literary recs: east coast vs west coast (U.S.)
March 23, 2022 3:42 PM   Subscribe

I moved from the west coast to the east coast and am now interested in how writers have conceptualized these regions and their cultural & intellectual differences!

Looking in particular for narrative essays that offer a comparison or contrast between east/west (or between particular cities: LA, SF, NYC, Boston, etc). Fiction and poetry of interest too, but not my first choice. Doesn't have to be contemporary - older is good too.

I'm familiar with Joan Didion and Bret Easton Ellis, who have written about places on both coasts, but that's pretty much it.
posted by CancerSucks to Writing & Language (3 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
This won't be a comparison, but when I moved to coastal Massachusetts and had to work with a lot of rich old money folks who behaved in ways I found unfamiliar, I ran across this book, and it was tremendously enlightening: The Proper Bostonians.
posted by Miko at 4:02 PM on March 23 [1 favorite]

The east coast isn't really a defined region like the west coast or, more broadly, the American West. My take, as someone who grew up on the east coast and now lives on the west coast, is that "east coast" as a region only exists on the west coast (and often here, "east coast" really means "what I think of as stereotypical New York City sensibilities"). No one in Philly thinks of Atlanta as being the same region, for example. I went from upstate New York to North Carolina for college, all east coast, and experienced culture shock (and that's the first time I ever thought of myself as a "Northerner" or "Yankee," even though many folks in the South very much define themselves as Southerners).

I suspect you won't find too many east coast folks who haven't left there using this framing. The east coast is older in the US imagination, and it's where New York and DC are, and so the west coast is kinda stuck defining itself somewhat in contrast. Folks on the east coast maybe think about California as a stand-in for west coast, with the Pacific Northwest seeming like all the Oregon stereotypes you can imagine.

Folks might have regionalism around New England, New York City, some other cities, and of course the South and its many sub-regions.

A few suggestions that might get you started:
"East Coast, West Coast, and Where the Twain Meet; Noting Similarities, Scholars Reject New York-Los Angeles Rivalry"
New York and Los Angeles: Politics, Society and Culture -- A Comparative View (2003)
Kim Young On Being a West Coast Poet

There's lots of writing on the American West. Here's just one example: Hell of a Vision: Regionalism and the Modern American West
posted by bluedaisy at 5:10 PM on March 23 [4 favorites]

This makes me think of Bill Griffith, the creator of Zippy the Pinhead. In his comics work (Zippy and otherwise), he's often written about the culture shock he experienced having been raised in Levittown, NY, and then moving out to SF to become a pivotal player in the underground comix scene.

Griffith hasn't written many essays per se, so this may not be the kind of recommendation you're looking for. But if you're willing to go afield a bit, I think you'll find some good commentary there on your subject. I consider Bill Griffith to be among the most astute of American cultural commentators.
posted by Dr. Wu at 5:40 PM on March 23 [2 favorites]

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