Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Short Story Model

What is, or should be, the model short story?

What should be the form's goals? What objective are necessary to reach the goals?

I love classic stories. Contemporary stories are inferior. They're either too solipsistic, or weighed down by the perceived need to "write well" from a literary standpoint.

The short story is not about the writer, but the reader.

Happy New Year

I wouldn't say this was the hardest year I've been through, but it ranks right up there.

Quick Quiz

WHO would win a steel cage match between King Kong and Godzilla?
(Serious responses only.)

Monday, November 23, 2009


Those who missed the brief run of the Jonathan Parker-Catherine DiNapoli flick "Untitled" missed a thought-provoking work. While it shreds the pretentions of New York contemporary art and "serious" music, it also offers an explanation, of sorts, or how we got there. (The scariest part is that I mildly enjoyed some of the film's mildly stimulating David Lang background music.)

Questions raised: What is art? What is the avant-garde?

To me, the connection between serious and commercial art, depicted regarding the art gallery at the center of the movie, was most intriguing. It mirrors the situation of literature's "serious" postmodern works a la Jon Lethem, with the bills paid by the "back room" produce of the Brad Thors of the publishing world. In literature, as with art, both categories are junk. (Or, as a Russian singer notably proclaims in the film, "This is shit!")

This realization-- that it's all shit-- turns the film from comedy into tragedy: the depressing knowledge that art has reached a dead end, with no apparent way out.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Programming Note

Like many millions of people in this country, I don't own a computer, and rely on libraries and cafes in order to access the Internet. Of late, branch libraries in this town have cut their hours. Starting in October, all library branches including the central branch will close for budgetary reasons. (No libraries in a major city??) Internet cafes at the same time have been raising their fees.

WHICH MEANS I'll be doing a lot less posting on this blog and my other blogs. It's a miracle that I've kept them going the past few years as it is, given my up-and-down (mainly down) life circumstances during that period. Right now the recession is as bad as it's been, which makes it a little more difficult to make a living in any of the kind of jobs I work. I probably need a break from fighting the corruption of the demi-puppets!-- and will be focusing for once on my own writing.

In the meantime:
-There's a Youtube video purporting to be an interview with me, about the ULA!, conducted by a person I've not heard of, in which I talk up the organization-- why I would is a mystery as their top guys won't even sign the Petition to PEN, though it's clearly in their interest. (I also think I'm better looking and more articulate than the character in the video.)
-Said Petition still exists, and welcomes any lit person interested in the plight of writers-- everyone concerned about leveling a grossly distorted playing field:

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Letter to "Poets & Writers"

To the Editor:
When I saw your new "Indy" issue I was ready to applaud your coverage of a literary movement long on the scene. However, your presentation of DIY is curiously truncated.

Where is mention of the major players of the Do-It-Yourself literary movement today? No Zine World, no Underground Literary Alliance, no Outsider Writers, no ZineWiki, no WeMakeZines. The historical overview Kimiko Hahn gives in her article has thrown the past 20 years of exciting DIY activity down an Orwellian memory hole. Where is mention of Factsheet 5 (either incarnation)? Or of unique DIY writing talents like Aaron Cometbus, Jen Gogglebox, Doug Holland, the Urban Hermitt, Bill Blackolive, Ann Sterzinger, and many others? Ms. Hahn hasn't done her homework. She mentions a "Chapbook" show-- apparently unaware of the hundreds of zine fairs, shows, and readings which have taken place, and continue to take place, this decade across the country.

Most mysterious of all, I can't find the word "zine" anywhere. (How-to-Make-a . . . Chapbook??)

Most of those involved in DIY see themselves as making ZINES, which encompass a range of talents-- art, graphics, DIY marketing and selling-- that traditional chapbooks only scantly embodied.

Real DIY is rooted in the punk happenings of the 70's and 80's. It carries forth that philosophy-- creating art apart from badges, institutions, gatekeepers, bureaucrats, and controllers. ("We don't need no stinkin' badges.")

Culture from the ground up. To paraphrase Zine World's motto, American literature belongs to everyone.

Karl Wenclas

Thursday, September 03, 2009

A Che T-Shirt


Appropriation is the name of the game for the upper classes. If they want something, or want to be something or someone, they purchase it. They adopt a role as easily as buying a Che t-shirt. What they most desire is ownership.

This is how, for instance, rich guy Hiram F. "Rick" Moody III operates. "Daddy-Society, buy me that." In a recent Believer essay Moody decided he wished to be the next Antonin Artaud. "Voila!" American Express or Diner's Club? Antonin Artaud he's become.

The curious thing about it is that Artaud wanted to destroy the walls put up around art and artists; between artist and audience. Rick Moody lives surrounded by walls: institutional walls; class walls; walls of security and guards.

Twice I encountered the man when I led the ULA. I spoke up at events, from the audience. Briefly, I broke down walls. Both times security quickly shut me down.

They were exciting events! The kind of encounters the real Artaud would've loved. The second time, at the ULA's "Howl" protest in 2006, at Columbia's Miller Hall, I was with several notably crazed Artaud-like avant-garde characters whose lives and art consist of destroying walls-- "F.D.W." Walsh; Jelly Boy the Clown (whose sudden appearance onstage panicked the genteel audience); and surrealist underground novelist Patrick King. The Fake Artaud in a chair on the stage, Mr. Moody, sat silent while a cranky member of Moody's marionette entourage, one Phillip Lopate-- a rather red-faced marionette-- angrily denounced us.

The conflict released the bourgeoisie for a moment from their psychological fetters, but they didn't like this. We departed. Behind us the invisible walls slammed immediately down. The controlled puppets onstage and the controlled audience continued their stuffy, mind-wasting program.

We were denizens from the street thrown back to it. The difference between the two camps on that occasion was stark. No matter! For Columbia, ownership of "Howl" was more important than the spirit of the work. "Howl," or Ginsberg, or Artaud are objects they can place in a showcase, or lock in an airless room, or nail onto a wall like a trophy pelt.

These days the literary establishment has decided it wants DIY, and is busily moving to possess it.

Meanwhile the corpse of Antonin Artaud, absent of its spirit, can be found nailed to a wall at the controlled and clean offices of The Believer in San Francisco. First door past the lobby. They've got it! Bought; appropriated; credit card receipt in their hand; their name on the title.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


I've had an interesting email from writer Jacqueline Sarah Homan, latest to join the protest at
She pointed out the importance of "presentation" (image) to the bourgeois personality. We've also discussed the strange case of super-liberal Barbara Ehrenreich, who's made millions out of speaking FOR working and lower class people, yet to date has refused to sign the Petition to PEN herself. (She knows about it.) In many ways she's more detrimental to the plight of underground writers than a straight-up opposed reactionary, because she displaces our authentic voice, leaving our kind of writer more shut out than ever.

A similar case to Ehrenreich is PBS TV liberal Thomas Frank, a former zeenster of sorts who's ignored three packets of information mailed to him about the PEN matter. It seems that, given a choice between career fortune and supposed principles, they easily throw the latter overboard. Which tels me they weren't very genuine to start with.

The chief example of the pseudo-liberal mindset is PEN American Center, which postures as the defender of the underdog-- raising funds and throwing lavish parties in so doing-- at the same time it shuns said underdog in this country. They're able to compartmentalize their ruthless blackballing behind a Potemkin-style facade of goodness.

My readership has followed this protest for five months. I've posted a ton of argument and evidence. What do you think? I'm opening the blog to unrestricted comments.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Das Komisar

There's a fundamental contradiction to PEN American Center. They're supposed to speak for the powerless. But, in this country, if you have no power PEN will not even acknowledge that you exist.

If I were Cormac McCarthy or Philip Roth they'd be rushing to help me and my compadres. But Roth and McCarthy don't need help. Not at all.

PEN's own genteel protests are in fact about advancing megaconglomerate power into every corner of the globe. PEN's every action can be gauged according to how it relates to power.

Witness Director Isenberg. Read his bio. Is he about anything but the attainment of position; of power?

Was Isenberg given his latest position to reform PEN-- or to squelch dissent and reform?

If this were the Soviet Union, Director Isenberg would be standing loyally behind Brezhnev on the Kremlin wall.

Tom Hendricks and myself each sent emails to new Director Isenberg notifying him of the Petition to PEN. The door is open for dialogue. We've received no response.

Why haven't YOU joined the Protest? History celebrates the rebels; the trailblazers: the dissidents. Memory of the timid and the corrupt vanishes into dust.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

For All Writers

THE VARIETY of signers of the Petition to PEN shows that it's for all writers-- ALL writers-- from the lowest to the highest. What it's really saying is this: "We writers are taking back control of our art."

PEN members THEMSELVES most of all need to join the cause, as they've lost control of their own organization.

Remember, we're the good guys.

Media Circus

GRANTED, it's difficult to interest people in the corrupt and grubby little world of literature against the Two-Minute Hate Orwellian Noise Campaign of the ongoing health care media show. In one corner, smooth-sounding Benevolent Big Brother Barack Obama. In the other, clinically insane drama queen Glenn Beck.

