D.J. Waldie was born in 1948 in Lakewood, a suburb of Los Angeles. Lakewood is also the centre of his life and work. Waldie still lives in the house which his parents bought in 1946 and works as city spokesman. »I’m a professional storyteller. My job is to tell Lakewood’s story to Lakewood.« Using his profound knowledge of the local history and his intimate insight, which he gains as an employee of the town, Waldie puts down observations and impressions of the Californian metropolis and its suburb. His essays are published regularly in magazines such as »Los Angeles Times« and »Los Angeles Magazine«, as well as » L.A. Weekly«, »Buzz« and »Massachusetts Review« among others.
At the age of 48, Waldie had his first book published: »Holy Land: A Surburban Memoir« (1996). In a minimalist and matter of fact prose he carefully combines a plethora of facts with autobiographical impressions and anecdotal events. He tells of the very accurately planned Lakewood building project, which involved the construction of 17,000 almost identical detached houses arranged on a grid in less than three years. He also describes a childhood in which it was possible to go into a strange house, play there, and eat something from the kitchen without a care. A paradoxical image develops out of this – the alarming uniformity of suburbia counteracted by the constant feeling of security, allowing the astonishing eccentricity of banality to become apparent. The book was therefore often misunderstood as ironic or cynical. However, as the author says, »it’s an argument about disregarding places, and it’s an argument about why a disregarded place, an ordinary place, an everyday place, why it can in fact harbor qualities of life that are profound.« Waldie’s sophisticated homage, just like his settledness, acts as a challenge to the American myth of the promise of unconditional happiness.
In his second book, »Where We Are Now: Notes from Los Angeles« (2004), Waldie continues with his poetic sociology of the place in the style of the Benjamin flâneur. In it, »the bard of suburbia« (as he is named in the foreword) widens his circle of observations to include the capital, as he also does in »Real City: Downtown Los Angeles Inside/Out«, a photo collection from Marissa Roth, for which Waldie contributed the texts. He has received the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, a William Allen White Memorial Medal and the The Commowealth Club of California’s Book Prize in the category non-fiction. Alongside his topological studies, he is interested in creating a new translation of Mallarmé.
Translator: Rainer G. Schmidt
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