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Downtown Writers

The downtown movement was a bunch of New York-based artists who operated from around the early 1970s to the end of the 1980s. They included artists, musicians, film-makers and writers. The writers associated with the movement did not generally achieve lasting fame and most have been forgotten by all except critics, New Yorkers and people like me who found what they had to do and say worthy of interest. Much of their writing was short stories and can now be found in magazines (some defunct) such as Between C & D and Bomb, in chapbooks like Top Stories or in anthologies like Wild History or Fire Over Water.

They had a few things in common. They worked primarily in the Soho/Tribeca area of New York. They were often involved in other art forms – painting, performance art, music, poetry. They were essentially the first generation for whom AIDS was a key factor (Cookie Mueller, for example, was allegedly the first American woman to die from an AIDS-related disease). To quote from the Between C & D Anthology, what they wrote was gritty, urban, sometimes ironic, sometimes gutsy, erotic, violent, or deadpan, unsentimental rather than”sensitive” or”psychological”, playing with form but clearly narrative by intention. It was a reaction to what else was going on in the United States – dirty realism, minimalism, The Brat Pack. But, like these three, they seem to have pretty much disappeared. Some have died; some have moved on; some are still working and some are just ignored. As few wrote any novels of significance (focusing on short works and work in other art forms) they do not figure much on this site but here are the main ones:

Kathy Acker (died 1997)
Constance DeJong
Patrick McGrath
Ursule Molinaro (died 2000)
Cookie Mueller (died 1989)
Joel Rose
Catherine Texier
Lynne Tillman
Anne Turyn
Reese Williams
David Wojnarowicz (died 1992)

Books to read

Robert Siegle: Suburban Ambush (written by an academic for academics and therefore full of academic jargon but with lots of useful information)
Brandon Stosuy (editor): Up Is Up But So Is Down (anthology)
Marvin J Taylor (ed): the Downtown Book (covers all art forms; Siegle writes the chapter on writing)
The various Tanam Press anthologies, including Hotel, Wild History and Fire Over Water
The Between C & D Anthology

Other links

Guide to the Between C & D Archive Ca. 1983-1990
I’ll Be Your Mirror, Reflect What You Are: Postmodern Documentation And The Downtown New York Scene From 1975 To The Present