What's really happening is a war between media giants; GE/NBC/MSNBC and the Democratic Party their handpuppet versus Murdoch/News Corp/Fox and the Republican Party their handpuppet. It's a power struggle over spoils; a war over WHO is going to control the Machinery of Monopoly. On the fundamental questions there's little difference between the two camps. Okay, Republicans are Hard Imperialists and Democrats are Soft Imperialists, but NAFTA, WTO, and the Afghanistan bombing continue.

This is similar to the last days of the Roman Republic, when the political competition was between competing plutocrats, Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus, over WHO would control Rome's power and wealth. Real reform could never happen, because the Reformers would have to reform themselves.

I find it amusing to hear talk of a "government option," as if the government were independent, when it's owned and controlled by one gang or another of corporate plutocrats. This was proven over the past year when the corporate banking world turned the Treasury piggy bank upside down and emptied it into their own pockets.
Actually, the Establishment power structure DOES still care, for whatever bizarre reason, about literature. This is proven by the appointment of one of their best, most loyal soldiers, one Steven L. Isenberg, as Exec Director of the PEN organization, which Once Upon a Time was run by writers themselves.

Can PEN allow real writer dissent against our nation's Power Structure when it IS (part of) the U.S. Power Structure?
(That Mr. Isenberg resembles an old Roman plutocrat adds to the amusement.)

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Prisoner

Noted imprisoned writer Cassidy Wheeler is the latest to join the Petition to PEN at
It was not easy getting him information on the protest. The facility he's at opens and screens all mail. They have a bureaucratic checklist of more than fifty reasons for rejecting correspondence. Nevertheless, a small information packet was eventually allowed through to him.

Cassidy signed immediately and mailed back the Petition. His name has been added to the list of literary heroes. At the same time, many hundreds of writers who aren't in prison have easy access to the Petition, and the reasons behind it. They can read it at will, at the click of a computer mouse, and have not signed. How many more rights do they have than Cassidy; how many more opportunities to speak out?-- for their own rights and for all writers' rights, yet they fail to do so.

We either use our democratic freedoms or lose them-- use our voices or see those voices marginalized, so that the only voices which remain are those for the rich and powerful-- as we've seen with the transformation of PEN the past twenty years. Plutocrats will have all the media, all the space, while our own room to maneuver in this society will be squeezed as tight as a prison cell.

The Petition to PEN is an affirmation of purpose; a statement of existence as citizens and writers. Please join our cause.

Posted at PEN

(Posted on a thread at PEN America Center's main blog,

Here are facts for PEN's new Director to consider:
In 2001 the Underground Literary Alliance began bravely and openly documenting and exposing corruption in the literary world. Included in our reports were questionable grants to trendy writers like Rick Moody and Jonathan Franzen. We also looked into questions, originally raised by others, of plagiarism, and squelched articles.
In response the Eggers Gang (to competitors they behave like a gang) engaged in a several-year dirty tricks campaign against myself and the ULA. This has also been documented-- beginning with a 2004 New York Times article which revealed that Dave Eggers himself had been posting anonymous attacks against the ULA on Amazon.
As a lawyer, Mr. Isenberg knows the importance of evidence. The overwhelming mass of evidence is on our side of the issue.
PEN's stonewalling raises questions about its integrity as an organization. I hope Mr. Isenberg cleans up the place. Until then, I'll continue documenting, and documenting, and documenting.
August 7, 2009 10:56 AM

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Gorbachev or Chernenko?

Here's bio info on PEN American Center's new Executive Director, Steven L. Isenberg:

The choice seems to indicate that the takeover of PEN by the establishment is complete. Steve Isenberg is as establishment as you can get. Is it fair to assume that he'll be a representative of money and power? I had hoped for a new face; forward-looking in attitude.

One interesting point in his resume: that he was President of the newspaper Newsday before it went under. He has to know that the world is changing-- and that literature needs to change also.

Will he reach out to the DIY movement? The door is open for him to do so. Continued stonewalling works for no one.
I find it humorous to see PEN's talk supporting "free expression" in this country. There is no "free" expression in America. You have the expression you can pay for-- and so plutocratic aristocrats have more of it. Others are required to buy their way into the system in some manner; usually by accumulating credentials to prove your conformity to things-as-they-are. It's the road toward stagnation. Classic democracy presupposes equal access to speech: a level playing field. This is what an organization like PEN should be working toward. Lately they've been going in the other direction.

See other thoughts on this topic, "Ignorance," at

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The Ultimate Suit?

I just got word that PEN American Center has named a new Executive Director, Steven Isenberg. Contrary to my hopes, he doesn't seem to have a background conducive to dissenting instincts. I hope I'm mistaken. His bio, laudable to some, to me is scary. I'll post it on this blog when I have more time.

That said, let's hope he reaches out to the Petition,
and establishes a dialogue-- or at least answers legitimate questions about the organization he's now running.

Monday, August 03, 2009

The Movement

Two points that have to be made.
1.) The underground literary movement is a legitimate literary movement.
2.) The movement is being stonewalled and suppressed because it's a movement; i.e., for ideological reasons.

The movement needs to decide whether it's going to remain inert, as it's been since 2006, or if it can recapture its dynamism. One of my reasons for starting the Petition to PEN at
is to help restart the literary rebellion's momentum. Many outstanding undergrounders have joined the protest-- the two most recent names among the more notable.

The Petition is becoming a Who's Who of underground literary figures. The list shows the diversity of talent within the movement. Several more names remain to be added. There's no reason not to join. The Petition is an affirmation that there is, and needs to be, an underground literary movement.

It'd also be cool if writers who'd been tangentially part of the underground literary scene early in their careers, notably Thomas Frank, and who remain allegedly activist now, would join the protest.

Meanwhile, the privileged members of the narrow world of the literary establishment, from David Haglund to Patricia Cohen, have closed all doors to the Petition. There has not been one budged inch from them toward dialogue. THEY have defined us as beyond the pale, pariahs apart, unworthy of respect or notice; in so doing, creating an insurgency: a movement. We're insurgents in that we promote literary democracy, renewal, and change.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Conflicts of Interest

IT APPEARS that PEN American Center buys its immunity from criticism through its wining and dining of leading editors and journalists like David Remnick, Henry Finder, Adam Gopnik, Margo Jefferson, Patricia Cohen, and others. I hope these people can see the extent to which they're compromised right now.
If anonymous poster "Harland" is indeed Rick Moody, as now seems likely, then this throws light on the behavior of PEN staffers like David Haglund, given Moody's documented influence in the organization. PEN's impetus to shut down the whistleblower or dissenter then becomes comprehensible. Their behavior runs counter to PEN's mission-- but is the natural result of PEN's embrace of money and power.

FURTHER, if Rick Moody has engaged in anonymous attacks, then this adds to the record of dirty tricks carried out by his friends Dave Eggers and Daniel Handler against the ULA and myself, as has been well-documented. We have the outlines of a covert campaign to destroy a competitor. Such behavior is unethical, if not illegal.
As for PEN's David Haglund-- given that he's been published by The Believer, and given that he represents a regulated tax-exempt charity with obligations to the public, he needs to demonstrate SOME fairness and cease stonewalling the Petition to PEN's, and this blog's, legitimate questions.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Real Failure

The noteworthy point about the literary establishment is its utter mediocrity. This is something I realized as far back as 2001, when at CBGB's in New York the Underground Literary Alliance destroyed the preppy Paris Review staff in debate.

Even when the System tries to be imaginative, as with HarperStudio, it's dependent on time-serving ticket-punchers-- apparatchiks-- who've made careers out of being unimaginative.

In its various aspects-- including HarperStudio; including PEN-- when encountering hard criticism and whistleblowing the System knows only how to stonewall, only how to exclude and block; to put tape over its eyes and cotton in its ears, black paper over its windows, to ensure it sees, hears, and knows nothing. "Don't tell me!" is the prevailing attitude.

Stonewalling-- the unwillingness or inability to engage-- is not the sign of a dynamic establishment but instead of a stagnant and frightened one. NONE of its bureaucratic occupants, from the highest Francine Prose/James Wood critic to the lowliest Murdoch HarperCollins staffer, is able to debate, which means having to think. They've lived in an airless room for so long without questioning or dissent that to let questions in now-- fresh air-- would turn the lot of them into dust.

DIY change is coming and coming fast. Some of the apparatchiks recognize this-- and so the desperate grasping of DIY language by desperate outfits like HarperStudio desperate to hold onto their control over writers.

If authentic DIYers were better able to network and work together they'd bring the house of cards down now.

