this time. We will have the open mic first..with only five precious spots...and five featured performers...the open mic folks will have five minutes and the features will have ten minutes each...please join us...the five spots for the open mic are all available..but I must have them confirmed.....please all featured performers…send me a two line bio and open micers send a one sentence bio...also we will probably have the executive director from the painted bride in the house…as a semi audition for what we do in Blam..so pack the houes with positive energy...I will be hosting at least two venues...thanks for all the support.....”
The Set Table, 3572 Indian Queen Lane, Phila, Pa 19129, 7-9.

Margins Magazine

They wrote, “We are happy to announce the publication of our first issue and invite you to come celebrate with us! Our release party will take place on Monday the 28th at Higher Grounds (631 N. 3rd St). Refreshments at 7:30 pm, open reading at 8 pm. All are encouraged to participate, so don't forget to bring your work! *** Margins Magazine is Philadelphia's newest forum for literature and the arts, now accepting submissions for its premiere Fall issue. Originally conceived in the Spring of 2007 by a young and roguish group of Philadelphians, Margins aspires to provide a platform for talented and innovative new voices. In short, we want to publish your stuff.”

Panoramic Poetry

October Gallery’s series is going on 15 years, and I was lucky enough to be the administrator for two of them. Hosted by Andre “Crucial” Shuford, the series showcases all ranges of talent for all ages and is easily accessible to all poets and audiences. The series also curates an “All-Stars” quarterly which has featured amazing artists and urban underground professionals such as Trapeta Mayson, the Unknown Poet and Queen, Amun Miraaj, Shyster, Tracey Lynn, and Bruce George. To sign up to read, poets must email panoramicpoetry@octobergallery.com.

And the Award Goes to:
And if you were to ask me who are the best poets in Philadelphia, I would tell you for females Monica Pace (Dead Drunk Dublin) and Lora Bloom (Radio Eris) and for males CA Conrad (Soft Skull Press) whose recent multimedia features have me stunned.

What’s sad:
The death of Hinge Online which will go offline in August 2008. Equal proponents of poetry and art, Hinge Online fearlessly published new and emerging Philadelphia talent.http://www.hingeonline.com/

What’s wrong in Philadelphia (taken from the artblog http://fallonandrosof.blogspot.com/):

Yooo hooo, Michael Nutter--pay attention to usPost by libby and robertaCity Hall wavering, reflected in the PNC building (by Libby Aug. 2006)

We're wondering what happened to Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter's campaign promise of reestablishing an Office of Arts and Culture and art czar. It's like deja vu all over again. Make a promise, break a promise.

What's the politics of it? We're not sure. But we know that the longer the decisions linger--creating the office and naming its head--the more likely this is not going to happen for another year. The budget is due at the end of January. In which department will the budget line for art be? Or, in other words, will it be anywhere?

And when city union negotiations come up on the mayor's agenda in a couple of months, fuggeddaboudit. The political and financial pressures will be enormous and the focus won't be on art.

We don't know how to solve this problem, but we do know there's a committee stuck in the mud on the art czar decision. Can it be that politics will be the undoing of the larger art community because of political pressure from someone?

You can help!! Send an email TODAY to Nutter aide Terry Gillen. Her emails are terry.gillen@phila.gov and terry@nutter2007.com, and tell her time is a-wasting, and to please remember that the visual arts scene is having a golden age, right now. Failing to appoint and failing to create the office would be a missed opportunity -- as well as a broken campaign promise. We in the visual arts community were counting on Nutter to make it right for the arts community when we gave him our votes. Raise your voices asap!---

Bonnie MacAllister is an artist, arts administrator, and educator. A five-time slam champion and current Pushcart Prize nominee (for “Rosary”), she has delivered her deconstructed breath verse at over sixty venues in several countries.


Saturday, March 1, 2008

Victor Thompson

"Philly Lit Today": Commentary from Philly Writers

#5 in a series--

we installed a doorbell but no one rings it
we probably wouldn't answer anyway

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Lee Klein

"Philly Lit Today": Commentary from Philly Writers

#4 in a series--

Your question is about the literary community in Philadelphia, right?

First, the phrase “literary community” suggests to me something I want little to do with. Writers read and write. These are solo activities. They do not require communities.

“Literary community” also suggests a gathering of writers doing what they tend not to do so well: reading their writing aloud to writers who daydream while writers read their writing . . .

I’ve been to few readings in Philly, largely because if I’m going to leave my $495 studio in South Philly and not watch the 76ers or Phillies that night—or read, write, watch a movie, or endrunken alone with a special friend—I tend to like to attend readings of people I know, or writers I’ve read (and want to see how they talk and walk and respond to inevitable questions about their “process”).

I also like when readings are in bars or small bookstores. As far as I know, there’s nothing like the KGB Bar here. Such places create a feeling of community. As did readings at the Prairie Lights bookstore in Iowa City when I lived there. Almost every night, well-attended readings generally followed by open invitations to move the crowd to a bar or a house party. Frequent readings followed by house parties create community.

