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.