The Daily


We Have a Winner!

March 22, 2013 | by

A few weeks ago, we asked you to send us your best portrait-of-the-artist-as-a-young-person photos for a chance to win a Frank Clegg briefcase. Read on for a slideshow of exceedingly sensitive finalists … and one gloriously pretentious winner!

Third Place


This would be mid- to late eighties. I had just finished writing my first novel, calling it Bad Girls of Ireland. I would like to note, for the record, that while the book remains unpublished, I stand firm in my belief that it was the first to wear that “bad girls” label which became a thing in the early nineties (before we had memes, kiddies).

At the time I thought it was an appropriately high/low moniker to slap on two hundred pages that were (let’s be honest) too esoteric to be legible to anyone else on earth; in retrospect it sounds kind of cheesy. I think you had to be there. Influences? Joyce, naturellement. Nabokov, Calvino, Rilke, Duras, Cortázar, all of those Zone books about the body. Jung! Was I a mo girl swimming in a pomo stream, or the reverse? From the outside my life looked way more like a Tama Janowitz story than the Kathy Acker one that was going on in my head, right down to the jewelry-selling on the street. Earrings—singletons only, made out of broken glass I collected at bus stops. Some insufficiently considered “performance art.” You get the picture.

Sadly this is not a panoramic shot encompassing the whole of the room, which was pretty classic. Out of sight in front of me are my typewriter and piles of books atop a four-by-eight sheet of plywood and cinder block desk. The bed did have a box spring, I think, but otherwise everything was as low to the ground as it could go, in case I fell over. You can just see behind my right shoulder the broken mirror propped against the wall. Everywhere, piles that could be labeled “art” or “life,” depending on the time of day. Also visible is a bit of the faux marbling on the wall behind my bed, in underwater tones, with a quote from Heracleitus: “Those who sleep are workers and share in the activities going on in the universe.” But you don’t see the dyed theatrical muslin (liturgical shades, natch) creating a canopy. Or all the broken baby-doll parts, painted gold.

I was aiming for some sweet spot between convent and seraglio, not aware that I was tacking too far in one direction till the location scouts from Law & Order (original version) showed up one day looking for a convincing backdrop for a stool-pigeon hooker’s roost. “It’s perfect! Just get rid of all these books!”

—Maggie Gerrity

Second Place

Photo by John W. Farrell

At 28, in my Dashiell Hammett phase (circa 1978). This portrait, by photographer John W. Farrell, was created while I was experimenting with writing detective stories. A major influence was the Borsalino hat I had purloined from the coat check at some ritzy uptown restaurant one night, which instantly transformed its wearer into a shadowy figure moving between dusk and dawn night through Manhattan’s punk rock underbelly, collecting the material that would eventually be enshrined in The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, about a rock ’n‘ roll detective, first serialized in the New York Rocker and L.A. Weekly, and translated by Hollywood into a motion picture released in 1990 by 20th Century Fox, directed by Renny Harlin and starring Andrew Dice Clay. The movie poster featured the star in a pose with an uncanny resemblance to the original portrait, more than a decade after Farrell’s lens captured my youthful literary posturing.

—Rex Weiner

First Place

Rey's Poloroid of MMJ-edit

The picture was taken roughly a decade ago. I had recently graduated from college and was living in New York. I fancied myself an aesthete with a penchant for writing very questionable poetry. I specifically remember having just read and being profoundly moved by George Moore’s Confessions of a Young Man. He would have been my biggest influence at the time, alongside Rimbaud and the various poetic stars of the Romantic movement (Coleridge, Keats, etc.). Needless to say, this staged photograph of me is an homage to my nineteenth-century literary heroes.

—M. Monroe Johnson


This photo was taken in the winter of 2005. I moved with a suitcase from Kansas to Brooklyn and lived in this one room under the BQE, sharing a bathroom with my neighbors. I’m reading Arthur Danto’s The Abuse of Beauty, and had just gotten an internship at New Directions Publishing, which would later turn into a job. I thought I was doing something important, but I was also very lonely. The biggest influences on me during those years were Roberto Bolaño, Eliot Weinberger, the French immoralists, and Friedrich Nietzsche. —Neil Otte


My friends and I had just finished a summer course on the Beat generation. Inspired, we were keen for adventure and escape from those conformist mainstream influences. We packed camping gear and supplies and headed to a cabin on the Bay of St. Lawrence. We spent the unseasonably cold week (please note the space heater) in the cabin and around a camp fire, trying to spot whales. As I prepared meals, another would read to us from his dog-eared copy of Wallace Stevens poems. We felt very nonconformist at the time. —Aretha Soderstrom

jonny typewriter

I found my typewriter in a dusty corner of a dim bookstore. She was a seventy-year-old Underwood Ace and I was a teenager with dark dreams of being Raymond Chandler or Ernest Hemingway. Sure, there was an age difference; we got looks. But I loved my Steel-Bellied Beast. We shared a love of ink and angst. —J. W. Eberle

