Leavitt, David

Author who published his first short story in The New Yorker in 1982 while still an undergraduate at Yale–it was also the magazine’s first openly gay fiction. Leavitt’s literary reputation was cemented by a trio of finely wrought works (Family Dancing [1985], The Lost Language of Cranes [1986, adaptation shown on PBS], Equal Affections [1989]), that elevated him above many media-celebrity contemporaries.

But in 1993, Leavitt’s reputation suffered severe damage when his novel While England Sleeps, based on Stephen Spender’s 1951 memoir World Within Word, was withdrawn from publication after the still-living poet threatened to sue Leavitt for “plagiarizing my life.”

Spender died in July 1995 before a revised American edition was published with a Leavitt preface in which he referred to the poet as “an enemy of the imagination.” In 1996, Leavitt published three novellas in one volume, Arkansas (including a fictionalized account of the Spender drama) and Italian… Continue reading

West, Cornel

“Preeminent African-American intellectual of our time” according to Henry Louis Gates, Jr. , who joined forces with West at Harvard in 1994, a year after the publication of West’s best-selling Race Matters. The Gates-West union presented, in the words of the The Village Voice, “formidable opposition to Eurocentrists and Afrocentrists alike.”

A paradigmatic public intellectual, West, professor of Afro American studies and the philosophy of religion, has collaborated with bell hooks and Tikkun editor Michael Lerner; he is also honorary co-chair of the Democratic Socialists of America.

West cuts a singular figure in public life with his Afro, three- piece suits, and desultory mix of impassioned class analysis and preacherly solicitations. Alternately calling himself a “prophetic pragmatist” and “prophetic Marxist” in Race Matters, West heavily criticized middle-class blacks as “decadent” and urged whites to stop “ignoring the psychic pain that racism has inflicted on the urban poor.

” West’s… Continue reading

Coupland, Douglas

Vancouver native whose writing career began with a respectable advance of $22,500 for what was supposed to be a nonfiction book about his generation. Instead he delivered Generation X (1991), a well-observed, marginalia-heavy novel that limned the lives of three ironic underachievers adrift in the retirement hamlet of Palm Springs.

By 1995, the book–subtitled Tales for an Accelerated Culture–had grown from early word-of-mouth cult to cultural phenomenon, selling nearly 400,000 copies and naming a new youth culture era.

Coupland honed his minimal prose-style in the low-concept Shampoo Planet (1992) and Life After God (accompanied by MTV vignettes; declared one of 1994’s ten worst books by People magazine).     In 1995 Coupland published the more ambitious novel Microserfs (1995), which originated as a Wired magazine cover story about six preselected Microsoft employees.

With a keen eye for peripheral detail, and a heightened radar for colorful cultural memes (especially… Continue reading

Bagge, Peter

Former editor of R. Crumb’s Weirdo anthology who set a new standard for the comics of social cruelty, Bagge’s signature flourish consists of having his cartoon creations run the emotional gamut from mildly annoyed to totally enraged in three panels or less.

After publishing his first comics in 1980 and moving to Seattle in 1984, Bagge developed his best-known titles, Neat Stuff (1985-1989) and Hate (1990-1998) for Fantagraphics Books. Both Neat Stuff and Hate document the trials and tribulations of protoslacker Buddy Bradley, a young man who languishes in low-life scumhood, a slave to cultural marginalia.

As was the case with Like R. Crumb (who called Bagge “one of the great cartoonists of the post-Crumb generation”), Bagge initially derived much of his cachet from his association with an audience he held in bemused contempt — in his case, the indie-rock world: Bagge created album art for Seattle’s Sub Pop label… Continue reading