“Community” involves a sense that others care about what you care about, a sense that you’re not alone, which in Philly, for me, has not been the case, maybe in part because I don’t attend readings at the Kelly Writers’ House or where else? This is a major city, but it doesn’t seem to me to have much of a traditional literary culture, at least not compared with other places I’ve lived, especially NYC and Iowa City, which isn’t really a fair comparison.

I had trouble dealing with this perceived lack till I realized that my god it’s really a “literary community” in the finest way, in that it’s not so much about lazy no-talents sitting around drinking while dissing writers with book deals (and talent, and skills, and work ethics), but it’s an inexpensive city with as many serious problems as concealed beauties, mostly inhabited by people who don’t give a shit about what you think about their so-called fashion statements, unlike in NYC, where exteriors are much more impressive in part because exteriors are much more considered.

One of the things you do if you move to Philly is justify your existence here to people from elsewhere. One of the things I’ve said semi-recently is that Philly, since I moved here in July 2006 from Iowa City, after four years in Brooklyn, has been about interiors. There’s more interior psychological space to get work done (than in NYC). And more interior physical space, living cheaply alone, also enables the solitude necessary for doing what writers do: spend time alone, reading and writing, undistracted by good things happening involving literary communities. But then when you go outside to meet friends (who may also write), there’s fucked up shit to talk about (with literary stuff always waiting as a fallback topic) and the drinks are cheap (and you can afford them because you don’t pay much rent).

It’s dangerous to compare Philly to NYC, however, because NYC is the total jawn. The Bronx surely has Philly’s grit, and it’s a comparatively short $2 MetroCard ride—instead of a $10 Chinatown bus trip—from hot literary readings. But if you consider one of the other meanings of the word “readings,” as in “impressions” etc, Philly’s not a bad place to be, as long as you’re not here to participate in a sort of literary culture that doesn’t involve sitting alone in a cheap room over near a pair of dueling cheesesteakeries.

But one of Philly’s drawbacks, I think, is that many, many, many people you might meet might not be the most driven people on the planet, which is totally cool if you don’t mind hanging out with stoned folks playing Guitar Hero. But if that sort of attitude infects you, slows you down, tars the feathers of your creative soul, beware. One thing that’s energizing about NYC is that pretty much everyone’s got some sort of project going on. Lots of people are producing stuff, and not always with a sense of doing it for the least shred of success. More so, inspiration tends to occur so often it almost sort of justifies the high rents . . .

In Philly, the attitude seems entirely different. But, basically, I’d say that Philly is a great place to get work done, especially if working is your primary goal. If you want to make some connections, get exposed to a lot of things across various art forms, live with roommates, stay out in bars till four in the morning, and take on serious credit-card debt, I suggest you do what it takes to move to NYC.

Either place is good and necessary, depending on where you’re at as a writer.

Monday, February 11, 2008

CA Conrad

"Philly Lit Today": Commentary from Philly Writers

#3 in a series--

Thank you for inviting me to write something for this King. I've been living in Philadelphia since 1986, but started coming here for poetry readings in 1984. It's almost not fair to compare the times since in the end time has nothing to do with fairness, so instead of talking about the old days by way of comparison I'll just launch into what is Now.

We're living in a city which is being destroyed by millionaires and billionaires. No two ways about it. What Donald Trump did to the artists of New York City these other men will do to us here in Philadelphia. But while we're here, while we're still able to afford our apartments, and while we're all having to work harder and harder and more and more hours of work each week to keep our heads above the filth of a greedy few, THERE IS POETRY! More poetry than ever! Poetry of every kind! Poetry readings every night of the week somewhere in the city or the surrounding area, you don't have to look hard or far for it, poetry is a mighty force today in the city of brotherly and sisterly Love!

I've just recently turned 42. When I was just a kid learning to find my way to poetry, falling in Love with it, the poets I was reading at that time were mostly dead, in fact some of them dead for centuries. But upon turning 42, I find myself realizing that my favorite poets TODAY are my friends! It's a beautiful thing. My friends show me their latest poems and I'm in awe, I'm in Love, and I feel fortunate, very fortunate. I would not trade this time or this city for any other. Philadelphia taught me how to fall in Love with the world, and as corny as that may sound it's VERY true!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Wilson Out!

The big lit news in Philly this week is Frank Wilson's sudden retirement as Book Editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer. I may have some comments on the situation upcoming.
NEXT UP: Another great local writer in our "Philly Lit Today" series.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Lawrence Richette

"Philly Lit Today": Commentary from Philly writers.

#2 in a series--

I live in Philadelphia. By choice. I have lived in New York, Washington, and Los Angeles happily, and I could have chosen to stay in any of those other cities, but Philly kept calling me home.

It is after all the second-largest city on the East Coast. But its proximity to New York City gives Philadelphians a terrible inferiority complex. We are both too far from the perceived cultural center of the country, which is allegedly Manhatttan, and too close not to be swalllowed up by New York's gravitational pull.

