Gilbert Sorrentino: The Lost Laureate of Brooklyn

“The last thing Gilbert Sorrentino did before he left California was sell his car. The novelist, a favorite of other writers if not the average American reader, called it the happiest day of his life: like many a native New Yorker, Sorrentino didn’t drive, not really. He had finally learned at the age of 52, the year before the born-and-bred Brooklynite and long-time Gothamite took a job teaching writing at Stanford. He stayed there 20 years, though his novels never lost their disparaging references to California, its culture and its weather. When he retired from teaching in 2002, he did something most people of his generation who left Brooklyn never did — he came back, back to Bay Ridge, the neighborhood where he’d grown up, the childhood setting that had occupied much of his literary imagination. Most people who have heard of that guitar pick-shaped neighborhood in the southwest corner of Brooklyn know it as the setting of Saturday Night Fever, a series of disco boulevards cut with modest homes for Catholic families — an outdated conception akin to Williamsburg’s being a gritty industrial neighborhood. Maybe others know it’s now home to a strong Middle Eastern community, offering the best falafel south of Atlantic Avenue. But the one thing casual observers and even long-term residents would never associate it with is a literary pedigree. Of course the borough at large has such a reputation, different neighborhoods boasting individual laureates: Williamsburg with Betty Smith and Daniel Fuchs; Boerum Hill, Paula Fox and Jonathan Lethem; Park Slope, Pete Hamill and Paul Auster; Brooklyn Heights, Truman Capote and Hart Crane. And so on. As the editors of a local literary magazineonce joked, it’s more notable nowadays for authors’ bios to proclaim that they don’t live in Brooklyn rather than that they do. So who writes for Bay Ridge? The most hard-pressed might come up with Hubert Selby, Jr., who grew up there and rose to fame writing about its rough-and-tumble northern industrial annex; the author bio on the back of his debut, Last Exit to Brooklyn, boasts that he graduated from PS 102, an elementary school on Ridge Boulevard. …”
Electric Lit
Culture: Catharsis in Bebop
GUERRILLA – A Monthly Newspaper of Contemporary Kulchur #1 & 2
Roz Payne: Guerrilla, vol. 1, no. 1, January 1967

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