The real failure lies with media watchdogs like the New Yorker; too part of a corrupt system to cover the corruption-- or stagnation-- at places like HarperStudio or PEN. And so these media giants risk their own Soviet Union-style collapse when the tidal wave of change finally hits them.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Literary Suicide

Creative writers of all stripes had best wake up at the news that TV celebrity Lauren Conrad has the best-selling novel in America. This is the explicitly anti-writer trend conglomerate publishing is following. It's no accident that Lauren Conrad is published by HarperCollins, which is also the force behind HarperStudio, whose stated mission is to publish celebrities.

For American literature this is suicide. It's the publishing conglomerates admitting they can't create their own stars, so they're going to borrow some from other realms. It's as if Indy Car racing, in its attempt to regain its once-lofty status, stopped developing talent like Danica Patrick and instead put TV personalities into its cars. For any business, any sport, any art, it's to become a joke.

Development of writing talent is what HarperStudio specifically doesn't want-- which is why it's stopped paying advances to writers, instead offering them a share of "profits." (Accounting no doubt done Hollywood-style by HarperCollins itself.) There's no thought of taking a loss on a couple books while building a writer's brand-- unless perhaps said author is independently wealthy, or willing to starve. The bottom line is all. Developing a novelist or poet, building their name and their audience, isn't wanted. This is considered old-fashioned according to HarperStudio's "Publishing on the Edge." (The edge of a cliff?) Instead: "Bring on the TV stars!"

That PEN American center is complicit in this should cause every PEN member, and every writer everywhere, to vomit.

(Underground writers may occasionally dress up like clowns, but we're also dedicated writers. HarperStudio has bypassed the writing part and gone directly to Ringling Brothers.)
A Protest for Authentic Radicals Only

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Fake Artaud

(First of Two Parts.)

OUR CIVILIZATION is the most sophisticated of all time. Its tricks go beyond the ability of commentators to catch them. Intellectuals-- historians, literary critics, political scientists-- are themselves bamboozled by the onslaught.

For instance, the ability of the Machine to quickly co-opt all dissent and difference-- to claim ownership for itself of every cultural happening and quirk.

If Imperial Rome had been that sophisticated, it would've co-opted the Jesus Movement by presenting a slicker alternative. Jesus without the edge. The replacement version would've been better-looking, more patrician-- more Roman-- would not have carried any anger, and not been so poor. He wouldn't have been crucified-- how gauche; what a loser-- and above all would've been pro-Imperial Rome.

Those doing the coopting today are today's patricians; our own Imperialists; indoctrinated and credentialed at the most prestigious schools, then given high positions in the highest academies or the conglomerates. The young priests live in a high-up realm from which they look down upon the rest of society. They don't comprehend this other world, but their insularity and arrogance assures them they do. The world is something the highest caste owns.

Young priestess Debbie Stier at HarperStudio, in the upper realms of publishing hierarchy, imagines herself to be an insurgent. Real literary insurgents of course are socially and economically crucified, eliminated from caste vision, they and their writings tossed into garbage dumpsters to be seen by no one. Stier easily steps into their role. She's oppressed and oppressor in one. It's the split identity of a comic book superhero. Debbie Stier is both INSIDE the towering office of power, on the 26th floor, and simultaneously OUTSIDE the building, on the streets, protesting herself. It's how her mind resolves the conflict generated by her station, by her power, by her main career role.

Another example of the phenomenon of high caste power is an essay by Rick Moody in that organ of Imperialist literature, The Believer: "Analects on the Influence of Artaud," in the June issue. Moody not only discusses Antonin Artaud, he identifies himself with him, as if he, Rick Moody, is the latter-day Artaud; or, at least, the leader of today's avant-garde. In his mind, Moody fully believes he is.

Are other latter-day Artauds mentioned? Kathy Acker perhaps? No.

Rick Moody explains to us how he came to become the new Artaud. It was in the academy; the illusion factory; at Columbia or Brown-- Moody doesn't specify which one. He's performing in an Artaud play there, for a course. In his enthusiasm-- rare enthusiasm (I've witnessed him read and saw no enthusiasm)-- Moody cuts his hand. This is his baptism into Artaud; his license to inhabit the role. As Moody tells us:

"It took a long while for the wound to heal. I was launched on the world. I was a graduate."

Now safely put into the superhero uniform of Antonin Artaud, because of a cut on his hand, in college, Moody is able, through agreement with the man's life and ideas, to further strengthen the identification.

The agreement, mind you, remains in the essay. Needless to say, Rick Moody isn't another Artaud. The idea is ludicrous. He's made his way in the lit-world by being as conformist and bourgeois as possible; gathering credential and credential, award after award; bonding with arts institution upon arts institution: becoming, beyond all else, APPROVED.
(To be continued.)

See a related essay now up at
and join the protest at

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Literary Monopoly

I intend to tie the remaining loose threads together and show that the current literary system is a monopoly which excludes critical and contrary voices. This monopoly is maintained through implicit control of literature's watchdogs, from PEN American Center to the New Yorker.

Can we expect the New Yorker to cover corruption at PEN, including the public charity's close relationship to the handful of media giants, when the New Yorker's leading editors and writers-- David Remnick, Henry Finder, Adam Gopnick-- are PEN members who attend PEN's swanky galas and participate at PEN events; who in many cases are published by the media giants, and in some instances (Steve Coll) are the recipients of PEN largesse?

The reason I'm hyper about HarperStudio and Burn This Book is because it marks the coopting/stealing/destruction of the underground brand by a monopolistic giant; an underground brand which was launched in 2001 with large ads in major publications like Village
Voice. The "ads" weren't paid for-- they were feature articles obtained through ballyhoo-- but they were ads, generated with a purpose, all the same.

Now we have the fake-DIY employees of a fake-DIY section of Harper-Collins/Murdoch gushing in mock-amazement ("Wow!) at the appearance of their fake-radical PEN book appearing on a shelf at an independent bookstore in Brooklyn, as if they were genuine impoverished undergrounders who did it on their own. Left unsaid is the fact that they and that book are backed by billions of dollars.

Sweetheart deals cut by the media giants with the huge book chains Borders and Barnes & Noble is itself an important topic. Who's covering it?

I've documented on this blog the actions of Daniel Handler and his apparent agents (Tao Lin; "Quilty10") to derail the underground cause. The motive was to squelch even the weak competition we offered.

The motive for PEN's stonewalling against questions and criticisms is the same: to shut out competition to things-as-they-are. What they've done, through their silence, is create an irrefutable record of bias and inaction. Someone should remind them they're a public organization, accountable to the public.

Who's giving PEN its marchingorders?
Is there enough here for anti-trust action?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Surprise

It's amazing to me that I can present an overwhelming case for changing PEN American Center, bolstered by argument after argument after argument, and the entire organization continues to stonewall. At what point does one reach memories of integrity and conscience in them; the recognition of their own principles? They're monolithic stones. Their attitude toward criticism, toward free expression and debate, has gone beyond mere hostility, into immunity. Pathological unreachability, as if they're floating far away from other writers, above humankind; above the planet, far above, in the vicinity of Pluto. When I post a comment on one of their blogs, it's as if a switch is flipped turning off their minds. They become blind deafmutes. They see, hear, and speak nothing.

THEY have become the strongest argument proving the literary world's corruption.

(Happy Bastille Day! Long Live the Revolution.)


I have three book reviews in the works, which I'll be posting either here or elsewhere. Stay posted. In the meantime, check out the recent posts at one of my other blogs,

Saturday, July 11, 2009

PEN History

Here's PEN background from the 1990's, detailing the transformation which led to the condition the organization is now in. Not a good thing! (Note: these are to some extent establishment viewpoints, and the picture painted is still scary.)

To work to turn this around, join the protest at

Friday, July 10, 2009

Book BCS

The U.S. Congress has held hearings about the college football BCS system; alleging that 90% of funds generated are monopolized by six conferences. Senator Hatch called the system "elitist."

How much more so is the lit-bizness, centralized in New York, monopolized by a handful of giant media conglomerates; and within the system, influence wielded chiefly by the graduates of a handful of east coast universities. When does Congress hold anti-trust hearings about this monopoly?

The problem is exacerbated by the actions of legal public charities like PEN American Center, whose charity is used to subsidize the multi-national giants. Most recently, this "charity," instead of seeking an arrangement with a true independent press (much less a radically indy press like the one run by the ULA), chose instead to have their book of allegedly dissident essays published by new boutique press HarperStudio, a fake-indy outfit run by Murdoch Media.

As kicker, HarperStudio seems to be aggressively anti-writer, in that
A.) it doesn't pay author advances;
B.) most of its authors are mass media celebrities.

Writers have become unnecessary in this scary "new" world of establishment publishing. Very uncomfortable, ya know, keeping around actual writers. . . .

Sunday, July 05, 2009


I've had some inklings at to the REASONS used to justify PEN's stonewalling; rationales to support established literature's blackballing. Judge how valid they are.

It's true that someone would have to be mad to take on literature's totalitarians.

Are writers ambitious for wanting to be heard? For expecting to be part of a democratic conversation by and about literature? A serious charge.