I have now published six novels through Xlibris. Of them all but the latest one take place, wholly or in part, in Philadelphia. I continue to find the city a boundless source of inspiration. Philip Roth recently observed with a rare show of common sense that American writers tend to be regiionalists. Twenty years ago, when I started writing novels, I had no thought of becoming twentieth-century Philadelphia's chronicler. And yet that is what I seem to have become. Philadelphia teems with characters, stories, locations that have never been described. Any fiction writer who keeps his/her eyes and ears open will be rewarded--if that writer is willing to tell the truth.

From a crass material standpoint, Philly is a great place to live, at least compared to New York or D.C., because you can live well here on a relatively low income. The city has its disadvantages too. There's a lack of support for local writers, and the number of independent bookstores where you can set up a reading has shrunken drastically in the past year. The city library and school system need to coordinate better with regional poets and novelists, to get them in contact with Philadelphia's future creators. And Philadelphia's so-called independent media often ignores or denigrates local talent in favor of brand-name mediocrities like the unspeakable Jennifer Weiner.

New York is, in my view, a moribund place for a young writer to start out. There is too much cutthroat competition, for one thing, and the values of New York are all about success, not quality. In Philadelphia things tend to be the opposite. It may be a second city in population, but it is the first city in the country in terms of an up-and-coming arts scene. And if you get tired of cheap rents, soft pretzels, and Mummers, you can always jump on a Greyhound bus for less than $40 round trip and spend the day in Manhattan. I did that yesterday, and while I had a fine time, I felt my heart lift as we crossed the Ben Franklin Bridge.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


This post has been deleted at the request of the writer.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

A Fresh Start

NOW that I'm no longer active in the Underground Literary Alliance (though still a supporter), I'm free to engage in new outreach to literary people.

I've always been an "Inclusive" person, not wanting to exclude anyone. Even with the ULA-- no one was asked to leave during my tenure, though over the years several left on their own. I always made myself available to criticism from members and outsiders alike-- eventually was overwhelmed by it.

The main misconception: That because I advocated FOR excluded writers, and criticized several unjustly rewarded literary Insiders, some thought I meant to exclude those Insiders from the literary-world pie. (As if I ever could!) They were projecting onto me their own exclusionary attitudes. What I sought is for everyone to have access to said pie. That remains my goal.

Bottom line: I'm now a free agent. It's an opportunity to make a new beginning. In that spirit I'm reaching out to lit people of all kinds. I've taken off my war paint and picked up a peace pipe.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


I've invited Philadelphia-area writers to submit comments of 5 to 500 words for a series, "Philly Lit Today," which will appear as posts on this blog. I hope to get much input. If you wish to be included, please let me know through this blog's listed e-mail address.

I'll have some remarks upcoming about that happenin' neighborhood, where good friends of this blog are fairly strong. I'll also have photos of the Wred Fright-Crazy Carl reading that took place there this past summer.

I've just heard from a local poet for the first time in months, and may do a short profile on what's up with him, as it sheds much light on the situation of underground writers in this country.

Anyway, stay tuned!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Philly Dilemma


As a cultural city Philadelphia wants to be two things. It wants to be what it is at its heart: a tough working class town with tough peopls who have a clear-eyed no bullshit view of the world, on the order of a Cleveland, a Pittsburgh, or a Detroit. At the same time there's a veneer of glitterati who expect Philadelphia to be New York.

Present is a separation between DIY doers like Frank Walsh or Natalie Felix, as well as indigenous observers like Lawrence Richette, with the wannabe-New York City influence which is so powerfully strong. The independent writer is left trying to find a spot somewhere within the intruding arms of the nation's literary establishment or be shut out.

Established Lit is anchored by three major power centers.
1.) U of Penn.
2.) The Main (Free) Library.
3.) The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Granted, there are cracks in each of these edifices. There are Penn profs who think independently and are open to new ideas and new writers. (I hope there are!) While the main reading series at the Free Library is an extension of the conglomerates of New York, the Monday Poets series has been more democratic, if not populist. Even from the "Inky," for all its stagnation, there have been hints from their book people that they know they have to change-- though any babystep they make toward change, like soliciting reviews from tame lit-bloggers, is accompanied by complacent self-congratulation.

They remain voices of the status quo: landmarks of artistic inertia.

Mixed-in among these are voices trying to catch their favor, usually p.c. cliques of various styles; many representing attempts at change but none who would challenge these powers and their premises. The chief tactic is survival through adaptation; recycling the acceptable and the predictable. At stake are bureaucratic positions, grant money, and occasional publication.

All cues come from the Big City to the north, whose pull is inescapable. This phenomenon turning Philadelphia into a literary satellite is reinforced by writers fleeing New York real estate prices. Many are rabid McSweeneyites, affluent trend-followers who've created a community centered around Big Jar Books.

The healthiest aspect of the lit scene IS the presence of independent bookshops, from the great Germ Books in Fishtown, to Robin's, to Molly's (if that's still going), to Joseph Fox, to Wooden Shoe, among others.

Trust-funders and street poets: the Philly scene is a variegated mix of the awful, the mediocre, the fake, the genuine, and the good.

But what do others think?