Erasure and Reform: Los Angeles Literature and the Reconstruction of the Past

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Elliott, Matthew Edwin
Wyatt, David
My dissertation is a literary and cultural history of Los Angeles from 1930-1950. I argue that this particular time and place——this era of Los Angeles history——provides a rich site for an exploration of American identity formations. It was during these years that Los Angeles experienced the extraordinary demographic and cultural changes that transformed the city from a place that in 1930 was still heralded by boosters as a small western outpost of white Americanism into what was by 1950 perhaps the nation’s most multicultural and multiracial city. Yet, this complex history of cultural change has been long invisible, for not only is Los Angeles among the most multicultural U.S. cities, it is also the most heavily mediated of places, and the pervasive images and myths of the city and its past constructed via Hollywood films and Chamber of Commerce postcards have functioned to erase this multicultural past. My study seeks to recover this hidden history of Los Angeles by examining the work of writers who represent and explore the lived complexities of existence in this dynamic setting. I focus on such writers as Chester Himes, Hisaye Yamamoto, and John Fante, who, I argue, not only portray something of the city’s lost past but also examine the process by which marginal voices are repressed and oppositional histories are erased. In addition, I discuss contemporary Los Angeles writers, including Walter Mosley, James Ellroy, and John Gregory Dunne. Focusing on their works of historical fiction, I analyze how each re-imagines and reconstructs this era of Los Angeles’s past and thus contributes to the construction of an imaginary archive of a lost history.