When you approach the Overdogs of Lit, do so with a submissive mien on your face and your hat in hand.

This is strong argument for changing it.

The quickest way to exclude writers you disagree with is to designate them "not writers."

The arguments are persuasive enough that they have to be stonewalled. Any argument becomes unpersuasive when it's censored; when it's not heard.

There must be other rationales for PEN's stonewalling. We don't know what they are, because PEN's staffers and bloggers aren't talking.

Friday, July 03, 2009

George Garrett (1992)

A 1992 quote from George Garrett which appeared in the Rollyson-Paddock Sontag biography on page 241; originally in Garrett's hard-to-find My Silk Purse and Yours:

"Most of the writers (practically anybody you ever heard of) are involved in a close symbiotic relationship, cozy you might say, with the publishing world. Without the acquiescence and tacit support of the writers (especially the most successful ones), the whole creaky system might collapse. They can fool you, though, the writers. Take PEN, for example, forever using our dues to battle against some form of overt censorship here and there, against racial separation and segregation in South Africa if not, say, Kenya or Ghana, firmly committed against torture everywhere in the world except in certain Eastern Bloc nations, and mostly keeping their own mouths shut about the inequities and injustices, trivial and profound, perpetuated on the American public by the same folks who give writers their advances against royalties and publish their books. Whatever the price is, it doesn't include a vow of silence or even very much self-sacrifice."

I wonder about that vow of silence!
Have a Happy Fourth, writers. Show your own independence by joining this protest FOR free speech and AGAINST stonewalling.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Man Bites Dog

There are three levels to the Petition to PEN American Center protest, centered at
I.) The well-documented corruption of PEN itself, including grants, parties, and salaries, as well as its incestuous relationship with multinational conglomerates.
II.) The refusal of PEN to respond to questions regarding these matters. PEN staffers and bloggers remain silent. A stone wall has been erected around the organization.
III.) The failure of media outlets, other than Z Magazine, to cover this. That a "public charity" whose mission is to protect dissenting writers, is instead ostracizing them, is a bizarre enough happening to warrant press coverage. Yet where are journalists from outlets like the New Yorker? Has their presence at swanky PEN affairs swamped their judgement?

Monday, June 29, 2009

All Welcome

ALL writers, high and low, are invited to join the campaign to return PEN American Center to its original principles.

I'd love to see a "popular front" of writers develop to support this. Only a mere handful of reactionaries could want to oppose a move for openness and democracy in the literary world.

The timing of this campaign is crucial. Current PEN Executive Director Michael Roberts is stepping down from his post. Roberts was installed a decade ago to serve the interests of New York plutocrats. He did that well-- but times have changed.

Is it too much to ask for a Gorbachev-like moderate to take his place? It's time for some Glasnost (openness) and Perestroika (restructuring) in PEN, and in the literary world as a whole.

Join the cause!

The Literary Underground

How does it benefit literature to wipe out an entire class of writers?

Underground writers face two strong obstacles.
1.) The indifference (or hostility) of the literary world.
2.) The daily struggle for survival-- money to eat; a roof over one's head.

Such battle makes one in parts tough, angry, resourceful, and, of all things, hopeful; for if one can survive the continual assault of lower-class American LIFE, one can accomplish anything.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Phoniness Dept.

The literary establishment wages constant war on independent publishers and writers, by co-opting them. I've previously written about establishment darling Miranda July's portrayal by her promoters as "Do-It-Yourself." It turned out she wasn't DIY at all.

Latest maneuver is "HarperStudio," a project from the Murdoch-owned HarperCollins publishing empire. Note the web site-- --
and the claim of publishing "on the edge." (Anything but.) Click "About" and note the yuppified staff. See the pose of DIY. What's lacking from these system pets is the hard-knock AUTHENTICITY which comes from true independence.
HarperStudio's claim to be "publishing on the edge" is a lie. Underground writers, on the other hand, ARE living, writing, and publishing on the edge. Outfits like PEN should be defending and celebrating them.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

"The Literary System"

"The Literary System":
A short essay now up at

(Have you joined the protest at
Show your independence! Join an all-star cast of fearlessly exciting writers.
The future is with us.)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Burn WHAT Book?

The media monopolies have a way of skewing perception and turning reality on its head, so that any attempt to stall their totalitarian dominance becomes viewed, bizarrely, as censorship.

This is the impulse behind the in-your-face title of PEN American Center's new collection of essays, Burn This Book. The contributors include bonded members of the literary establishment like John Updike. Even though Updike is dead, his words still never fail to find outlets. He's hardly a writer who's been in any way ostracized or restricted. (As some dissident writers in this country are.)

Who, you ask, is the publisher of Burn This Book? WHO?

Harper-Collins, a giant book conglomerate which is part of the Brontasaurian-sized Rupert Murdoch media empire.

Or: A gigantic media monopoly is co-opting dissent, with PEN's assistance. The book monopolies, akin to Starbucks or McDonald's, want not just most of the market. They want ALL of it. They want every streetcorner; every shelf of every library and bookstore; every corner of the globe. PEN eagerly offers their help.

Opposition is steamrolled.

Join the movement for literary change at

(p.s. In response to requests to cover "popular" conglomerate authors, I'll soon be presenting a review of neocon novelist Vince Flynn. Stay tuned.)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Reactionary Lit

WHAT'S HAPPENING to American literature today is insane. At a time when unemployment in America is nearing depression levels (in Michigan it's already there), the New York literati and media hold swanky parties celebrating 80's wealth-icon Jay McInerney.

I've documented the swing of PEN toward New York money power in the 90's; and mentioned PEN's own lavish party last year on the Queen Mary.(At the time I was examining the lit-world's celebration of Marie Antoinette!) Snobby "Gossip Girl" books have become a publishing staple. Literature's rush toward plutocracy shows no sign of slackening.

What's happening with this blog?

I've been accused of engaging in class war, because I've objectively described literature's transformation. But at some level it's true: the literary rebellion of this decade has been an argument between rich and poor; more specifically, between rich writers and poor writers. The rebels' whistleblowing angered a clique of very wealthy, very powerful writers-- those who have the power to dictate even to PEN about who to appoint, or how to behave, or what to say, or not say.

The argument at its starkest is between rich writers and poor writers, but it's about more than that. The Petition to PEN is a battle for the soul of PEN. It's a battle for the soul of American literature.

The choice is clear:
-Underdogs vs. Overdogs;
-Democracy vs. Aristocracy;
-Openness vs. Secrecy;
-Dissent vs. Silence.

PEN American Center has thrown its principles overboard and chosen the wrong side.

Which side are YOU on?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Beautiful and Damned

IT SAYS EVERYTHING about the insularity of the New York literary world that in this time of economic calamity it conducts a massive hype campaign for rich guy author Jay McInerney. (Including an egregious cover story in Poets and Writers.) The photos of the recent Brooke Geahan-hosted soiree say more than everything:

Curious, isn't it, that the best and bravest outsider writers are ostracized, while the superwealthy are feted? Dare we say that McInerney's days of relevance were over circa 1989?
Jay McInerney has forever posited himself as another F. Scott Fitzgerald, in that both chronicled the wealthy, but there's an enormous difference between the two writers. Scott Fitzgerald's best work is imbued with an intense sense of striving. As much as any writer ever has, he captured the desperate melancholy of the born outsider. It's the very theme of Gatsby-- that most class conscious of American novels. By contrast, the closest careless McInerney would ever come to identifying an American underdog is if he ran over one with his limousine.

Jay McInerney, son of a prosperous insurance exec, has been at the top of American society his entire life. His only brush with economic hardship, as once-documented by the now defunct Saturday Review, was not having a summer retreat during college days.

Scott Fitzgerald's moment at the top was spectacularly brief. By the end of his life he was barely hanging on, physically and financially, in Hollywood, writing stories in which his point-of-view was again on the outside.

If any Fitzgerald novel is relevant to Jay McInerney, it's The Beautiful and Damned; a tale of the dissolute lifestyle, puerility, and intellectual feebleness of a clique of wealthy people during the Jazz Age. The title of the book, IN THESE DAYS, during these scrambling-hard-times, is a fitting appelation for carelessly clueless Brooke Geahan and her white-clothed partygoers, including red-faced, talent-passed-him-by Jay McInerney.

You can support literary underdogs by joining those at

Note a related story from June 7th at

Just the Facts

The case for change of public charity PEN American Center is fact-based, centered in six areas.
1.) PEN hostility to criticism and free expression from writers.
2.) Questionable PEN grants.
3.) Hyperexpensive PEN parties.
4.) Embrace of New York wealth.
5.) Embrace of multinational book conglomerates.
6.) Excessive salaries to high-level PEN staff.

I've spent three months on this blog documenting the argument. If you agree that the case should at least be heard, then join the courageous voices at
who are trying to open up a closed literary world.

Information Blackout

Iran isn't the only place which has clamped down an information blackout. The same phenomenon is happening at PEN, which believes that if it ignores criticisms of its organization, and stonewalls them, they'll disappear.

