Is NYC Ready for Serious Literary Gossip?

09/30/2010 1:56 PM |


  • A young Raymond Carver, pretending to pee in the fountain.

Electric Literature—slick wizards of new online fiction—are now diving into the New York world of literary gossip and glamor with their new Dish blog. And yes, there is a world of that, still, I think… As the Dish press release asks: “Whatever happened* to the writers with out-sized personalities, like Zelda & Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, Truman Capote, Norman Mailer, and Hunter Thompson, who held the world in their thrall with their wit, charm, and manic rampages?”

I took some time out from my daily manic rampages to ask Electric Lit co-founder Andy Hunter what the hell he thought he was doing…

1. Why Dish, why now?

We saw a hole in the blogosphere that we could fill. We’re in New York, the literary capital of the USA, and perhaps the entire world. Every night, there’s writer-related hijinx afoot. But where do the voyeurs go to see it? The out-of-towners? The shut-ins? People everywhere are interested in the literary scene, but there’s no Art Forum has had great success with Art Forum Diary. Why not make one for the lit world? we wondered. And the more we thought about it, the better an idea it became: by shining a light on the scene, we can build community while bringing back some of the glamour and notoriousness of the legendary lit scenes of the past: Dorothy Parker’s witty circle, the exuberance of the Beats, F. Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald’s drunken rampages—we want to add some thrill to a literary world that is increasingly feeling dry, tame, and insular.

2. Will you actually be doing lit gossip (e.g. blind item: What high-profile agent is sleeping with one of his author’s editors), or is it more Last Night’s Party-style events coverage?

If people send us juicy enough gossip, we’ll probably print it [please address to:], and there’ll be a regular gossip column eventually. Right now, our writers are breaking the ice and may sometimes err a little on the polite side. But as they immerse themselves in booze and good company, they will take more risks and speak more loosely, as we all do. However, the Dish does not planning on being snarky. It’s a celebration of a scene, and take-downs will be rare.

3. Is the whole MFA Industrial Complex too interwoven (too sedate) to allow for the kind of abrasive literary antagonism we once saw?
There is a great essay in Tin House about this subject. The MFA is helping make writing the purview of a privileged class. But nothing we (Electric Literature) do is about the way things are. It’s all about the way we want things to be. There’s no use in complaining about it. If the MFA system has drained the spirit from the literary world, let’s fuck it up. I went to an MFA, and a writer I knew smeared his half-naked body in butter and scooted around a party on a rolling chair, pulling people into his greasy embrace and taking them for joyrides. That wasn’t “sedate.” If we discover the nights, places, and people that are vivid, passionate, frightening or fascinating, it can only enliven things and draw out an interesting crowd.

4. You mention “capturing the glamor” and moving away from the “stodgy and quiet,” in terms of the NYC literary world—do you think it’s really there?

It is at the Literary Deathmatch, and the L Magazine’s own Literary Upstart, for example. I’ve been to some good events. I’ve been to others so dry I couldn’t even bear to stay for a drink. Our online editor, Anna Prushinskaya, is amazing. She’ll coax out the scene. There may not be a fire, but there are embers, and it’s easy enough to start a fire from those. As long as people want it, it can happen, and I think they do.

5. Can you write while drunk?

It certainly hasn’t stopped me! The older I get, the less I do it, but it can be exciting, that feeling that you’re brimming over with brilliance and urgency. In the morning, deciphering the scrawls, that’s less exciting. In general, the very few writers for whom drunkeness was a boon—Bukowski, et al—have created a false impression that the two go hand-in-hand. In fact, drinking is bad for writing, but writers often enjoy drinking, so it’s easy to get it all mixed up.

6. Can you write with a hangover? (I can’t, really.)

I used to, in my early twenties, and it tended to be punchy and loopy and I really liked it, although it required a lot of editing. Now a hangover just kills me; I don’t even try to write. You have to be a really good drinker to do it. When I interviewed Gary Shteyngart, he told me he can do it. Maybe it helps to be Russian.

7. Have you ever gotten into a fist fight with another writer?

Once a guy took a joke I made too seriously, and leapt off a table to land a punch on my skull. A real pro-wrestler move. I think he was a writer. I was extremely surprised, but it didn’t hurt much, and that gave me the idea that if we fought I’d stand a decent chance, because the guy couldn’t throw a punch. I haven’t been in a fist fight as an adult, and it seemed like a good thing to do at the time: one of those things you should experience at least once in life. But our friends separated us and just wouldn’t let it happen, although I tried to insist. My nemesis left the party shortly thereafter. Someone told me to forgive him; that he was angry because he just found out his dad is gay. I said, “So, he’s a homophobe too?” Anyway, that hopefully was my last chance, because violence is stupid. But maybe after this interview comes out, someone will punch me again. I’ll keep you posted.

*For the record, I once smashed another writer’s brandy snifter across my forehead because he was casting aspersions about my Great Aunt Nora. I was wearing a seersucker suit at the time and had to catch a train at Grand Central, where I found myself sprinting through the main atrium, blood all over my suit, wreaking of booze. So the manic rampages do still exist (if not the talent).