Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Teaching California Literature: The John Fante Centennial

Two weeks ago, I got an email from a friend:

ES: I'm heading out to Los Angeles for a very long weekend. What should I read?
DB: Ask the Dust by John Fante. You'll see all the glamour spots and eat in fancy restaurants. Fante writes about the L.A. you'll only see flash by on the highway.

I find it difficult to believe that Ask the Dust--published in 1939--is 70 years old. Even more mind-blowing is the fact that 2009 is the 100th anniversary of John Fante's birth. Even today, you're likely to run into an Arturo Bandini--Fante's fictional alter ego and a struggling writer--at any number of dive bars in Los Angeles.

Fante's work still resonates--having found a place in courses on ethnic literature, working-class studies, and the literature of California--and in the hearts of literary hipsters everywhere. Not bad for a book with a first print run of 2,200 copies that went out of print in 1954--until Charles Bukowski convinced Black Sparrow Press to reissue it in 1980. In his introduction, Bukowski wrote, "Fante was my god."

Fittingly, Los Angeles is ground zero for the centennial celebrations of its adopted son. The Los Angeles Times reported on a panel hosted by Zócalo Public Square in honor of Fante. With David Kipen, director of literature for the National Endowment for the Arts, as moderator--the panel included Fante biographer and editor of The John Fante Reader Stephen Cooper, KCRW's Frances Anderton and Richard Schave, co-founder of the literary-historical bus tour Esotouric.

In October, Ask the Dust will join the Harper Perennial Modern Classics imprint--a list that includes classics such as Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. That's the kind of company John Fante is keeping these days.

And, John Fante's legacy continues in another way: His son, Dan Fante, will publish his novel 86'd with Harper Perennial in September--and three of Dan's novels (Chump Change, Mooch, Spitting Off Tall Buildings) will be reissued in December.

If you'd like to consider one of John Fante's books for your course, please order an examination copy.

No comments:

Post a Comment