Two inklings of hints of rumors of happenings within PEN American Center.
1.) PEN staffers aren't allowed to read this blog.
2.) PEN members are kept disconnected, as much as possible, from other PEN members, in that there's no internal PEN member email list.

As to the truth of these inklings of happenings within PEN: How is anyone to know?

Join the fight for literary openness at

Monday, June 15, 2009

The First

Who'll be the first establishment writer to join the growing list of names at the Petition to PEN?

The person will have to be unconventional, daring, independent, forward-looking, and on the side of the underdog.

Is such creature out there among the legions of timid apparatchiks? I believe the answer is yes.

Join the noise. Help create a new literary world. --
bravest of the brave, boldest of the bold.

Stonewalling of Ideas

Worse than the stonewalling and blackballing of writers by organizations like PEN is the stonewalling and blackballing of ideas-- notably, examinations of the workings of the machine of established literature. This is simply not allowed. "Critics" like Sven Birkerts, Luc Sante, and James Wood gain their station and status through implicit agreement not to glance outside the bounds of the acceptable. They stay inside their Kremlin walls. Which makes them not critics, but glorified p.r. flacks for the literary machine as is.
Democracy or Aristocracy:

Thursday, June 11, 2009

More Swanky Parties

PEN isn't the only New York-based literary outfit consumed with catering to rich people, even as other sections of the country suffer economic collapse. There's also the Accompanied Literary Society, whose name is a rich folks rip-off of the Underground Literary Alliance, and whose web site can be found on this blog's Links under "Piggy Plutocrats." To be fair, ALS shares many of the same players as PEN. It's more-or-less the same privileged pleasure-seeking Insider party crowd.

Latest shindig for ALS was a celebration of Jay McInerney at the Montauk Yacht Club. According to Page Six, "150 bibliophiles dressed in white for a dinner hosted by the Accompanied Literary Society's Brooke Geahan in a compound of fantasy cottages built by impresario Florenz Ziegfeld to house his three mistresses during Prohibition." Can anyone say, about New York literati, "out of touch"?

The lowlight of the party was when actress Claire Danes and beaux Hugh Dancy danced to the song "Nobody Loves You When You're Down and Out." A poke in the eye to the rest of America?

ALS is one thing; PEN another. Let the Manhattan rich have ALS. PEN should return to its principles.

For photos of the big literary shindig, revealing how detached this crowd is, see

To speak up for literary change, join the petitioners at

Tuesday, June 09, 2009


THE PROBLEM of Rick Moody isn't entirely Rick Moody himself. His actions and his words, and the words of his mouthpieces (Harland) show that he's clueless.

An accompanying problem is the way the literary system has enabled his behavior. Even when his actions received notice, the impulse of literati was to defend him-- which meant, of course, defending corruption.

Where were his friends, from Mary Gaitskill to Dave Eggers, to tell him, "Hey, you don't need to be on those panels; you don't need those grants; you don't need your people placed everywhere: back off."
Where have literary journalists been the past nine years? Moody's behavior has been treated with such kid gloves, by lit-bloggers and journalists, it amounts to a cover-up. I've found only one person who's asked him a single tough question about the lit-world's grants process. That was Claire Zulkey, when Rick Moody submitted to one of her "Twenty Questions" interviews.

Moody's reply to her on the grants topic:
"I just have nothing interesting to say about this at all."
What's been created with PEN's stonewalling is an irrefutable record inaction. My case has been proven. Where once there was doubt about the nature of the U.S. literary system, all doubt has been removed. The Kremlin nature of the literary establishment is clearly defined and visible-- painted for us by the lit-establishment itself.

I can now take the case from blog to blog, person to person, reading to reading, speech to speech, and say, "Look! Here is the System, outlined in front of you, closed and corrupt"-- and no one will be able to contradict a word.

Join the push for change at

Thursday, June 04, 2009

More, and More


How could I have missed this one? Shortly after the events described in the post below, and while the noise from the whistleblowing was still fresh in everyone's head, Mr. Moody received from PEN the 2003 PEN/Martha Albrand Award. This, shortly after he'd shown himself to be, with the naming of Joel Conarroe as PEN President, PEN's Insider's Insider.

Oh, the corruption!
IF Rick Moody is behind the stonewalling of the Petition to PEN matter,
( )
by PEN American Center, an organization with which he's been seen to have tremendous clout, then this is an abuse of PEN, whose mission is to support, not suppress, dissident writers. It's incumbent upon PEN to offer an explanation.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

More PEN Corruption

THE DILEMMA of the whistleblower is that when he gives the name of a person involved in corruption, he's accused of making "personal" attacks, no matter how evidenced his report. If the person engages in more corrupt actions, and you mention him again, and again, as occurences require, and throw a necessary spotlight on his activities, this is characterized as a "personal vendetta."

Such was the case earlier this decade when the ULA, which I was then leading, blew the whistle on Fisher's Island resident Rick Moody's receipt of $35,000 from the Guggenheim Foundation-- scarce grant money which should go to struggling writers being handed instead to the blueblood scion of a powerful banking family. At the time, much of the literary media and even some well-known writers (according to the New York Post) agreed with the ULA's protest of this.

If you'll recall, despite "Page Six" level publicity, Moody's activities with grant-giving agencies increased. Shortly thereafter he was handing taxpayer money to his literary buddies while sitting on a National Endowment for the Arts grants panel in Washington D.C. More whistleblowing.
How does this concern PEN?

There's an interesting scene in Sidney Offit's recent memoir of literary New York, Friends, Writers, and Other Countrymen, on pages 277-278. With gushy prose Offit describes how circa 2002 Mr. Moody dropped in at a PEN American Center nominating committee formed to select a new PEN President. In the narrative Rick Moody suggests Joel Conarroe, as quoted by Offit:

"How about Joel Conarroe? He's just retired from the Guggenheim. We can't do any better than Joel for President of PEN."

Apparently, like eager and loyal retainers, Offit and the rest of the committee rushed to make Conarroe their choice.

Who was Joel Conarroe? What was the context?

As Guggenheim Foundation President, in 2000 Conarroe had overseen the questionable monetary award to Rick Moody. In early 2001 Conarroe strenuously defended the Moody award in a letter to the ULA. Shortly thereafter came payback time-- as well as ensuring Moody's strong influence with the PEN organization, which with the selection of Conarroe was amply demonstrated.

This is how this clubby little world operates. Using your influence with a publicly-regulated charity to reward, with a prestigious position, the person who had rewarded you is the essence of corruption. There's no way around it.

Will there be a Rick Moody explanation, or an apology? There never is.
With Joel Conarroe on board, the two men sat on a grants panel together at PEN. Curiously, despite the bad publicity he'd received, Rick Moody again and again was named to arts panels-- such as when he chaired the National Book Foundation Fiction panel in 2004, which gave its prize to blueblood writer Lily Tuck. You'd think a sense of shame or propriety would've prodded Moody to cease his grant-giving activities, but such was not the case. (More recently, Rick Moody was seen as a participant at PEN's drunken party last year on the Queen Mary.)

How does one explain his steadfast relationship with these foundations? From where his amazing clout?

His banker father, Hiram Moody Jr., himself ran a New York foundation. Perhaps, through him, son "Rick" (Hiram the III) learned how to manipulate the system.

More questions remain to be answered.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Reactionary Aristocrat

THE LITERARY ARISTOCRAT-- Rick Moody, say, or the demi-puppet "Harland," his alter-ego-- demands a literary system which is regulated and comprehensible; protective of, and beholden to, privilege. A world where privilege in the form of the casual and connected amateur (think George Plimpton) is the highest value. This person embraces the "little," the seemingly-but-not-really independent, as long as it follows rigid conditions.

Such overseers want an alternative literature which is controlled from the top; which mimics, in its words and ideas, establishment literature. This makes it no alternative at all. They have the puppetmaster's mentality, which is to connect strings to the most random and radical of endeavors; strings like CLMP, or Young Lions, or the nature of the 501c3 law, which in practice at a certain level demands that the wealthy oversee the enterprise and take control.

This explains the differing viewpoints of myself and them toward PEN-- whether PEN is to be run democratically by the membership, from below; or from the PEN office, through secretive meetings like the one outlined in the post above. It's no wonder that "Harland" wears a mask. He stands for the old, clubby and corrupt ways of the literary world. Yet why shouldn't the operations of PEN stand exposed, open to the world? Why the Kremlin walls?

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Smelly Bums

In a debate with an unknown person at the blog, I was characterized as a smelly bum. This is the rationale for ignoring my point-by-point criticisms of the PEN organization. Unfair, of course, and revealing of the literary establishment mindset. Then again. . . .

This morning on the way to a job, I stopped at a Starbucks for a cup of hot tea. As I was giving my order, what could only be described as a smelly bum walked in-- carrying a large blanket-- and took a seat at a table. The apparent manager told him right away that he'd have to buy a coffee or leave. She didn't say, "Can I get you anything?" first. The air of hostility toward the man, from the staff and customers, was palpable.

