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?