Thursday, May 6, 2010

Jonathan Lethem to the Southland

Novelist Jonathan Lethem, though firmly associated with New York bohemia and a kind of Brooklyn renaissance, will be coming to Pomona College to take over David Foster Wallace's old job.

The author of the Brooklyn-childhood novel The Fortress of Solitude and, more recently, the Upper East Side-set Chronic City is well known to readers of The Misread City: He's among the site's core writers, along with Ursula K. Le Guin, Philip K. Dick, Michael Chabon and Ross Macdonald. Of this esteemed group, he is the only one not lucky enough to have spent the majority his career on the West Coast. But that begins to change this fall, when Lethem arrives at the liberal arts school based in Claremont, where he begins teaching in January. Here is Pomona's release on the position.

I've gotten to know Lethem slightly in our discussions about various authors, including his college classmate Bret Easton Ellis and his literary hero Philip K. Dick, whose Library of America volumes he has edited. Lethem is among the sharpest, intellectually rigorous and most culturally omnivorous people I know, and he's made an important push in the war to rehabilitate genre fiction. He's also a zealous Dylan fan.

Of course, despite representing a kind of post-Auster, vaguely indie-rockish spirit of Brooklyn writing, Lethem spent the first decade of his writing career in California. He lived in Berkeley from '85 to '96, working at Moe's Books and Pegasus bookstore and helping pioneer rock critic Paul Williams run the Philip K. Dick Society. Raymond Chandler and Macdonald are powerful influences on his early novels especially, and in '07 he set a slender comic novel, You Don't Love Me Yet, in Silver Lake, where he lived while putting it together.

So in some ways he's long been a California writer by osmosis.

The Misread City will speak to Lethem in the next few weeks about his imminent arrival and his thoughts about West Coast culture. Until then, all we can say is, Welcome, homes!

Portrait by Julie Jo Fehrle from Jonathan Lethem: Writer