The homeless man looked at her, not saying anything, as she went on with her work. It occurred to me that the man wasn't playing by the rules. What's more, his very presence in the shop, looking as he did, was a violation of the rules. Rightly or wrongly, the bourgeois territory is very regulated-- regulated not by any posted list of what not to do, but by the rigid, trained personalities of the staff and customers. It just wasn't done. THEY had to follow the unspoken rules of behavior and protocol, and so should the bum.

I realized that to well-trained PEN people I must indeed appear to be a "smelly bum," as what I do-- my questions, my probings into the nature of their world-- is breaking the rules. Even the most analytical of literary critics, Sven Birkerts or James Wood, would never dare glance at the workings of the literary machine itself. They've been trained not to. If they ever did, it would be in roundabout fashion, in a way which could never expose or offend anyone. They're the well-dressed customers in a coffeeshop, standing in line, waiting their turn, not speaking too loudly, or on the other hand not forgetting to speak at all; always pulling out in timely fashion their credit cards or Starbucks cards and having the proper "Spanish Mocha Rasperry Latte" word ready to be produced on cue.

I didn't wait around to see how the situation with the homeless man resolved itself. I had to get to work.

About Liu Xiaobo

We've seen how the people at PEN American Center handle dissidence in the U.S. They don't! They turn their backs on it.

Which is what makes PEN's recent award to Chinese dissident writer Liu Xiaobo so hypocritical. If PEN staff and officers were in China, they'd be members of the one-viewpoint literary system there. They would be part of the bureaucratic monolith treating him like a pariah for speaking uncomfortable truths. Can there be any doubt of this? (The writer-bureaucrats might even refer to him in a derogatory way as "a smelly bum.")

If none of them will speak up for a milder dissident here, and risk possible smudge on their career, in a less authoritarian system, why would anyone believe these conformists would speak up about ANYTHING if they were approved writers in China? The idea is absurd.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Ring of Plutocracy

THERE EXISTS today in the literary world interlocking relationships between major New York City nonprofits: PEN American Center; National Book Critics Circle; Council of Literary Magazines and Presses; National Book Foundation; Guggenheim; and Young Lions among them. All seem to be under the influence of New York finance. (See my two-part series, "Big Money Takes Over the Small Press World," from 2006 at the Monday Report box at

It certainly is a literary establishment, when you consider that these entities have strong relationships with book conglomerates like Time-Warner on one hand, and on the other hand with major publicity outlets, mass circulation magazines like the New Yorker. No one inside the system will report on this, because the reporters are participants. In other words, they're bought off.

The connected organizations are a Ring of Plutocracy, of literary New York, which thinks and acts in lockstep.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The PEN Monolith

We see from establishment literary people a monolithic view of American literature; a view of it which is elitist, New York-centric, which happens to perfectly align with the needs of the multinational book conglomerates, and is completely intolerant of any dissenting viewpoint. (PEN members are supposed to love dissent.)

Do you see the alternate view of American literature appearing anywhere? In approved lit journals? In public forums? In magazines which cover literature? The New Yorker? Poets and Writers? New York Review of Books? New York Times? PEN itself will not respond to any criticism of its organization.

The attitude is that the view of underground renegades like myself is not valid, and therefore SHOULD NOT BE NOTICED. Think about the implications of this.

Yet I can more than hold my own in debate with anyone from the established camp. Read the entirety of my blog and see that I make a strong case for the alternative view. These are new ideas which are healthy for our literature. They present the excitement of the new. Yet they're not allowed to be noticed.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

PEN Yacht Parties

Everything that the "libertarian-egalitarian wing" of PEN American Center years ago once feared has come true many times over. PEN, beneath its progressive posturing, has turned into a plaything for rich people. This was shown most infamously with last year's drunken yacht party. (See ).

This affair was part of PEN's hyper-expensive 2008 "World Voices" festival. We can legitimately ask how much of the half-million-dollar-plus budget for the festival was spent on this one event. HOW MUCH on the cases of champagne? HOW MUCH for amply stocked party trays? HOW MUCH to rent, of all things, the Queen Mary?

The participants included some of the wealthiest, most connected writers in America. Not quite socially-conscious behavior for what's supposed to be a "public charity."

It's one more example of how a clique of privileged writers have been scamming, through the manipulation of non-profit charities, this entire decade. I was one of a group of writers who began blowing the whistle on these prep-school deck-shoe criminals in 2000. For a few years we succeeded in throwing a spotlight on the hogs of the U.S. literary scene.

The result? The hogs were rewarded with ever more opportunity to pursue their gluttonous greed, while WE the whistleblowers were ostracized. Even PEN, supposed voice of literary conscience, has become an aristocratic toy: vehicle for blackballing of downtrodden writers who speak up; yacht parties for America's richest and greediest. PEN now embodies the worst of this country's inequities.

The question is whether the PEN staffers and members of conscience who remain will take back control of, and reform, the once-credible organization.
(Please forward.)

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Feedback II

I've also had an exchange of several emails with a leading lit-blogger-- one whose role is to hype and legitimize the system. In his emails he gave rationalizations for staying uninvolved, and for PEN's stonewalling; he focused not on the staggering control and corruption I've outlined, but on the one or two things PEN and Random House get right; and he shows a striking inability, like most status quo writers and sycophants, to see the publishing houses within context within gigantic media empires. Finally, this blinkered individual states that he too has on occasion spoken up against the literary establishment, giving as his example that he protested the registering of IDs for PEN's yacht parties.

Wow. IDs at yacht parties. YACHT PARTIES!!!

Can anything else better show what PEN has become-- or the insularity of establishment literary people in New York?

(A revealing look at one of PEN's yacht parties is at )

The Petition to PEN is at

Note the differing perspectives.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Literary Train

David Haglund, the Captive PENster whose integrity and independence are being held hostage by PEN American Center, discussed formerly underground and now dead Latin American author Roberto Bolano at the PEN's main blog at
This brings up an interesting point. Five years ago no one in the U.S. had heard of Mr. Bolano. Then one of the book giants decided to publish one of the man's novels, and initiated the usual p.r. assault. Dutifully, the ENTIRE conventional literary world followed along. It had suddenly become acceptable, even mandatory, to discuss the man. Literary critics and lit-journals like N+1 have since jumped to go along. It's a demonstration of the workings of the monolith.

In the same way, the monolith has decided to stonewall the Petition to PEN matter,
and all the many credible criticisms which have been made on this blog about the PEN organization. Obediently, the entire literary system, like cattle, follow orders. This alone proves many of my arguments.

Or as the bureaucratic maxim says, "When the word comes down, get on the train."


As support slowly grows for the Petition to PEN at
I've received a dash of feedback regarding some of my arguments, including a brief discussion at Tom Hendricks's Musea blog,
Some interesting points. The other side is not without its arguments. Why aren't they being made?

Granting Pollock's grant-- what do we do with Cormac McCarthy? How large have been his book advances?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

PEN 2009 Awards

(I haven't finished analyzing the 2007 awards yet!)

A quick look at some of PEN American Center's 2009 payouts:
1.) $25,000 to Cormac McCarthy. Amazing. PEN is a public charity. Cormac McCarthy is one of the most successful authors in America.
2.) $35,000 to Donald Ray Pollock. Pollock's a working class guy who obtained a MFA in middle-age. (Why he believed this necessary, and whether this affected his art, is another story.)
The key point is that Pollock is published by Random House, and is currently receiving a p.r. push by the giant book company. PEN has made itself an extension of a Random House (really, Bertlesmann) publicity campaign.
3.) $10,000 each to Steve Coll and Richard Brody. Both work for the New Yorker mag, which is the center of the literary establishment: Brody as an editor; Coll writing a blog for them. Steve Coll is President and CEO of New America Foundation, and former Managing Editor of the Washington Post. PEN continues rewarding the establishment, maybe because it now IS the establishment.
4.) The "Beyond Margins" recipients will be announced at the awards ceremony today. They're treated as an afterthought. Do we dare ask what makes them "Beyond Margins" in PEN's eyes? Images of Hattie McDaniel at the back of the room at the 1939 Oscar ceremony.

Monday, May 18, 2009


Tomorrow I'll post a quick look at PEN's 2009 awards. When examining PEN it's really a matter of too much information-- too many points to make about the corruption of the organization. There are three main areas: 1.) PEN's egregious awards; 2.) PEN's hyper-expensive galas and readings; 3.) PEN's stonewalling and blackballing. Then this toxic mix needs to be put into context within today's established literary scene. Stay tuned.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

PEN Stonewalling


Carl Rollyson, on page 336 of his Susan Sontag bio, describes how PEN's Karen Kennerly and Michael Roberts in 1998-99 refused to answer Rollyson's letters to them when he was researching his book. PEN is a public organization, yet the policy of the last two Executive Directors has been to stonewall issues they're uncomfortable with.

