A Writer's World

A Column by Molly Moynahan

Why I am not part of the literary scene, anywhere

When I was asked to write about the “literary scene” in Chicago I dutifully posted something on Facebook inquiring about where and what it might be and I also went back into my past emails hoping someone might have invited me to something that could resemble a ‘scene’.

Well, they had and I’d ignored it and still felt little was lost by my lack of attendance at this particular pop-up event. For one thing, these people are young and I’m old, there is a great emphasis on partying, and I’m sober, and finally my last novel was published in 2003/2004, attracted quite a bit of good critical attention but failed to embroil me in a ‘scene’

I did appear on cable television in Delaware, close to a NASCAR track where I was interviewed between a local chef making yogurt, and a goat; and no, they weren’t related. When I returned to my actual job teaching high school I showed the tape to my creative writing students who accused me of inappropriate flirting with the news anchor. I was a deer caught in headlights. All I remembered was not to wave my hands around and to wear blue.

There is a literary scene in Chicago and I’m not part of it. Probably because I am a writer and what I do is write.

When I put that query on Facebook I received several cat videos, one of a cat reading a book and the names of several people whom I had once contacted in a flurry of trying to be part of the literary scene and none of them were very nice to me.

As I said, I’m old and I don’t drink and I haven’t published much in a while. Here’s a perfect example of my experience with the Chicago Literary Scene. I was asked to read something at The Green Mill, a famous venue for slam poets run by a very successful and talented man named Marc Smith. I read and was politely received. Then my overly enthusiastic husband persuaded me to write something then and there so I could participate in the Slam. Reluctantly, I agreed and wrote something resembling a poem on a cocktail napkin. I was judged harshly by the three unemployed, twenty-something wannabe writer judges.

So, I’m not a poet but a novelist and few want to listen to us drone through scenes from our books. Now, I also write essays and monologue pieces and when I was asked to read in New York City I usually read one of those or an explicit sex scene trying to keep people awake.

I read at the Nuyorican Poets Café at the height of my scene appearances, a totally cool club in Alphabet City when the lower east side was full of junkies and actually had some cred.

Miguel Algarin, the scene maker of all time, introduced me as “Julian Moynahan’s daughter” because he used to work with my dad at Rutgers and he respected him so much. That was a slight setback but the reading was a smash and I was kindly received by the audience many of whom were my creative writing students from Rutgers

I also read at The Bottom Line and Nell’s, two clubs considered hip in the late eighties.  They are now shut. I wore a see-through Jean-Paul Gautier dress at the Nell’s reading. Sad.

I was a member of the Actor’s Studio and hung out with Norman Mailer and Harold Brodkey both of whom are now dead, but once were very much part of a ‘scene’. So, I have decided writers can’t comment on the literary scene because we are either in or out and very little objectivity can be expected.

My parents were friends with all sorts of famous writers, poets and literary critics and from what I can tell there was a plethora of drinking and bickering. When I was in publishing in the late eighties I attended a publishing party for Tama Janowitz’s book, Slaves of New York. The party was held in a very trendy restaurant with vast amounts of expensive booze and cheese and Tama Janowitz dressed up as something between a cannibal and a vampire queen.

The whole eighties literary brat pack thing was beginning to wane, Gordon Lish had lost some credibility and frankly the publishers were beginning to question the whole cocaine fueled mess. I met a really interesting German editor at that party and we went to dinner and discussed why the idea of a literary scene was anathema to us both.

So, what can I say? I’m too selfish and competitive to actively promote other writers and too old and undrunk to attend any literary scene parties. I write, I read and occasionally I attend a reading where I wonder why no one likes me. But I don’t want them to like me or support me. I want them to publish my work, read my work, praise my work and leave me alone.

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