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While Los Angeles has clearly proven itself to be the home of the visually-appealing movie industry, its fast-paced and dynamic culture has also cemented its status as the ideal backdrop for many writers. From novels to nonfiction, here are the top three authors who lay claim to Los Angeles as home to both their characters and themselves.
Born Heinrich Karl Bukowski in Germany, this prominent writer and his family eventually settled in the South Central area of Los Angeles. As is true with many writers, Bukowski’s upbringing directly influenced his work, taking on several film noir qualities and veiling his stories in an almost sepia-toned ambience. His semi-autobiographical novel Ham on Rye is a gritty bildungsroman that follows Bukowski’s literary counterpart and is set during the Great Depression.
Indeed, much of Bukowski’s canon centers on his alter ego, sometimes blurring the line between reality and fiction. His fifth novel, Hollywood, was adapted into the film Barfly, starring Mickey Rourke as the protagonist. Both novel and film follow a movie-making deal with all its expected disappointment and disillusionment.
It’s easy to draw comparisons between Bukowski and F. Scott Fitzgerald, as both authors describe dissatisfaction with societal self-indulgence, despite the difference in time periods. Recently, Bukowski quotes abound on social media platforms as the current generation of youth is stirring up a renewed interest in his guileless and direct prose.
‘The credits rolled. Then there was my name. I was a part of Hollywood, if only for a small moment. I was guilty.’ – Charles Bukowski, Hollywood.
If there were a single criminal instance to capture America’s obsession with murder mysteries, undoubtedly many would call to mind the infamous Black Dahlia case. James Ellroy encapsulates the public’s fascination with the grisly unsolved murder of Elizabeth Short in the first of his L.A. Quartet series of novels. The Black Dahlia uses the eponymous homicide case to accentuate the exploration of police corruption and personal psychological struggle.
Protagonist Bucky develops an obsession with the mutilated Dahlia and believes himself in love with her, compromising his interactions with friends as well as his partner Lee Blanchard. Bucky’s journey leads him to the sleazy underworld of wannabe actresses and prostitutes, as it was a highly circulated rumor that the real-life Short had acting aspirations. This blends the novel with a smaller but impactful connection to Hollywood, which is virtually a requirement for any book set in Los Angeles. Indeed, the murder was truly so sensationalized that it appeared ready-made for the silver screen.
Ellroy published a memoir titled My Dark Places in 1996 based on his own experience with the unsolved murder of his mother, and he also plans to write a second ‘L.A Quartet’ series.
‘Some people don’t respond to civility.’ – James Ellroy, The Black Dahlia
Moving away from crime towards science fiction, notable L.A. writer Ray Bradbury captivated readers with his stories of aliens and futuristic technology. While not a native Angeleno, Bradbury became fascinated with Hollywood as a young boy and would frequently sneak into the movie theater just a few blocks away from his home. His interest in science fiction led him to be actively involved in organizations like the Los Angeles Science Fiction Society, as well as publishing several of his own pieces in sci-fi magazines. He published his first collection of short stories, Dark Carnival, in 1947 but Bradbury’s most celebrated work is Fahrenheit 451.
Divided into three sections, the novel centers on an American city where books are outlawed and on a fireman whose duty it is to burn the possessions of anyone who owns them. While there is a fantasy eight-legged creature included in the tale, the basis for the science fiction part of the story is grounded in the idea that this is the extension of a reality in which similar situations could actually happen.
Bradbury himself has defined sci-fi as a representation of reality, skewed to where things that seem impossible are indeed within reach. He also made his passion for reading clear with his support of public libraries; in fact, it was inside Powell Library at UCLA that he wrote what would eventually become Fahrenheit 451. Bradbury passed away in 2012 and is buried in Los Angeles at Westwood Memorial Park.
‘There must be something in books, something we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.’ Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451.