In praise of those we've lost to the literary wilderness.
February 23, 2016 10:30 AM   Subscribe

Lithub commends twenty undeservedly neglected writers to our attention. Stephen Sparks offers two lists: Ten Great Writers Nobody Reads and 10 More Writers Nobody Reads. The authors, men and women, of various races, come from all over: Brazil, France, Britain, Honduras, the United States, the Maghreb, Italy, Germany, and Zimbabwe. posted by doctornemo (33 comments total) 80 users marked this as a favorite
I love threads like this, but they often serve to remind me that no matter how fast and how much I read, one lifetime is never enough.
posted by Kitteh at 10:34 AM on February 23, 2016 [18 favorites]

Stephen Sparks has both good and, even better, interesting taste.
posted by RogerB at 10:40 AM on February 23, 2016

Good lists. Could also be titled (with only a few exceptions) “Writers You’ve Never Even Heard Of.’
posted by LeLiLo at 10:42 AM on February 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

Glad to see Olaf Stapledon get some love.
posted by Roentgen at 10:42 AM on February 23, 2016 [7 favorites]

There is a distinction between writers nobody reads and neglected writers that should be read.
posted by Postroad at 10:44 AM on February 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

Fran Ross is getting some love this year at least. Oreo was recently re-released, and has been included in this year's Tournament of Books.
I read it just a few weeks ago and can attest that it is hilarious, is so timely that it's obviously ahead of its own time, and just plain fun. For anyone who loves words and wordplay it's a joy.
Ross only published this one short novel, but wrote for and with Richard Pryor in the 70's, to give some sense of her comedic chops.
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:56 AM on February 23, 2016

Rosemary Tonks is a phenomenal writer. Well, was. Some days I really miss my literary blog - right now I'd love to dig into these articles and wave my hands excitedly about Tonks.

Tonks. Track down her work. She's wonderful.
posted by kariebookish at 10:57 AM on February 23, 2016

Since this appears to be nakedly a request for submissions, here's mine: Charles Willeford, a giant in the (admittedly small) existentialist/nihilist crime fiction sub-genre is sadly impossible to find in bookstores these days. (At least we still have the film of Miami Blues)
posted by Guy Smiley at 10:59 AM on February 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm so glad Unica Zurn made the list. Goddamn, is her stuff powerful.

I could barely finish Man of Jasmine because I kept having to shut my eyes and let the awe wash over me.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 11:01 AM on February 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

I love Devil to Pay in the Backlands so much but I lost my copy of it years ago and it is out of print. Amazon lists old copies at $300. * tearstearstears *

I really want to read Mary Butts after this comment: "Her resolve to 'depict worst things' (in Paul West’s assessment) scandalized many, including the prudish Virginia Woolf. "
posted by tofu_crouton at 11:22 AM on February 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

Hey, I've actually read two of the entries in 10 More Writers Nobody Reads, Olaf Stapledon and Anna Kavan! Kavan is kind of a specialized taste (but if that's the kind of thing you like, you'll really like it), but I think a lot of people would love Stapledon if they knew about him. No tedious tales of adultery or commuting to a soul-killing job, just mind-expanding fiction about the history of life in the universe that isn't like anything anybody else ever wrote. Try it, you might like it!