logan lockner - shakespeare & co-edit

I’ve attached a photo of myself reading while sitting outside Shakespeare & Company in Paris on a Sunday evening in October. At the time I was reading copious amounts of Henry James and Susan Sontag, as well as attempting to infuse my understanding of my beloved Muriel Spark with ideas from Iris Murdoch’s philosophical work. In this photo, however, I’m pretty sure I’m reading Anthony Trollope’s The Way We Live Now. This photo was taken during a weekend trip to Paris I took during my semester abroad in London. —Logan Lockner

me and ben-edit

The attached photo is of me (right) directing a production of Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman (Warwick Arts Centre, June 2012). The production was heavily influenced by David Mamet’s book True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor. I was also at the time writing my undergraduate dissertation on Primo Levi, hence the beard (both through lack of free time and as a sort of homage to both Mamet and Levi!). —Josh Green


The late author Willie Morris (left) with (a much younger) Jim PathFinder Ewing. Willie was a friend and mentor. The photo was taken in 1980 or thereabouts on the steps of the cottage where he lived on the campus of the University of Mississippi when he was writer-in-residence. —Jim Ewing


Yes, that is a vintage alarm clock (inoperable), a teapot, a custom-modded pair of headphones (steampunk), and keyboard (retro) scattered about me. And copies of Chaim Potok, Plath, and Ayn Rand literally right by my head. Oh gosh. I don’t think I like this contest anymore. —Caleb Hildenbrandt


This old beater is something that I picked up on a Mediterranean honeymoon with my wife. At the time, I wanted a case that looked like something Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones Walton Jr. would put on top of his desk and pull assignments out of at the beginning of his classes. I had the somewhat misguided notion that my briefcase would announce and precede me, like a notorious reputation. I wasn’t wrong. —Wale Oyejide


This photo is from 1991, on the campus of UNCG, in North Carolina, where people smoked almost everywhere, and cigarette vending machines still existed. (I’m ashamed now I subjected my peers to the hazard.) I’d chain-smoke from the moment I woke until I slept, usually at a late hour, after working the door at a warehouse-space punk-rock club, which I’d leave wired on caffeine and adrenaline. I kept a Norton anthology and a notebook on me at all times, in which I wrote constantly. The glasses I’m wearing were already years old, bought at my hometown ophthalmologist in 1987. (I think the brand name was Nerd Style or something awful.) I chose them because they seemed sturdy, as I played basketball, and they were the cheapest—twenty-seven dollars, and likely more a tribute to my affection for Elvis Costello than Allen Ginsberg. Because I was employed as a bouncer—a job I fell into at an earlier bar after being promoted from janitor—I began wearing glasses rather than contact lens. I was told glasses made me less menacing, approachable, which pleased me—I didn’t want to be menacing. The punk-rock club had been an urban church in its previous life, and had a busted plastic, lit-up sign on its facade, similar to a soft-drink sign you’d see at a gas station—it read “Miracle House of God.” The guys who opened the place crossed out “God” and in dripping spray-paint wrote “Rock!” They let me host a reading series on Tuesday nights. It was called Poets Eat. In lieu of the one-dollar admission, people brought canned food, usually beans, or tuna, sometimes a box of rice. At first I gave the food to the readers, but as it grew more successful I began donating it to a nearby homeless shelter. We were naive about the literary world, and felt far removed from most things cultural in Greensboro, despite the ghost of Randall Jarrell hovering everywhere. We were also bored, and heartily encouraged any creative activity for our own entertainment. I’d made a zine at Kinko’s in the late eighties, which led to reading in public in 1990. Despite my overwhelming anxiety I was so thrilled by the sensation I started the reading series, and began sending my poems out to magazines. Before all this my only encounters with contemporary poetry were listening to John Giorno’s Dial-a-Poem albums at a friend’s apartment. Yet all these things provided an entry into a larger world. By the time this photo was taken, I was attending any reading possible—every visiting writer, graduate student reading, anything. I saw Robert Pinsky, Charles Wright, Peter Taylor—I discovered the campus audio-video library, where I’d sit in a wooden carrell each evening before work, wearing huge 1970s rubber headphones, watching all thirteen videotapes in the Voices & Visions PBS documentary series on poets, introduced me to people like Helen Vendler and James Merrill speaking about Wallace Stevens, Elizabeth Bishop, Hart Crane, et al. I watched all of Shakespeare’s plays, and listened to audio recordings of James Wright, Robert Lowell, Marianne Moore, anyone I could find. Before bed each night I’d read Hopkins and Tennyson. I was swimming in it. A girlfriend at the time told me it was a youthful phase, that when I was older I’d give up poetry. I’ve had close friends who knew me at that time confess they first believed I was a colossal fraud, a persona. But when I look at this image I recall the feeling of being born. —Evan Smith Rakoff



  1. Shelley | March 25, 2013 at 11:51 am

    The best photos here look like they could have been taken in the thirties (Rakoff). A more earnest and interior age, each head surrounded by silence?

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