Au Revoir, New York ‘Literary’ Scene!

Photo: Courtesy of Jessica Roy

A few days ago, a post on the blog Jess and Josh Talk About Stuff caught our eye. It was written by 20-year-old Jessica Roy, an NYU student, and though it was short and vague, it indicated that the author had just recently suffered her first really demoralizing New York Media Experience. We quote:

It is, unfortunately, not enough to be honest in this city. I will not give blowjobs for bylines. I will not laugh at peoples' unfunny jokes because I want them to be impressed by me. I will not become someone else so that I can be absorbed into this elite, nefarious world where people trade intellect like currency … I am getting out of New York for awhile, from August-January … New York is not a place for serious people.


It got us thinking all of the things that had happened to us and our friends when we were younger that have could put us off writing forever. Like when a Vanity Fair editor said our friend could "make the words do the mambo, but you don't have any new ideas." Or the time an Observer editor responded to a friend's pitch by saying, "Sorry, we only do INTERESTING stories." Or just those times when we've realized: Everyone knows each other. And it's kind of awful.

Anyway, we were intrigued. What sort of terrible thing could have happened to turn this young girl so jaded that she was actually driven out of town? We asked. After the jump, Jessica tells us about her long, dark night of the soul (with Keith Gessen).

The truth is, we started the blog because we wanted to be heard by the people we respected: Gawker media sites, the n+1 crowd, New York Magazine. A part of me longed to be absorbed into that elite circle of Ivy-educated literature nuts who have co-opted what it means to be a writer in New York. Because these days, if you’re not with them, you’re being mocked by them. I have thin skin, so I figured the former would be my best bet.


Until the other night, when the people whose Internet personas I had admired appeared to me in the flesh.

On Saturday night, Leon Neyfakh of the New York Observer picked my friend Alec Niedenthal and me up in downtown Brooklyn. Alec is a 17-year-old literary whiz kid and friend of mine whom Leon had written about in the Observer after Alec wrote an incendiary letter to the New York Times. He'd come to New York to meet with a potential publisher.

We walked with Leon to another guy’s house. I'll call him Sebastian. Along the way we plucked up a couple of n+1 interns, underage Lolitas in slutty dresses. They were sucking lollipops and carrying six packs of Blue Moon. These girls seemed like they would fuck anyone for a byline, and the men were even worse, charming them with discussions about Gaddis’ The Recognitions or the glory of the em dash. Everything I had begun to suspect — that n+1 was a place where old guys who never got laid in high school finally have their pick of the fine young crop — felt wholly true in those moments leading up to entering Sebastian's house. I felt suddenly hollowed.

Sebastian lives with his parents in a multi-million-dollar brownstone in Brooklyn. There were Persian rugs and chandeliers; the fireplace mantle had pictures of Sebastian wearing a suit as a child. On his parents’ armoire sat a set of old keys and a couple of grams of coke for anyone who might be interested. I felt sad for him, for having all of these assholes in his house who made fun of him for making peach Cosmos. He was an empty trust-fund hipster in his parents’ mansion where all the literary kids came to play.

Everyone there went to Columbia or Harvard or Yale. They argued over grammar and syntax, the difference between a metaphor and a metonymy. Someone sparked a joint and everyone drank and simmered in their own self-congratulatory pseudo-intellectualism. For the first time in my life I felt intellectually inferior. I could not name my favorite passage in The Recognitions. I was tongue-tied.

After that, we were off to a birthday party off the Smith Street F stop in Brooklyn. It was a party for Carla Blumenkranz, who wrote a story called "In Search of Gawker" for n+1 last winter. Emily Gould was there. Alec ditched me to continue sucking up to Leon, and Leon loved it because to him Alec is a protégé. They will feed off of each other and help each other succeed even though they don't actually care about one another. Eventually Keith Gessen showed up. He is short in person with messy hair. I heard him saying he will "try to take himself more seriously."

Someone introduced me to Moe from Jezebel, with whom I'd had short correspondence about an article I'd written on my blog recently. I was drunk and mumbled, "I've read your Jezebel posts." Immediately, I felt like an idiot. I'd broken the No. 1 rule of these parties: Know and read everything about everyone, comment on it or criticize it on your Tumblr, but never mention it in real life.

This way we can maintain two separate spheres: one, where we are so honest that we hurt each other, and another, where we are so dishonest that we hurt each other even more.

A guy I am friendly with who used to work for Gawker, Jon, came up behind me, "Do you want to meet Emily Gould?"

"No," I said. "I don't want it to be awkward." She was talking to Alec, Keith Gessen, and Leon. The guy who maintains the All the Sad Young Gossip Girls Tumblr told me that Keith stole Emily from Leon when they were dating.

"How are they all talking, then?" I asked.

"Everyone here is frenemies," Jon observed.

At that point I began to feel sick.

It just was all so fucking fake. These people that I had admired my entire New York existence — they all disappointed me. I don't understand how people can exist in such a dishonest way and still call themselves writers. Isn't it the responsibility of a writer to be honest? And why would you uphold a conversation with someone whom you're going to talk shit on while walking back to the G train? They're living in a box, where they only talk to others who have read Gessen's book and think it sucks but will tell him it's brilliant because they need his approval.

I did not move to New York to return to high school, but that's exactly what it felt like.

I feel lost at this point. I don't want to be part of the media world if this is what's in store for me. I suppose it's possible to participate in it, and be a writer, without actually becoming a member. But this tiny concentration of hyper-intellectuals has become a juggernaut that subtly controls everything that happens in the industry.

Yeah, we know. But remember, sometimes it feels like that.

Any talent that Alec has could be stripped from him because from now on, he's no longer writing for himself, he's writing for Gessen, for Emily Gould, with her tattoos and her book deal, for the fucking New York Times Book Review, where he initially targeted the rage that brought him to this very spot.


This experience has left me to grapple with learning how to remain an honest writer in New York: In truth, I'm not sure it can be done.

And so Jessica Roy will depart for a semester abroad in Paris in September. She will continue to maintain her blog — which will probably become wildly popular and, upon her return, she'll be owning these godforsaken media parties. Hang in, little one. Paris is a good place to get just jaded enough to come back to this town and run the show.