Funnily enough, I just came across a writer who's well known in France and Russia but who I'd never read and only vaguely heard of, Boris Vian. (MeFites hipper than I are already rolling their eyes and thinking "You didn't know Vian? Really??") I mention him here because of the fate of his best-known book, L'Écume des jours (Froth on the Daydream); it "is now regarded as Vian's masterpiece, but at the time of its publication it failed to attract any considerable attention." It became famous "almost immediately after his death"; two movies have been made from it. Anyway, check out that Wikipedia bio: as a teenager in the 1930s he had peyote parties! a friend of his died accidentally in 1949 falling from a building he was trying to climb on in order to enter into a flat by the window after a bet! his first book was a hard-boiled novel J'irai cracher sur vos tombes (I Spit on Your Graves) which he wrote in 15 days and claimed was by a black American called Vernon Sullivan! Jean-Paul Sartre stole his wife! And here's how he died (at 39):
On the morning of 23 June 1959, Vian was at the Cinema Marbeuf for the screening of the film version of I will Spit on Your Graves. He had already fought with the producers over their interpretation of his work, and he publicly denounced the film, stating that he wished to have his name removed from the credits. A few minutes after the film began, he reportedly blurted out: "These guys are supposed to be American? My ass!" He then collapsed into his seat and died from sudden cardiac death en route to the hospital.
Now, that's a writer!
posted by languagehat at 11:32 AM on February 23, 2016 [17 favorites]

Love, love, loved Charhadi's A life full of holes. And have Anna Maria Ortese's early Il mare non bagna Napoli on my night-table.
posted by progosk at 11:39 AM on February 23, 2016

Also, I have a couple of contributions of my own for the "undeservedly neglected writers" sweepstakes. I've written about Alexander Veltman before—hugely popular in the 1830s, his style became unfashionable in the 1840s and by the 1860s he was forgotten (though he kept writing), and I hope his endlessly enjoyable ironic meta-everything fiction will come back into vogue one of these years. But it's his wife I'm enthusiastic about at the moment—she was a writer under the name Elena Kube before she married him, and I'm in the middle of her 1853 short novel Viktor, the first she wrote as Elena Veltman; it has similar virtues to his work plus a dose of feminism pretty much unheard-of for Russian literature of the mid-nineteenth century: "It's not the time or place to get carried away with deliberations on the abilities of a woman's mind, the kind of mind that produces agronomists, professors, solicitors and various other personalities..." But I'll bet the number of people who have read it in the last 150 years can be counted with the fingers on one hand, because it appeared only in the journal Mosvityanin (and thus I can read it thanks to Google Books, though they left out five pages!) and was never reprinted—like most women writers of the time, her stories might be enjoyed but they weren't respected by the literary establishment, so nobody published and collected editions. If Russia ever loses its contempt for anything resembling feminism, I hope a future Russian Feminist Press will put out an edition of her work; I think people today would enjoy it.
posted by languagehat at 11:45 AM on February 23, 2016 [4 favorites]

Boris Vian has one of my favourite author pictures of all time.
posted by betweenthebars at 12:00 PM on February 23, 2016 [12 favorites]

(MeFites hipper than I are already rolling their eyes and thinking "You didn't know Vian? Really??")

Last time we were in Paris my wife dragged me through the back alleys of the 18th arrondisement looking for his apartment.

Schwob and Monterroso are only unread in English - was that the intention of this list? - but hardly obscure in France and Latin America respectively.
posted by vacapinta at 12:07 PM on February 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Schwob and Monterroso are only unread in English - was that the intention of this list?

Yes, it's for people who are reading in English. They feature works that have been translated and are currently in print.
posted by betweenthebars at 12:10 PM on February 23, 2016

Ten Great Writers Nobody Reads… in English.
posted by Omon Ra at 12:12 PM on February 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

I would add Ricardo Piglia, from Argentina, to the list. It's strange he's not better translated into English, given his interest in American crime fiction, Conrad and Philip K. Dick. He's one of those writers who, but for a slight quirk of fate, I think would have ended up wining the Nobel Prize in Literature.
posted by Omon Ra at 12:19 PM on February 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Ten Great Writers Nobody Reads… in English.

Even just "in literate-ish American circles," really. I mean, it's entirely fair to point out that the insularity of American literary culture (such as it is) is the atmosphere within which this project operates, but it doesn't make it less laudable.

My first pitch for another name in pretty much the same spirit would be Pérez Galdós, amazing and completely unforgotten in Spanish, but whom almost no English reader even seems to have heard of.
posted by RogerB at 12:22 PM on February 23, 2016

My contribution to the list would be Rene Daumal. But again perhaps he is read widely in his native French.
posted by wyndham at 12:25 PM on February 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

"You didn't know Vian? Really??"

