Can we define an LA writer? We asked LA writers to debate the topic

Samantha Dun: It’s an almost impossible question to answer without playing into the stereotypes about each location. You know, LA is cool, OC is laid back and… not cool. But having lived and made my career in both places, too bad, I’ll try. In LA, I think of Eve Babitz and Kate Braverman, of Wanda Coleman. When I think of OC, I think of Richard Bausch and Ron Carlson, in Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. There’s also the blockbuster, business side, from LA’s Michael Connelly to OCLA’s Dean Koontz has a much older and wider lit scene; it changes in OC, but what I’ve experienced here is that writers tend to work more in isolation. What communities have existed here tend to be more in the academia bubble (like UC Irvine).

Hector Tobar: I am thinking of Bertolt Brecht and all his exiled German friends. And Raymond Chandler, who invented a genre in LA And Luis Rodríguez and his wonderful memoir of gang life in the San Gabriel Valley. What makes a writer an LA writer? They write in Los Angeles!

Matthew Spector: Didion, Babitz, Bret Ellis, myself? I’m not always sure that’s a compliment, “LA writer.” In many ways, it’s a diminution, a term – like “Southern writer” – that aims to regionalize and diminish. Which is why I’m both extending this list endlessly (Paul Beatty lives here, so he’s an “LA writer”? Dana Spiotta is from here, Rachel Kushner lives here, so they’re all two of the “LA writers”) and I dismiss it out of hand. Ultimately, many writers I love are associated with a place (Jonathan Lethem wrote about Brooklyn, so obviously he’s a “Brooklyn writer” – except he also lives in the greater Los Angeles area , so is he also an LA writer?). But I guess what makes an LA writer just an interest in describing this place more than anything. My friend Sam Sweet is from somewhere else, but he writes so compellingly and beautifully about LA that I consider him a quintessential LA writer.

Matthew Spector

(Photo by the author)

Lisa See: My mother, Carolyn See. She was born here, and every book she wrote took place here. Her details about Los Angeles were always so precise: the sloping lawns, the heat of a summer’s day in Topanga, the dull beauty of a bungalow, her incessant distaste for the valley, the way she captured the unique quality light. But what do I think makes an LA or OC writer? The two things that come to mind are the freedom that comes from being a continent away from the publishing world and that we work way too hard. The stereotype of good weather making us all talk about games, hobbies, surfing and all that always felt wrong to me. The nice weather gives us more time to write, because we’re not raking leaves, shoveling snow, drinking with our editors, or spending the weekend in the Hamptons.

Rachel Howzell Room: Michael Connelly. (And me, ha.) A great sense of place and neighborhoods, the understanding that there isn’t just “one” LA

Lynel George: I don’t think I can name a single one, but I can say this: for me, it’s the writing that fully conveys a particular segment of the region – not just its physical appearance, but its mood and attitude. Los Angeles is much more complex than it first appears. There are so many different LAs that one can discover and I am drawn to books, poetry, short stories that immerse me completely in an environment or a situation that I both recognize or that interests me because I I was only aware of the edges. The world is here with us, and for me that’s the joy of being an LA writer.

Michelle Huneven: When I think of Orange County, it’s always Victoria Patterson and her books, her short story collections “Drift” and “The Secret Habit of Sorrow”, and her prescient novel, “The Little Brother”, that all dive deep in the dark side. of Newport’s wealth. Judith Freeman’s intelligent and moving “MacArthur Park” is a tour de force; and I especially love Mona Simpson’s “My Hollywood” for her unforgettable Filipina nanny, Lola.

Stuart Gibbs: I think all writers around the world are cut from the same cloth. Half the LA writers I know are former NYC writers who realized they could do the same job here but had a garden and went to the beach more often. Plus, LA writers have more studio meetings.

Amina Mae Safi: Someone who understands what it’s like to move to LA. If we are all superficial – holes by stereotype, then we are superficial – holes that care for each other and have a deep sense of community. I think most of us have a pretty good sense of humor too. Nerdy humor. Movie humor. We’re going to need a bigger ship’s humor.

Elise Bryant: I can always tell when someone writes about the area without having lived here. One thing that always strikes me is if they put “the” in front of PCH. Or if the characters easily travel between multiple districts in one day for no good reason.

Rex Ogle: Carrie Fisher. I know she’s mostly worked in film, but to me she’s synonymous with LA. LA is so mired in the TV and movie industry, and so I think an LA writer is really someone who bridges the gap between “Hollywood” and book publishing.

Kelly Yang: I consider LA to be the ultimate place for multi-hyphens. Everyone here is a writer-producer or a lawyer-artist, and that’s very exciting for me. I love juggling multiple hats so this is the perfect place for me.

Jeffrey Tervalon: A writer from Los Angeles? They’re not going to Beverly Hills or Brentwood.

Melissa de la Cruz: Classic LA writers: Joan Didion, Raymond Chandler, of course. Also Gigi Grazer for skewering the empty Westside company. I think what makes someone a Los Angeles writer is having a real understanding of how this city works and what drives it.