IS THERE a rogue, dictatorial element in charge at PEN American Center? If not, why aren't PEN staffers and members allowed to speak?

Unfortunately for Michael Roberts, this is no longer 1999. There's now the prevalence of the Internet, which makes it far easier to document and publicize his kind of authoritarian behavior-- behavior so clearly contrary to everything PEN is supposed to represent.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The David Haglund Watch


On May 7th I posted a remark on PEN staffer David Haglund's officially-approved PEN America blog
( ).
A few days later I posted a follow-up. It's now Day 6 and I've received no response. I'm curious to see how long it'll take before he answers my comments, if he does. (PEN itself, of course, has been stonewalling the "Petition to PEN" matter for much longer.)

PEN is beginning to resemble a comedy routine.

The last several days I've posted comments on five blogs run by PEN members, which are attached to PEN's main site (, on the topic of PEN's half-a-million dollar World Voices Festival. Like Haglund, not one of the five PEN persons has yet dared reply to my comments. PEN is appearing more and more like a cult. My essay, "End of the Pods," at a while back may have been right.

I envision Haglund and the five PEN bloggers sitting in a room like plants waiting for someone to tell them to do something. Obviously they need permission.

It could be they're just not allowed to communicate in any way with non-PEN writers. The price of PEN membership? But what happens if they meet a non-PEN writer on the street? What then?

Think of the dilemma. Do they scamper across the street to avoid the person? Do they run in the other direction? Do they look for an open manhole? Do they throw themselves to the ground yelling "Mayday! Mayday!"

It's not easy being a PEN member.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

New York Posh

That PEN American Center blithely continued its round of parties these past weeks while the nation battles economic calamity shows how out-of-touch New York's literary socialites truly are. In their skyscraper high-rise glamorous lives they've lost all proportion. PEN's staff spawned from Harvard and Oxford bubbles have always been insulated from the harsher realities of life. They remain so now.

But after all, this is the same city that wants to charge $2600 to see a baseball game. Its mayor is a multi-billionaire. It's a sick city of stupendous wealth and layers of poverty, the most hierarchical city which ever existed. PEN people, the N.Y. literati, circulate through its upper reaches.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

When Did PEN Lose Its Soul?

There's a fascinating chapter in Susan Sontag: The Making of an Icon by Carl Rollyson and Lisa Paddock (2000), which discusses the transformation of PEN American Center in the 80's and 90's.

"PEN had been a small organization precisely because it drew money largely from writers who did not have that much to give. This was not perceived as a failing. Indeed, to the young Susan Sontag, shabbiness was a writer's badge of honor."

(How things have changed!)

In truth, PEN was never as democratic as it should've been, as its ideals purported it to be. In 1985 though it began an urgent embrace of New York's big money players. Ironically, Susan Sontag, like Norman Mailer before her, became one of the enablers of this embrace.

Mailer and Sontag had credibility as well-known literary radicals, albeit radicals owned by book companies, who were entranced by the allurements of celebrity and power.

This became evident by the time Susan Sontag became President of PEN in 1987:

"--Ted Solotaroff, the renowned editor of American Review, where Sontag had published some of her fiction, 'worried that the current leadership increasingly has the look of a Politburo.' But little was done to address his concerns. In the previous fifteen years PEN had become a much larger organization. It now held an 'indispensable Benefit Dinner' each year to solicit funds from the moneyed class. The first one Sontag would preside over would be at the Hotel Pierre."

Other biographers, such as Sohnya Sayres in Susan Sontag: The Elegaic Modernist (1990), are less critical of Sontag:

"Considering the spectacle of PEN's latest appearance on the society page, dined by the fabulously rich, I suppose Sontag's brokerage could take on real clout."

Rollyson and Paddock document the dissension within PEN ranks (and from others) over the years, quoting James Purdy, George Garrett, and Seymour Krim denouncing PEN's elitism. When the big move toward New York money players began in 1985, "--the libertarian-egalitarian wing of PEN loathed the organization's new ties to its big-money financial backers." By the time the final outcry over this happened in 1997 (see "PEN Background" post below), the bedding by New York finance was entrenched. Like the horse being taken away to the glue factory in Orwell's "Animal Farm," the realization of what had occurred came too late.

The constant from 1985 to 1997 as PEN changed was PEN Executive Director Karen Kennerly. (The Executive Director is supposed to work for the writers in the membership and on the board.) The Rollyson-Paddock book suggests Kennerly was the real power behind PEN during this time period.

Whose interests did Karen Kennerly represent? Those of American writers? PEN American Center today is an expression of chic New York financial people, the book conglomerates, and their causes. Karen Kennerly, incidentally, now works as a Manhattan real estate broker.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Thanks, Zmag

There's a chip in the monolith of stonewalling about the Petition to PEN matter. Zmag has kindly covered the issue on their website, under News Briefs. (Click on link and scroll down.)

They do a good job of summarizing some of the facts of the case. However, many more examples and arguments are to follow. See post immediately below this one, and watch for its follow-up.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

PEN Background

Check out this link to a 3/12/97 article by Ralph Blumenthal in the New York Times, "Stung by Dissident, a Divided PEN Ponders Its Role."

Note the way the person who spoke up about the changes was isolated and marginalized, Portrayed as a nut-- a standard status quo tactic when dealing with whistleblowers. The truth was much different. This dispute was the culmination of a twelve-year process of tieing PEN American Center to big-money interests, so that by the time someone spoke out, the takeover had gone too far. It's time to reverse the takeover and return democracy to the literary world.

More to follow.

If There Are No Photos


So far I haven't found photos on-line about Tuesday's swanky PEN Gala, except for one on the New York Observer site of Edmund White looking like an enormous whale ( -). THERE's a writer who hasn't missed any meals of late! Some writers scramble for survival like Francois Villon, while others apparently exist in an endless cycle of banquets like the PEN one.

Before this year's PEN Gala I mailed out a few dozen copies of a pamphlet I put together gently mocking the event, with a couple pictures of rich people in top hats. I was trying to embarrass the literary aristocrats. They prove to be beyond embarrassment-- or at least hold the philosophy that if they ignore corruption it doesn't exist. If they close their eyes and ears they're not forced to acknowledge it.

With that spirit they didn't cancel their party (despite the hard times), the reason-for-being for the PEN edifice, but so far have stopped public photos of it. Wouldn't look right, you know. Appearance is important.

If anyone finds some good photographs of the lit-world's piggy plutocrats celebrating themselves, please let me know! (I should've crashed the event, or gotten someone inside as a waiter or such.)

Monday, April 27, 2009

Does PEN Support Needy Writers?

We've seen how, of PEN American Center's grants to individual writers in a recent year, more than a third of the money went to hyper-successful novelist Philip Roth. To what extent was this balanced by awards to needier writers?

In the year examined, 2007, the PEN/Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship of $5,000 went to Diane LesBecquets.

A PEN Statement reads: "The fellowship provides a writer with a measure of financial sustenance in order to make possible an extended period of time to complete a book-length work-in-progress, and to assist a writer at a crucial moment in his or her career when monetary support is particularly needed."

To what extent did Diane LesBecquets meet the criteria? Was the monetary support "particularly needed"?

A first clue is provided by the award's press release, that it's for the "forthcoming novel Genesis, to be published by Bloomsbury."

Diane LesBecquets in fact has had two novels recently published by Bloomsbury USA. Did she not receive advances; payments? Once again, what business does PEN have subsidizing a multi-national corporation? Was the extra five grand THAT "particularly needed"?

Not when you consider that LesBecquets teaches at Southern New Hampshire University and in May of '07 was named Chair of the university's undergraduate Creative Writing Program; a position presumably with tenure and a substantial salary.

Particular need? Oh, I know a few writers with particular need! They don't have tenured, high-paying jobs like Diane Lesbecquets. They're not published by international conglomerates. For them, continuing as writers in these hard economic times is a trifle more difficult.
SOMEWHERE in PEN American Center's 2007 list of literary awards must be some to needy, even outcast writers.

Aha! There it is. The "PEN/Beyond Margins Awards." Beyond margins! Five of them. These must be the literary outsiders! A mere $1,000 each; not a lot, but: something.


Stay tuned.

Re Blackolive

If anyone is serious about nominating novelist Bill Blackolive for PEN membership, as I've suggested, they can email me at this blog's email address for contact info; OR, can contact Bill through his publisher, Jeff Potter, of ULA Press/OYB Books, using links on the left to either ULA or ULA Press. This shouldn't be difficult.

I'm leery of giving Bill's contact info here openly, if it will cause him to be a target from the same characters who regularly have gone after me in various ways: "The Daniel Handler Gang" you could call them, including not simply Mr. Handler, but a collection of bozos including "Harland," "Roody McDoody," "Toast," Terri Wilson of Cincinnati, and likely a few others.

