“Literary L.A. – The Top Los Angeles Writers & Poets”

Jack Grapes came to Los Angeles from New Orleans 50 years ago after being cast in the lead for a television pilot. As an actor, he’d worked in theater and film, and was a former cast member of Chicago’s famed Second City. Although the TV show fell through, he stayed around, continuing to work as an actor in television, film, and stage, and a poet, teacher, and publisher. Editor of the literary journal ONTHEBUS, and author of 24 books of poetry—including the first part of a long poetic sequence called Breaking Down the Surface of the World—Grapes writes poems that operate somewhere in the middle ground between pop culture and philosophy. Asked about Los Angeles as a place for artistic work, Grapes said, “It’s very possible that this city is as perfect a symbology of American culture as you can get. There’s so much shallowness, gloss, competitiveness and spiritual decadence. Writing poetry here requires such a spiritual focus that you are forced to look inward—you can give in to the gods of Moloch, or hold on and see what is really true and authentic in your soul.

David Ulin, Los Angeles Times Book Review Editor


JACK GRAPES is an award-winning poet, playwright, actor, teacher, and the editor and publisher of ONTHEBUS, one of the top literary journals in the country. He has won several publishing grants and Fellowships in Literature from the National Endowment for the Arts. He’s also received nine Artist-in-Residence Grants from the California Arts Council to teach writing in various schools throughout Los Angeles. He is the author of 24 books of poetry, including Last of the Outsiders: Collected Poems, 1969-2019; The Naked Eye: New and Selected Poems, 2012-2017; and Wide Road to the Edge of the World: 301 Haiku, with an introduction in 201 paragraphs and 601 chapters. A spoken-word CD, Pretend, was issued by DePaul University. He is also author of two chapbooks of poems and paintings titled and the running form, naked, Blake; and Save the Date.

In the L.A. Weekly’s “Literary Guide to Los Angeles,” his work was characterized as “operating somewhere in the middle ground between pop culture and philosophy.” Writing in Poetry Flash, John Oliver Simon said, “When I talk to Mexican poets, I find myself thumbing my dog-eared copies of Jack Grapes’s books to show what North American poetry can do at this moment.” In the last few years, Jack’s poems have appeared in five major national anthologies: Stand-Up Poetry (University Press, CSLB), The Maverick Poets(Gorilla Press), Grand Passion (Red Wind Books), Men of Our Time (University of Georgia Press), and Neuva Poesia de Los Angeles (Universidad de Guadalajara). Dennis Cooper considered Grapes’s “updating of the Whitman ethic a unique usage of poetry, difficult to explain and equally hard to delineate, but the work’s magic.”

He was featured on the cover of the Directory of American Poets and Writers along with Robert Creeley, Tobias Wolff, Cathy Song, and Charles Baxter. Of his poetry, Sally Kalson in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote, “Grapes has been called an Everyman of poetry because his work cuts to the bone of basic human truth without the pretense that characterizes much of what passes for contemporary poetry.” Reviewing Jack’s most recent book, Lucky Finds, Matthew Specktor wrote in Poetry Flash (Fall, 2004): “Grapes covers a tremendous amount of ground in his poems–abstract and figurative, personal and philosophical, literary and historical–and he does it with wit and flair. To his immense credit, these moves do not seem half-digested; they seem, rather, the product of an original, omnivorous sensibility.”

In 1989 he began editing and publishing ONTHEBUS, an international literary journal hailed by Esquire as “one of the top 20 journals in the country.” The Los Angeles Times wrote: “The sheer unfettered and unpredictable range of poetry in ONTHEBUS is refreshing in an era of coteries, categories, and other curtailments of art’s free spirit. In this willingness to bend, test, even offend literary tastes, ONTHEBUS is riskier and more challenging to the reader than most reviews today.” In 1993 and 1995, Jack was awarded publishing grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. His goal to provide a broad view of poetry is reflected in the more than 2,000 California poets he’s published in the last 20 issues of ONTHEBUS.

As actor and playwright, Jack co-wrote (with Allan Yasnyi) How Much Can a Grecian Urn? and wrote and starred in Circle of Will (co-written with Bill Cakmis), a “bizarre metaphysical comedy” about the lost years of Will Shakespeare, which ran for several years in Los Angeles and won theater critic awards for Best Comedy and Best Performance. The Los Angeles Times called it “a play that goes way beyond mere entertainment; Grapes has created an intelligent piece of theater which peers into the very foundations of drama itself–it’s one of the cleverest original works seen in a long time.” He was recently featured in the USA movie Hef, and played the parts of Grass/Freddie in Don DeLillo’s The Day Room at the Actor’s Circle Theater in West Hollywood.

Over the last 40 years, he has taught over three thousand poets and writers, through both UCLA’s Extension program and in privately-held classes. He has also taught poetry in over 100 Los Angeles schools, was Los Angeles Coordinator for California Poets-in-the-Schools, served on its Board of Directors, and was also a board member for PEN Center USA West.

In 1988 he founded the Los Angeles Poets & Writers Collective, which sponsors readings, publications, classes, seminars, and workshops. He is currently working on four books: a new volume of poetry, Exit Music; the third in the Method Writing Series titled: Method Writing: The Sequel; a critical study on Charles Bukowski titled The Tender Agonies of Charles Bukowski; a non-fiction text, How To Read Like A Writer; a multi-volume text-book/study-guide on the history of modern poetry from Homer to the present, tentatively titled Etherized Upon a Table; and a study of James Joyce’s Ulysses, titled: Yes I Said Yes I Will Yes.

Jack was born and raised in New Orleans, where he graduated from Tulane University with a BA in History and English and an MFA in Theater. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Lori.