Not rolling my eyes, but I did read Froth on the Daydream in 1972. Anyway, I should have realized we were supposed to add names to the list(s). How about Slawomir Mrozek?

p.s. Also a big Charles Willeford fan.
posted by LeLiLo at 12:41 PM on February 23, 2016

Nobody but nobody read Dorothy Richardson because she did in 13 novels what James Joyce was doing in is now classic Ulysses pretty much At the same time.
posted by Postroad at 12:55 PM on February 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

Hey, I'm a MeFi hipster — I already know about Vian. Mais comme chanteur!

/While his writings were gritty, his songs were witty. If you know some French it's worth deciphering his lyrics to that one.

Great list, and please keep up the user contributions.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:56 PM on February 23, 2016

Dorothy Richardson is great! My friend wrote her dissertation on her!
posted by wyndham at 1:09 PM on February 23, 2016

Olga Tokarczuk is just about the most important author in the world to me right now. Her stuff is a glorious blend of magic realism, Polish pastoralism, and clear-eyed philosophical musing.

It kills me that only two novels and two short stories of hers have been translated into English. In Poland, as I understand it, she's a Margaret Atwood-clsss Big Deal.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 1:15 PM on February 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

I once guest hosted a local talk radio station on KING AM in the 1980's and, after fighting them tooth and nail over guests, got to interview the late Mike Gunderloy of Factsheet Five and science fiction author Greg Bear. And when I compared Bear to Olaf Stapeldon in my introduction, he interrupted me to say 'Wow, you really know your onions! ' I was pleased no end. Little did I know at the time that he was a huge fan of Stapeldon.

Although it was meant to be a positive comparison, I omitted the fact that I found Stapeldon pretty much an unreadable snore. In a cosmic sort of way, to be sure...
posted by y2karl at 1:39 PM on February 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

I’d read some of Schwob, Gracq, Bowles & Kavan, and have been meaning to check out Tonks & Quin, and now am freshly intrigued by some of the other names on the lists (I’d not heard of Mary Butts, for example).

Anyone interested in the first name on the first list could do worse than check out Stephen Sparks’ article Marcel Schwob: a Man of the Future and Decadent Prose: An Interview with Translator Kit Schluter.
posted by misteraitch at 1:44 PM on February 23, 2016

So glad they included Mary Butts. They didn't get into her associations with Jean Cocteau and Aliester Crowley. Which is probably just as well.

She was much-admired by the San Francisco Renaissance writers Robert Duncan and Robin Blaser (after Blaser moved to Vancouver he wrote an afterword for the publication of Mary Butts's book Imaginary Letters by Vancouver-based Talon Books.)

I think that a Merchant-Ivory type film production ought to be made of her 1928 Cornwall-based book about a group of young people on a sort of a symbolic grail quest, Armed with Madness.

Here's her entry on the aforementioned "Writers No One Reads" Tumblr.
posted by larrybob at 2:04 PM on February 23, 2016

Interesting link from the second article to "Reading Henry Dumas After Trayvon Martin" - in light of the writer Dumas having been killed by police.
posted by larrybob at 2:14 PM on February 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'd add Paul Nizans' La Conspiration. Sartre reviewed it. Apt for today's extreme political environment.
posted by clavdivs at 5:48 PM on February 23, 2016

I'd have to disagree that nobody reads Charles Willeford. Several (if not more) of his novels were reprinted in the late 80s, if memory serves, and made a bit of a splash.
posted by scratch at 7:34 PM on February 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

(Oh, and thanks for the great post, doctornemo.)
posted by scratch at 7:36 PM on February 23, 2016

I have embarrassingly not read a single book by any writer on the lists in the post, though I have at least heard of many. It is indeed a good reminder of how limited most of our reading is.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:57 AM on February 24, 2016

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