Getting Bill PEN membership would be nice (though C.S. has assured us he would NOT get it), but would leave things as is. The idea is to change PEN from top to bottom to make it responsive to writers-- all writers in this nation.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

$$ "A Song to Wealth" $$

(Rumored to be performed at the upcoming April 28, 2009 PEN Gala.)

(The prize winner steps to the dais.)

We writers,
We Best writers,
Credentialed writers,
Hyped and nurtured and financially
Backed writers;
Awarded writers;
Obscure writers
all the same,
as literature is Obscure,
because we made it Obscure:
for us.
A tree, somewhere--
a tree of money;
money tree;
Money tree!

(Sustained applause as the writer says, "Thank you.")

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Another Question

Does PEN American Center speak truth to power?

In fact it's Power's mistress. It's right in bed with it.

Democracy or Privilege?

This is the question the Petition to PEN was constructed to address. It's the crux of the matter; the basis upon which you should decide whether or not to sign. The rest are details which can be haggled over after the point has been made, the force of the petition complete.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Plutocrats at Play

See for photos of last year's big PEN soiree.

The person I don't get is Francine Prose, who's the house ideologue for the current literary regime; a Suslov character, with about as much commitment as Suslov to open debate.

You'd think that the establishment's "best and brightest" would be willing to prove their cred; to demonstrate against actual competition the strength of their ideas-- whenever challenged they can only hide. A handful of bought-and-paid-for bootlickers come onto my blogs under phony names, but nobody will openly challenge my facts, my arguments, and my ideas. Why is that, do you think?



Would it be directed by the nation's elite?

Would it be staffed by those who carry the most approved, conformist credentials available?

Would it assiduously associate itself with the nation's financial and social elite, and tie itself to gigantic conglomerates whose sole reason-for-being is not art, but money?

Would it distribute its largesse to the most NON-dissenting, NON-threatening writers it can find?

PEN American Center doesn't answer these questions because it CAN'T answer these questions.

Monday, April 20, 2009



This is it! Possibly the last chance for rich people to celebrate wealth as the civilization collapses on all sides from their greed.

WHEN: April 28.
WHERE: Museum of Natural History, New York City.

Not to be missed!
SEE "famous" writers on display!
SEE Tina Brown and other celebrity face lifts!

Jewels! Gowns! Black ties! Top hats!
Lavish food and drink!
Fur coats! (If there are no PETA people in sight!)

Tight Security Guaranteed!
Last Blow-out of the Literary Aristocracy!
YOU can stuff your face and rub shoulders with rich people-- as long as you can pay the hyper-expensive ticket price!

Be there or be poor.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

What Does It Say?

What does it say about PEN American Center as currently constituted that Michael Roberts, Lawrence Siems and Company refuse to answer questions about their public organization?


The irony is that PEN, which should be looking out for outspoken or marginalized writers, can dismiss what I say due to my marginality.

The arrogance of privilege; the insularity of power.

(Do you have tickets yet for PEN's April 28 "Ode to Riches" party?)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Immediate Petition Objectives

1.) To test if there's life in the literary underground.
2.) To remind people underground writers exist.
3.) To highlight corruption and stagnation in the halls of established literature.
4.) To see if there are any small-d democrats in the mainstream literary world.
5.) To lay a foundation for a Second Wave of literary rebellion.
6.) To have fun in so doing.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The New York Problem

YES, I've heard the working class anthem "Shutting Detroit Down," by John Rich. (One of my sisters caught it last night.) Here's a line from it:

"While they're living it up on Wall Street in that New York City town, here in the real world they're shutting Detroit down."

As commentators have noted, the song appears to come from both the Right AND the Left. Anyway, the lyrics have strong resonance for me. (I recently moved back to Philly FROM Detroit.) As in the song, I watched my old man work himself into a grave in an auto plant, and I worked in one of those monsters myself. Detroit was once the fourth largest city in the U.S. I can't describe what it's like to see the world you grew up in collapse around you. For much of working class America, the collapse of Detroit came in tandem with the destruction of the American dream.

Anyone who wants to know what I'm about can start with the John Rich song.
The song brings up the problem of New York. The literary problem with New York City is the centralization of so many literary institutions and businesses in one spot. (This explains the tight relationship between PEN and the book conglomerates.)

When I've brought this matter up before, troll demi-puppets have pointed out the centralization of the auto industry in Detroit. But how did that work out? It produced insularity; bureaucratic stagnation; slowness in picking up new ideas-- exactly what the literary machine suffers from now.

Opening up PEN American center is akin to opening up North Korea-- a difficult task. However, if we could get a few undergrounders onto PEN's board, one of the first things to lobby for would be to move PEN out of New York. I'd suggest it move to Detroit. There's a lot of empty office space in Detroit right now (half of downtown!) which could be had cheap-- with resulting savings in expenses for PEN.

Think of it: PEN located in the city of hardship, center of economic depression. What could be more in keeping with the spirit of the PEN organization?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Where Are They?

PEN American Center, supposed charity, hands tax-sheltered financial grants to successful authors like Philip Roth, and blows millions on swanky readings and galas, partying like there's no tomorrow.

Meanwhile writers, supposed societal watchdogs, have nothing to say. Newspapers, magazines, and reporters devoted to the literary art have conducted no investigations. On the watchdog front, all is silent. Are they complicit in the do-nothing, see-no-evil conspiracy?

In New York City, capital of literary corruption, are rumored to be several million "progressives," yet this blog scans the scene and can find nobody. The streets of Manhattan and trendy parts of Brooklyn are empty.

A visit to the local bistro. Laptops vanish as we step inside. "Writers? Progressives?" the proprietor answers with some hesitation. "I haven't seen any!" (Yuppies in berets scatter out a back door.) Even the many Starbucks, one on every corner, are empty. A barista: "I've seen nothing. Nothing!"

Millions of progressives, many of them writers, yet not a one in sight. As we conclude this report we can only ask,

"Where are the progressives?"
"Where are the writers?"

This SPECIAL REPORT has been provided as a public service by the Petition to PEN people, an attempt to expose corruption in the established literary scene. You can join at:

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Who Should Sign Part II

I am making, and will continue to make, an irrefutable case for changes to PEN American Center's board of trustees.

The question is whether establishment writers will join the list of petitioners at

In the spirit of the Charles Kane character in "Citizen Kane" finishing a review denouncing himself, they should join the Protest. (Are they waiting for a Dave Eggers to trump them in boldness?) The Petition argument is one they can't help but-- as good liberals-- agree with. PEN officers and board members should sign the Petition, depriving it of force-- if they're true to PEN itself.

(See a related post-- "For Writers"-- at )

Friday, April 10, 2009

More PEN Facts

The centerpiece of the PEN American Center organization is its Gala, which occurs every year in late April. The funds raised by wealthy attendees-- $766,625 grosa receipts in 2007-- is a major engine keeping the PEN apparatus going. (Tickets are usually in the neighborhood of $1,000 a head.)

The expense to hold the swanky aristocratic affair-- $247,773 in 2007-- is not far off PEN's total giving ($285,150 in '07) and indicates the event's importance.

PEN holds other literary affairs every year-- such as the International Writers Festival, staged at a mind-boggling expense of $536,005. (I've staged literary events for less than $100, promotion included.) PEN promotes its Festival as an "answer to American cultural insularity."

What we really need is an answer to NEW YORK cultural insularity as exemplified by PEN.
What of PEN's giving?
$111,000 of it consisted of monetary awards to individual writers.
The top three in 2007:
$40,000 to Philip Roth, who's published by both Houghton-Mifflin and Randon House.
$35,000 to Columbia prof Janna Levin, published by Alfred Knopf.
$10,000 to James Carroll, published by Houghton-Mifflin.

By giving grants to authors who should be fully paid by their giant publishers, PEN American Center is in effect subsidizing billion-dollar book conglomerates.

But surely, PEN American Center, which was created to be an activist organization, must fund needy or dissenting American writers also. DO THEY? A quick perusal of the 2007 list indicates the answer might be yes.

The question will be more closely examined in another post. (The best is yet to come.)

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Facts About PEN

A few facts about PEN American Center from their 2007 form 990. (PEN is listed as a public charity.)

This charity's total giving amounted to
$285,150. (Much of it to successful authors.)
This figure is dwarfed by PEN's total compensation for officers and staff of
This includes for Michael Roberts, compensation of:
Michael Welch:
Linda Morgan:
Lawrence Siems:
It turns out the bulk of the "public charity" PEN doles out goes to itself!

NOTE: Michael Welch is listed as Finance Director. His role presumably is to give valuable financial advice. One thinks he could advise PEN to eliminate his position, which alone would save a substantial financial amount.

Are you ready yet to join the petitioners at ?

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

What Does PEN Stand For?

The word "PEN" in the title "PEN American Center" stands for
"Poets, Essayists, and Novelists."

That's it. There's no "S" at the beginning for "Some Poets, Essayists, and Novelists."

I guess, per Orwell's "Animal Farm," all writers are equal, but some are more equal than others.