The Left Coast Canon

New York City is the acknowledged capital of American belles-lettres, a fact that even we West Coast cultural partisans will grant, albeit grudgingly. Unfortunately, some of The Big Apple’s most ardent admirers raise that status via passionate hyperbole, implying that New York is the sole oasis of literary greatness on the American continent.

To their lasting credit, most have the good sense to keep such sentiments to themselves, sharing it only when among like-minded Manhattanites. This is not always the case. Stefan Kanfer, in his encomium to the singularity of Gothamic Letters “City Lights,” leaves us believing that only American literature that comes from or is inspired by New York is any good, that any good American literary works were in some ways the product of New York, and any writer of ability or consequence either lived in New York or ached to live there.

Allow us to retort.

The first part of that retort is here, my rebuttal to Kanfer’s points in the article.

Yet eight months after writing that retort, I feel that more needs to be done to offset the New York conceit. To counter the narrative of the metropolitans, we need to offer our own via an alternative canon. What The Peking Review has set out to do, then is offer a wide if not inclusive catalog of authors of both fiction and creative non-fiction who came from, wrote about, or were inspired by California. We feel that despite California’s frontier status until well into the early 20th Century, the state has offered enough to American letters to prove that the nation’s literary globe is at least bipolar, if not multipolar.

What follows, then, is a partial listing of those authors who have contributed to The Left Coast Canon. We include in separate listings those authors from elsewhere who were inspired to write about California (either in praise or disparagement) after living here for long, and we include in our listing authors who came from afar and created their greatest works in the Golden State.

We look forward to your comments and suggested additions.

Golden State Authors

Scott Adams, cartoonist (Dilbert)

Kenneth Anger, author (Hollywood Babylon)

Mary Hunter Austin, author (The Arrow Maker)

Lester Bangs, rock critic

Terry Bisson, author (Pirates of the Universe)

Kate Braverman, author (Palm Latitudes)

David Brin, author (Startide Rising)

Vincent Bugliosi, attorney and author (Helter Skelter)

Edgar Rice Burroughs  author (Tarzan of the Apes)

Herb Caen, columnist, San Francisco Chronicle

John M. Cain, author (The Postman Always Rings Twice)

Raymond Chandler, author (Philip Marlowe novels)

Richard H. Dana, author (Two Years Before the Mast)

Philip K. Dick, author (A Scanner Darkly)

Joan Didion, author (The Year of Magical Thinking)

Gretel Ehrlich, author (Heart Mountain)

John Fante, author (Ask the Dust)

M.F.K. Fisher, food writer

Ralph J. Gleason, jazz and pop music critic (Jam Session)

Beatrice Griffith, author (American Me)

Dashiell Hammett, author (The Maltese Falcon)

Warren Hinckle, political columnist

James D.  Houston, author (Snow Mountain Passage)

Helen Hunt Jackson, author (Ramona)

Robinson Jeffers, poet (Tamar and Other Poems)

Ken Kesey, author (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest)

Maxine Hong Kingston, author (The Woman Warrior)

Joseph L. Mankiewicz, screenwriter (All About Eve)

Leonard Michaels, author (The Men’s Club)

Carey McWilliams, journalist and author (Witch Hunt: The Revival of Heresy)

Jim Murray, sportswriter, The Los Angeles Times

Frank Norris, author (McTeague)

Lawrence Clark Powell, literary critic and University Librarian, UCLA

Kenneth Rexroth, poet

William Saroyan, author (My Name is Aram)

Robert Sherwood, playwright and screenwriter (The Petrified Forest)

Mona Simpson, author (Anywhere but Here)

Jack Smith, columnist, The Los Angeles Times

Gary Soto, author and poet (Petty Crimes)

John Steinbeck, author (The Grapes of Wrath)

Amy Tan, author, (The Joy-Luck Club)

Agness Underwood, first female city editor of a major U.S. newspaper, Los Angeles Herald-Examiner

Jane Vandenburgh, author (The Salisbury Court Reporter)

Peter Viertel, author (The Canyon)

Nathanael West, author (The Day of the Locust)

Billy Wilder, screenwriter (Sunset Boulevard)


Fecund Transplants (and their major California works)

Raymond Carver, author and poet (Will You Be Quiet, Please)

Michael Chabon, author (The Yiddish Policeman’s Union)

Michael Connelly, author (The Concrete Blond)

F. Scott Fitzgerald, author (The Last Tycoon)

Chester Himes, author (If He Hollers, Let Him Go)

Thomas Mann, author (Doctor Faustus)

Henry Miller, playwright and author (The Air-Conditioned Nightmare)

Upton Sinclair, author and activist (Dragon’s Teeth)

Dalton Trumbo, author/screenwriter (Johnny Got His Gun)

Mark Twain, author (“The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”)

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