I'm a journalist and essayist based in Los Angeles, telling the city's story one sentence at a time. My latest book "A Handful of Earth, A Handful of Sky: The World of Octavia E. Butler"— a Hugo Award finalist — traces the California-born writer's early formation, through an assemblage of objects drawn from her personal archive. My 2018 book, After/Image: Los Angeles Outside the Frame, is a collection of essays and photographs exploring Los Angeles' ever-shifting terrain.
The Search for Mardou Fox
From Alta Journal
I never expected to find her in this unlikely place, sitting on a fender of a car in front of the Black Mask bar on Montgomery Street.” And yet, here she was. Lingering within the first few pages of a sleek black paperback, taking up space, “saying something extremely earnestly,” setting ideas afloat.
This was my first glimpse of Mardou Fox, one of a constellation of urban intellectuals dubbed “the subterraneans”—night dwellers, “ ‘hip without being slick…intelligent without being corny…they are very quiet, they are very Christlike.’ ”
I wasn’t sure where I’d wandered, but I locked into its frequency.
At the time, the early 1980s, I was a quiet yet intensely restless English major, working shifts as a bookstore clerk in a fading shopping mall in Los Angeles. One slow weeknight, my hand lingered over a stack of slim paperbacks on our to-be-shelved cart.
The 1981 Black Cat edition of Jack Kerouac’s The Subterraneans featured a high-contrast black-and-white cover image offset by highlighter-yellow and green type. Beneath the title, bodies crowded together, suggesting a cellar-like setting.
I read on.
“Do you know this girl, the dark one?”
“That’s her name?”
The exchange both gave me pause and nudged me forward.