Author John O'Hara, Pottsville's Not-So-Favorite Son

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The woods are full of writers who had acrimonious relationships with their home towns, but John O'Hara, right, deserves special recognition. In addition to being a keen observer of social mores and hypocrisies, he was a world-class grouch with a genius for holding a grudge. The title of biographer Geoffrey Wolff's book says it all: "The Art of Burning Bridges: A Life of John O'Hara."

Pottsville/Gibbsville, in O'Hara's fiction, was rife with pettiness, class animosities and seething resentments. "Appointment in Samarra," which depicts the inevitable demise of the ambitious, young Julian English, is particularly on point. As Wolff notes, the novel is "a group portrait of narrow self-interest, of greed, alcoholism, and intolerance."

Not surprisingly, Pottsville did not take kindly to O'Hara's writings, nor to his urging a fellow Pottsville writer, "If you're going to get out of that God awful town, for God's sake write something that will make you get out of it."

Erica Ramus, a Pottsville real estate agent and O'Hara aficionado who has helped organize weekends honoring him, says, "O'Hara didn't sugarcoat things. He told it like he saw it: He wrote his stories like he was writing a news story, not a pretty piece of fiction. . . . This upset some people who didn't agree with his characterizations."

Now, in addition to the marker noting his home on Mahantongo Street, Pottsville has erected a bronze statue of the writer. And the public library, which at one point would not stock his books, has a generous collection of them. -- T.W.

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