A Retrospective List of Prominent L.A. Writers


George Hitchcock (1914-2010) was a poet, playwright, and painter who was fond of palindromes. He named his publication project KAYAK, in part, because of the droll pleasure of that word’s reversibility. Today’s date is a numerical palindrome, and it marks both the performance of Punxsutawney Phil and the Super Bowl contest, neither of which I have a bet on other than several thousand dollars of total indifference.

I remember a poetry reading hosted by Lee Rossi, to celebrate the publication of an issue of TSUNAMI magazine in 1989, that occurred on Super Bowl Sunday. Some academic poets had scheduled a reading for that day, too, in Los Angeles, but once they learned that they were up against Super Bowl, they flinched and cancelled. TSUNAMI’s reading went ahead as scheduled and provided a score of people with a lively alternative. For those equally restless comrades on 02/20/2020, I urge you to visit a bookstore and take along a print-out of this post.

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Twenty-three years ago, the L.A. Weekly ran a feature-length article by David Ulin in which 80 writers were chosen as representative figures of literary accomplishment in Los Angeles. The list did not claim to be a selection of this city’s best novelists, poets, or non-fiction authors, although if you weren’t on it, it was hard not to view it from that perspective. Regardless, it did permit many of us working in Southern California to grasp the sheer volume of serious writing being done within this imaginary community. Some of these writers have died or moved elsewhere since this list appeared, but the majority of them are still alive and writing, and deserving of your scrutiny.

Alex Abella
Daniel Akst
Luis Alfaro
Luis Alfaro
Gioconda Bell
Leon Bing
Laurel Ann Bogen
T.C. Boyle
Ray Bradbury
Edward Bunker
Octavia E. Butler
Bebe Moore Campbell
Frank Chin
Killarney Clary
Wanda Coleman
Michael Connelly
Bernard Cooper
Dennis Cooper
Robert Crais
Mike Davis
Harriet Doerr
Carol Muske Dukes
Harlan Ellison
Steve Erickson
John Espey
Susan Faludi
Montserrat Fontes
Sesshu Foster
Cristina Garcia
Amy Gerstler
Mikal Gilmore
Jack Grapes
Richard Grossman
Eloise Klein Healy
Michelle Huneven
Tara Ison
Paul Krassner
Jim Kruose
Michael Lally
Gavin Lambert
A.J. Langguth
Russell Leong
Eddie Little
Sandra Tsing Loh
Bia Lowe
Lewis MacAdams
Ruben Martinez
Douglas Messerli
Jack Miles
Brian Moore
Tannick Murphy
Yxta Mata Murray
Joy Nicholson
Nicole Panter
Gary Phillips
Donald Rawley —
Richard Rayner
John Rechy
Henry Rollins
Mark Salzman
Greg Sarris
Lisa See
Carolyn See
Hubert Selby Jr.
Michele Serros
Clancy Sigal
Mona Simpson
April Smith
Jerry Stahl
Jervey Tervalon
Lawrence Thornton
Hector Tobar
Michael Tolkin
Michael Ventura
Diana Wagman
Amy Uyematsu
Bruce Wagner
Diane Ward
Benjamin Weissman
Terry Wolverton


Lawrence Thornton commented that in writing about historical and political events he hoped to “make people take notice. It may not change things, but it can shine a light on something people will not otherwise see.”

Michael Tolkin: “The price of being a novelists in Los Angeles is — and always has been — that basically you’re in exile. You don’t have to run away to a Greek island to get away from literary culture, because you’re already in L.A.”

Tara Ison: “The difference between writing screenplays and novels is that one is like fucking for money, and the other is making love with someone you truly care about. It’s not a moral judgement — screenwriting is an amazing art, but I don’t have the gift. I was a whore. I loved being a whore. I was a very sincere whore. For me, though, screenwriting was a job, while the novel was a revelation.”

Luis Alfaro: “Los Angeles is like a bunch of little border towns.”

When this list was published in the L.A. Weekly in 1997, the introductory remarks made no mention of the deaths earlier in the decade of Charles Bukowski and Leland Hickman. There were some peculiar omissions in the list: Joseph Hansen; Gail Wronsky; Ron Koertge; Paul Vangelisti; Kamau Daaood; Holly Prado; Dennis Phillips; Deena Metzger; Peter Levitt; David St. John; Harry Northup; Stephen Yenser; Timothy Steele; Suzanne Lummis; Michael C. Ford; Robert Mezey; Scott Wannberg. And the introduction should have at least cited the work of Susan Straight and Kate Braverman as context, just as now the work of Paul Beatty should inform L.A. writers working on this particular purlieu.

If the list were updated to include only living writers, a substantial number of poets and writers have emerged in Los Angeles in the past 20 years that could fill the roster with aplomb. A partial list would include Will Alexander; Harryette Mullen; Chuck Rosenthal; Cecilia Woloch; Maggie Nelson; Luis Rodriguez; Tony Barnstone; Nina Revoyr; Aimee Bender; Janet Fitch; Viet Thanh Nguyen; Peter Gadol; Anthony Seidman; Charles Harper Webb; Robin Coste Lewis; Salvador Plascencia; Percival Everett. Some other writers are quickly on their way to this list, including Alexis Rhone Fancher and Michelle Bitting.

For young writers wishing to be as equally known and respected, I would urge you not to get overwhelmed by the amount of reading your nightstand awaits. The books of the above writers are not going anywhere, and several of them meet the following standard: “The only book worth reading once is the one worth reading twice.” Let that guide you in your own writing, too.