Seth Fishman

Seth Fishman

(David Paul Larson)

Seth Fishman: I’m thinking of the great YA crew here. Margie Stohl, Maureen Goo, Ransom Riggs, Tahereh Mafi, Victoria Aveyard, etc. This table YALLWEST. All based here.

Victoria Avenue: It is difficult to name a single author. I would say that unlike New York, I don’t think you have to live in LA for 40 years to qualify as Angeleno. It happens faster and you don’t have to prove yourself to anyone because LA is so diverse. Chances are you will find your niche there very quickly.

Mary Lu: Ransom Riggs. I don’t know anyone else who knows more about LA than him — he can point to a gas station and tell you a story about it more fascinating than anything you’ve ever heard. He sees the strata of this city like a great writer.

Abdi Nazémian: The first person that comes to mind is Joan Didion, who captured the city’s magical contradictions so well. I also think of all the amazing screenwriters who have elevated this art form, people like Billy Wilder. I love that so many Los Angeles writers I know don’t feel beholden to a particular medium. Like Didion, many of us work in many mediums. LA writers often jump back and forth between film and TV and novels and theater and podcasts. It’s an incredibly exciting time to be an LA writer.

David Yoon: Possibly John Darnielle (“Wolf in White Van”). I loved that he put his thriller in Pomona. It captured the dark poetic quality I had grown up with as a SoCal kid.

Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo: Luis J. Rodriguez, Traci Kato-Kiriyama, Mike Sonksen, Amy Uyematsu, Rocío Carlos, Chiwan Choi, Sesshu Foster, Dana Johnson. A writer from LA has a long history with the city, knows the neighborhoods, appreciates different cultures, understands LA is a mix of things, mixes their language and food, finds beauty in grime and is nowhere near of Hollywood.

Mike Sonksen: A writer from LA embodies the city with his spirit and his specific references to the streets, the places, the times of the city. A geographic literacy that indicates they really know the city through experiential living and not just by reading it or hearing it from second-hand stories. Wanda Coleman did it better than almost anyone. There is also Amy Uyematsu, Pam Ward, Luis Rodriguez, Sesshu Foster, Mike Davis, Naomi Hirahara, Kamau Daood, Gloria Alvarez, Ruben Martinez, Lynell George, traci kato-kiriyama, Chiwan Choi, Ruben Guevara.

Bridgette Bianca: When I think of Los Angeles, I think of poets on the world stage like V. Kali, Jessica Gallion, Wil Doucet and Jaha Zainabu. Da Poetry Lounge poets like Edwin Bodney, Alyesha Wise, Matthew Cuban, Yesika Salgado and Shihan [Van Clief]. I think of poets like Mike Sonksen and Lynne Thompson. I am thinking of novelists like Eric Jerome Dickey, Walter Mosley and Dana Johnson. And, of course, I think of myself.

Raphaël Simon (aka Pseudonym Bosch): It’s hard to separate the LA writers from the black tradition of James M. Cain and Raymond Chandler. Even Joan Didion is sometimes blackish. But perhaps the new kidlit insurgency will replace brooding detectives with brave children and angsty teenagers as the archetypal literary heroes and heroines of Los Angeles.

Marisa Urrutia Gedney: I am thinking of Vickie Vértiz. For me, the writing is Southeast Los Angeles, and it tells these stories of justice, reality, history, and comedy so well.

Stephane Lee: I’m a former journalist, which means a lot of my friends are former journalists, which means a lot of my friends are current TV writers or aspiring TV writers. Even though there are plenty of LA writers who don’t aspire to write for the screen, I generally perceive LA writers to be more willing to define their identity as a writer more broadly – that’s not not that they are strictly a book or magazine writer, but a writer who sees themselves as having a point of view that can be applied to television, film, narrative podcasts, etc. I don’t know if this is a New York/LA thing, but I’m a writer who likes to take meetings and likes to pitch and all the fuss…I feel like I’m finding other souls sisters here!

Vickie Vertiz: I think of Sesshu Foster, I think of Marisela Norte, I think of Gloria Alverez, I think of Wanda Coleman, I think of Mike the poet Sonksen, I think of the last poets, but there are dozens and dozens that I can name, because I know them. That’s the problem with questions like this is that there isn’t just one person, but we like to think there is. And of course I forget Luis Rodriguez, and our current Poet Laureate, and I forget Robin Coste Lewis, and Yesika Salgado, Caribbean Fragoza, and also myself. Oh and Fei Hernandez of course.

Anthony Wilson: I don’t think defining someone as an LA or OC writer is particularly helpful. Because there are so many phenomenal writers here who, having come from other places or tending to write about other places, don’t seem to fall into that category – but by virtue of where they actually do their work and the literary community in which they participate, certainly do.

Anthony Wilson

Anthony Wilson

(Photo by the author)