New York City Street Lamp Stories Date Back to the '90s, But Who's Behind Holy Crap?

New York City was temporarily tickled when pages from a mysterious novel started popping up around the East Village, so much so that copycats were nearly instantaneous. More eyeballs for struggling writers -- it seemed so obvious! As it turns out, it seemed obvious back in the 1990s too, when the writer Xander Mellish did almost exactly the same thing.

According to Mellish's website, she utilized the poster stories tactic throughout the early '90s because of "trouble finding readers." Mellish decided she would print the first pages of her short stories and put them "on lamp posts and in subway stations and in laundromats, any place people might have spare time to read," with her phone number at the bottom. An interested reader could call and hear the rest of the tale. Mellish would stand nearby and watch people read, hoping for a call:

People are very suspicious in New York about calling a stranger's phone number: I think I probably had twenty readers for every one caller. It was tough duty sometimes: there's no more honest criticism than when you can see someone walk away after the first paragraph. But I was really happy to see people of every size and shape reading the posters - school kids, homeless people, Wall Street yuppies, girl gangs, old ladies, everybody. So much conventionally published fiction in the U.S. is read only by a little subset of white, educated - maybe overeducated - literary snobs. It was cool to see my stories read by everybody.

Then came the internet, with a website serving pretty much the same purpose. "After the election of mayor Rudolph Giuliani in 1993, putting up became rather futile," Mellish writes. "The city was better run, and the lamp posts got cleaned, usually overnight."

Which might explain why the recent return of the trend has left many underwhelmed and unable to find more by the authors, with the stories quickly disappearing. (Rainy days don't help.)

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As far as we can tell, no one has come forward as the author of Holy Crap, the first new story to get noticed, though we've heard from local television network and even a literary agent hoping to learn more about the person behind the project. If you know more, get in touch!

In the meantime, remember what was with Ms. Mellish.

[jcoscarelli@villagevoice.com / @joecoscarelli]


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