So many people get it so wrong — or at least incomplete — about Los Angeles, falling back on all the usual stereotypes about the great bimbo city. Yes, there is traffic. Yes, there is smog. Yes, there are questionable people who value questionable things, but I wouldn’t say this is specific to Los Angeles (it just tends to be done with more flair and money, and often on videotape); I grew up in a small Canadian town and it’s not like everyone there was particularly deep or profound (it’s a lovely town with a lot of lovely people, no question, but there were also those who kept informing me how I “read too much”, “thought too much” and “used too many big words”). Meanwhile my husband grew up in South Africa, not exactly the land of rainbows and unicorns. I can easily rattle off the names of some of the nicest, most decent people I’ve ever met in my life…whom I’ve met in LA.
There is a great deal of talent and intelligence in this city. Considering how many people live here, and how many people arrive here on a daily basis to Make Their Dreams Come True, just by sheer odds alone it’s going to shake out that way.
Some of them are even literary.
From The New York Sun:
…there has never been a shortage of serious, gifted writers in Los Angeles and its surroundings. Starting with Helen Hunt Jackson, who invented the legend of Spanish California in “Ramona” (1884), the city has been home to Upton Sinclair and Carey McWilliams, Raymond Chandler and James M. Cain, Aldous Huxley and Christopher Isherwood, Ray Bradbury and John Fante, to name just a few. Natives or transplants, they helped to give L.A. a literature as distinctive as that of any city in America.
Today, even a short list of Southern California writers would include eminent older figures like Carolyn See and John Rechy, literary bestsellers like Janet Fitch and T.C. Boyle, and rising stars like Aimee Bender. No wonder David St. John, a poet who teaches at the University of Southern California, says that Los Angeles is a “terrific place to be a writer,” with “a huge literary community of poets and fiction writers and playwrights.”
In the last decade, however, Los Angeles has fortified this reservoir of talent with a new sense of literary community, and a growing literary infrastructure. The two go hand in hand. If New York remains the literary capital of America, it is because writers here feel that they are a central part of what the city means and does. And they can feel that way because of the publishing houses and magazines and readings and parties that make literary life visible and even, at moments, glamorous.
….to David L. Ulin, editor of the Los Angeles Times Book Review, [the newfound] freedom from invidious comparisons [to places like New York] is what defines the new literary L.A. Mr. Ulin knows all about the condescension of East Coast visitors to “La La Land.” He edited the Library of America’s “Writing Los Angeles” volume, where mandarins like Edmund Wilson and Simone de Beauvoir can be found holding forth about a city they visited for a few months, at best. “For the first 50, 60 years of the century,” Mr. Ulin says, Los Angeles’s literary image was forged “by people who came from elsewhere. In the last 20, maybe 30 years,” however, “writing about Los Angeles has shifted, so you’re seeing more homegrown writers or writers who have come here to stay. Mr. Ulin cites writers like D.J. Waldie and Jennifer Price as pioneers of a new kind of “boundaryless nonfiction,” which may turn out to be a defining L.A. genre.
In fact, he says, the only thing New York has that literary L.A. needs is a general-interest magazine like the New Yorker, one that “speaks for the culture in a way that’s broad and various.” That, and a good public transportation system*. After all, Mr. Ulin points out, “You’re not going to read in your car.”
*Okay, yeah, like that’s ever going to happen.
We do have some shiny lovely busses, though.