By Susan Tomaselli
Borrowing its title from Edgar Allan Poe, who had hoped to publish a journal under the same name during his last years in Philly but failed to find funding, and with Wallace Smith illustrations adorning the cover, The Stylus covered the legacies of John Fante, Charles Bukowski, Poe, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Dylan Thomas (but mainly Fante), as well as providing a platform for new writers, all banged out on a monospaced typewriter. Roger Reus, its editor, answered some questions by email.
Susan Tomaselli: When did you found The Stylus? And why?
Roger Reus: The first issue appeared in January 1993 after a year of gathering materials. My main motivation was to promote the writings of the late John Fante who I’d first read around 1988. At that point nearly all of his works were in print from Black Sparrow Press, he had a growing following in California, yet here on the East Coast he was a virtual unknown. In early 1992 I sent a letter to Joyce Fante telling her of my plans and she sent not only her good wishes but also an unpublished article she had written several years earlier entitled ‘Fante: Fact or Fiction?’ She would soon direct me to Edmund Morris, a friend of John Fante’s who collaborated with him on the screenplay for the 1962 film Walk on the Wild Side and who would also contribute to the first issue. Perhaps the meat of this issue was an article by Geoffrey Dunn that is a perfect introduction to the life and writings of Fante. Let me add that discussions of Fante were only a portion of each issue, but he was always my motivation.
ST: How long did it run for? And why did it fold?
RR: In the five-year life of The Stylus I managed to publish a whopping three issues. Disinterest killed it, both on my part and on the readers. At the end I was having a horrible time getting contributions I liked enough to publish (and that catered to my limited tastes) and I felt guilty soliciting articles that wouldn’t likely see print for over a year. I also rationalized my decision around the fact that Fante was no longer the mystery man he was in 1993. Books had since been written on him, conferences held – there was nothing further I could do that wasn’t being done elsewhere. It was no great surprise when the time came to pull the plug on the journal and I don’t think my form letter telling of its demise generated more than a few letters of condolence.
ST: Did you ever get any feedback from Bukowski?
RR: No. I sent Buk the first issue with a very brief note and another contributor or three did the same. I like to think he at least enjoyed the stuff on Fante and I also chuckle at the idea of the other copies arriving there much to his annoyance. Unfortunately everything I published on Bukowski (including the reprinting of his first-sold story) appeared after his death. I truly regret not approaching him and pleading for a poem to publish. I figured that like his fictional persona the last thing he wanted was to be bothered by fans. Joyce Fante would later tell me that Buk would likely have been glad to contribute.
ST: The Stylus had an interview with Joyce Fante – what was the feedback from her? And John Martin?
RR: As mentioned, Joyce Fante was a great inspiration for me early on. The interview with Joyce appeared in the third issue and was entirely the work of Russell Gollard, my wonderful West Coast contact. She seemed pleased with the journal and I regret that we fell out of touch for the last several years of her life. John Martin of Black Sparrow Press was always supportive of The Stylus and I was happily shocked when he allowed me to reprint the Bukowski story ‘Aftermath of a Lengthy Rejection Slip.’ His letters to me were always eagerly anticipated and I think it was mainly he and Joyce that I aimed to please as without them Fante’s works might not have been reprinted at all.
ST: Fante has been largely ignored by the literati, and indeed the public, for so long. With a pending adaptation of Ask the Dust by Robert Towne finally being released later this year, do you think Fante’s day has finally come?
RR: I think Fante will forever be something of a neglected writer, lurking just off the last page of academia’s 20th Century American Lit’s A-list and all the more engaging because of it. I’m sure the Towne film will bring more readers to him but I’m not sure how much further Fante’s literary stock can climb. I’m now selfish in that I’m perfectly content in having Fante to ourselves and the only reason I’d like for him to have more success, more copies in print, is to bring more comfort (and a little money) to his surviving kids and grandkids.
ST: Have you ever read any Dan Fante? In Chump Change, he talks with great bitterness and affection about his father saying his father cursed “himself and God for letting him piss away his talent for a Hollywood check”, but that while John had “the world by the balls” he “forgot his passion was writing novels’.” Nonetheless, he “had been a real artist, an original human being. No one would ever know’.”
RR: Dan Fante is great, I love his stuff, and I think Chump Change is essential reading for fans of his father. I agree that John Fante wasted a lot of time working in Holywood (and playing golf) and he could have left us many more novels otherwise. But Hollywood was easy money and it took care of his large family which novel writing probably could not have, or at least not at the same level. I was lucky enough to read a copy of Dan’s play Boiler Room (retitled The Closer) and hope that this will be published eventually. A worthwhile read.
ST: Bukowski and Fante, along with the Beats, are criminally out of fashion. What would you say to the uninitiated? Is there anyone to fill their shoes?
RR: Hmm, I never think of Bukowski as out of fashion, but I may be wrong here. I also never really considered either Buk or Fante to belong to the Beats in any way though they are embraced by Beat fans almost as if so. It may be blasphemy to say so but I haven’t read the original Beat writers in years and I don’t really plan on revisiting them anytime soon. As far as filling the shoes of Bukowski and Fante, it can’t be done. But I again recommend Dan Fante as a guy who is at moments their equal and who has yet to publish a disappointing book. I just hope he has several more ahead of him.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Susan Tomaselli is editor of Dogmatika and lives in Belfast.