Staten Island Noir

The first short story I’ve ever written is forthcoming in Akashic Books’ fantastic noir series. I just got this copy of the cover; the book comes out in early November.

Each volume in Akashic’s series is based in a different city around the world. The publisher has been particularly attentive to cities in the global South, with titles like Kingston Noir, Delhi Noir, and (forthcoming) Lagos Noir featuring prominently in their catalog.

The series features and is edited by local writers, so it plays an important role in bringing collections of authors to the attention of audiences in the North who might otherwise remain below the radar.

I intend to explore the rubric of noir in future scholarly work. In what ways, I want to ask, are crime and policing responses to the contradictions of neoliberal capitalism that have forced literally millions of people off the land and into sprawling mega-cities in postcolonial nations? How adequate is the discourse of noir to reflecting critically on the impasses of neoliberal globalization? What gets left out of crime lit, and what crimes cannot be solved be even the most hard-boiled sleuth?

I hope my scholarly work on these kinds of questions will be productive. For now, though, I can say that I had great fun writing “Teenage Wasteland.” This story, set, of course, on Staten Island, explores the politics of toxic garbage disposal in the Fresh Kills dump during the late 1970s. The protagonist is a young Italian-American woman who gets diverted from her career as a fledgling punk rocker in her favorite stomping ground – CBGBs – by a rash of toxin-induced illnesses in her home neighborhood on Staten Island.

I definitely feel that there is more ground to explore here. Both in terms of garbage politics in NYC and in terms of the protagonist I created. I have ambitions to send her to Love Canal and to Italy. After all, the story is set during the anni di piombo (the years of lead), when the Italian government colluded with the mafia, NATO, and the CIA to shift Italian politics to the right by staging a series of bombings which were blamed on anarchist groups and on the Left in general. Lots to explore… Stay tuned.


Filed under class war, culture, environment, gender

5 responses to “Staten Island Noir

  1. Mia

    I find interesting fiction that illuminates some periods, events of history -here, Italy and the mafia, etc.- and also that make us aware on social, global problems such as the environment. I can´t wait to get familiar with the “heroine”… Could we read the story in your blog?

    I feel strongly attracted to “subcultures” and their “heros and heroines”, as I feel that they show this side of society sometimes hidden/not talked about: Punk is music wanting change!

    I encourage you to go on writing “more chapters” of “Teenage Wasteland” and in so doing explore “noir”.

    When I read the story I will be able to give you feedback on whether to send the main character to Italy or somewhere else.

    • Thanks so much for your thoughts. I’d love to get your advice about my protagonist’s potential adventures but I don’t think that my publisher would be pleased if I put my story up on this blog. Maybe I’ll be able to put up an excerpt once it’s published – I’ll check about this. In the meantime, thanks again for your enthusiasm!

      • Mia

        Sorry for asking. Don´t worry about checking with the editor.I fully understand and will be delighted to get the book once come out. Thanks for your wish and generosity to share. I like to write as well and believe it is good to get feedback and try to do so in workshops, etc. But of course the last decision is YOURS.

        Anyway, I wanted to let you know -even though i have not read the story- that the plot is original and not common -I think-. I don´t know what drove you to write this story but I think, apart from the -esthetic- pleasure of reading, it can do very good to readers – make us more concerned about environmental problems, closer to music and musicians lifestyle and, of course, to human dignity as I guess the girl is struggling to make a living-.

        I am liking a lot this blog and would like to have more time to read all postings. I feel you are dealing with a bunch of very interesting issues…

        Finally I have just a proposal: I was just thinking that it would be great if you also posted from time to time short stories, fragments of literature, essays… We could read this short pieces and share impressions…

        Thanks for your time and attention and sorry for my enthusiasm.

  2. Mia

    For your heroine process of creation: just in case you like to read the latest book on Punk Culture, that will come out next September. When I was 14 my best friend was a Punk.

  3. Mia

    Dear Prof. Dawson:

    I wish this note finds you well.

    I just came across a book which can be interesting for you in the imaginative process of creating your heroine.

    The book will be launched at the end of November. The author is JULIA DOWNES, at Durham University. The title is ‘Oh, Pretty Boy, Can’t You Show Me Nothing but Surrender?’: The Presence and Importance of Women in Punk Rock (2012)´.

    Julia Downes has also another suggestive work: ´Women Make Noise: Girl Bands from Motown to the Modern (Aurora Metrosupernova Books)´

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