There are two major bookstores in the world, City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco and Shakespeare and Co. in Paris.

Last week I read and discussed my novel at City Lights Bookstore. It was a dream come true. I’m not sure how my literary career can move forward from such an honor. I could die today with bragging rights for my future in the eternal nothingness.

Let me back up…..


In 1994 I went to Paris. I was 24 years old. I brought all of my handwritten poetry and expected Shakespeare and Co. to be ecstatic and celebrate an unpublished poet from San Francisco. I had visions that I’d be ushered to an upstairs room and given bottled water while they read over my petit opus, my generous contribution to literature. Bottled water would switch to Absinthe and I’d get a buzz on the smells of the spirits of authors past that also graced Shakespeare and Co. with their greatness.

I had recently discovered Henry Miller, Charles Bukowski, Jack Kerouac, Louis Ferdinand-Celine. I knew I was next on the list of these greats. My delusion was squashed when I asked about poetry readings and fumbled my papers onto the counter. I can’t exactly remember the reply of the clerk, but I remember my dreams crushed. Who are you?

Customers breathed down my neck as I picked up my papers from the counter and the few that fell to the floor.

It was 1994 and I went to Paris to stretch out my literary wings that were still soaked and unsuitable for flying even in my hometown of San Francisco. Why would Paris embrace me?

Because my last name is DuShane. I’m one of you.

I walked long hours alone in Paris, with my notepad, and a strict budget since the French Franc was strong against a weak US Dollar. I slept in a closet space of a friend of a friend in the suburb of Nanterre. It was understood as only a crash pad, during the day, I had to be out and about. With no one, going nowhere.

I tried to say hi to women, but I didn’t even get kissed. Four weeks in Paris and my lips touched no one.

…..End flashback interlude of my 20-something naivety.


Last week I fulfilled a dream. One of the greatest bookstores in the world actually hosted a night where I was the star. It only took 16 years from my Paris disappointment to spread my dry, literary wings in my hometown of San Francisco.

City Lights. Kerouac, Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti.

I feel blessed and lucky. I worked hard on my novel. I wrote it in blood. While loosely based on my fucked up life growing up in a cult, I actually have to acknowledge that without that experience I couldn’t have created the characters or have written that book. My novel, endearing, funny and tragic, is a homage to the human condition. Of people standing by their belief systems and making decisions from hearts they feel are pure. Decisions that might damage themselves and others.

I was able to read at City Lights….to discuss these topics….to read and have the crowd laugh and have them in utter silence when I discussed tragedy. A woman asked me if the world would be a better place without religion. I don’t have the answer. I know some people need religion. I know some exploit religion. I know some people are truly good, whether religious or not. I’m not religious, but if I started a religion, I’d called it, Just Don’t Be A Dick.

Without flaws, our stories, our novels, would suck. Without conflict we can’t embrace our human condition. I used to think I was unique as someone who grew up a Jehovah’s Witness….while there are some things I’ve gone through that 99% of the world didn’t have to go through, I know my story isn’t so unique. Most of us are doing our best. Even the assholes. Even the Jehovah’s Witnesses who have spewed hatred at me and personally attacked me for writing a novel that exposes situations they’d rather not have made public. One such Jehovah’s Witness tried to reason with me the only way he knew how, I know your book is true (regarding doctrine and situations), but why make it harder for us to preach?

Then I heard the same thing again. Why make it harder for us to preach?

They don’t even realize they want recruitment numbers over truth. When my book deal went through, I received vicious phone calls and emails from them. They’re human.

It hurt at the time. It still hurts a bit, but my peace is knowing they’re misguided. My peace is knowing that my novel is out there. They don’t have read it if they choose not to, but they can if they like.

……This is the part where Tony realizes he went from funny to grateful to serious to reflection.


….Wait, he doesn’t….

Where would American punk rock be without Reagan? Would Henry Rollins have turned into some type of Gallagher, smashing watermelons into a crowd because America actually decided not to be dicks for oil?

Let’s back up further. Would we have Louis Ferdinand-Celine if he wasn’t injured during World War I? Without Celine, could there be a Kerouac?

What? You would like to go back centuries? What if Cervantes never went to war, was never captured and had a posh life? Would we have Don Quixote?

I really don’t know any writer or humorist or comedian or artist that hasn’t suffered. I read them, I listen to them, and they speak to my soul.

I don’t have the answers. We suffer and we can sometimes laugh about it, at the absurdity of the human condition. At the flaws of ourselves.

Last week I read and discussed my novel at City Lights Bookstore. It was a dream come true.

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TONY DUSHANE lives in San Francisco. He's the author of Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk, published by Soft Skull Press.

He hosts the radio show (www.drinkswithtony.com) and his column Bandwidth, appears every Thursday in the San Francisco Chronicle. He also has written for The Believer, Mother Jones, The Bold Italic and many other fine publications.

DuShane is a novel writing teacher at San Francisco Writers' College, his next class starts in January. Full details will be announced next week on www.tonydushane.com.

Upcoming readings:

November 17, 2010 - Space Gallery, San Francisco
December 8, 2010 - Bawdy Storytelling at Blue Macaw, San Francisco

He also likes taking long walks in his walk-in closet.

39 responses to “From Paris to City Lights Bookstore”

  1. That’s fantastic that you read at City Lights. It is indeed one of the best places an author could surely hope to read. Being a Beat-obsessive, I could hardly think of anything better. I went for a brief visit back in 2007, and bought a couple of books.

    I’ve been to France many times, but I’ve not yet made itto Shakespeare & Co. I’ll mark that as a destination for the future.

    • Tony DuShane says:

      if you go, send them a press kit about seven months in advance to see about reading. that’s what joe loya told me tonite, the author of ‘the man who outgrew his prison cell’. he said the experience was amazing.

      now that we’re older, published, what-not…a little easier than a dorky 24 year old that i was, with handwritten pages of eager silliness.

      • Er, I’m actually a dorky 24 yr old with typed pages of eager silliness… I wonder what they’d make of me.

        • Tony DuShane says:

          you’re one step ahead of where i was with typed pages.

          no worries, i’m a dorky 40 year old, still trying to make sense out of this….keep pluggin’ away at your dreams….and it’s a bit easier these days to research such things than it was before internet days. my first time in paris it took me two hours to figure out how to use their public phones to call david and tell him i was lost at gare du nord…..bien sur, you buy a phone card from a tabac.

          oh dear god.

        • Tell me about it. I live in Korea and all my research materials are back in Scotland. I wouldn’t be able to run my magazine without e-mail or online libraries. Even MySpace, Twitter and Facebook are now essential for running a business.

          And public phones are a bastard… I never did figure the fuckers out. Lucky mobile phones came along before I’d spent too long struggling with them.

  2. Simon Smithson says:

    Dear DuShane:

    1. Congratulations.

    2. City Lights. You son of a bitch.

    3. “Because my last name is DuShane. I’m one of you.”


    4. “but if I started a religion, I’d called it, Just Don’t Be A Dick.”


    5. They’re human.


  3. D.R. Haney says:

    I envy that you did a reading at City Lights. Congrats on that account, and also for the publication of your book. I know what it means to have written a novel in blood, believe me.

    As for Shakespeare and Company, the present-day store is not the store opened and operated by Sylvia Beach, as you may already know. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shakespeare_and_Company_%28bookshop%29) I’ve been to the location of the old store, having been drawn there by the ghosts of Hemingway and so on, and I would upload my photo of the building if I had a scanner. I’ve heard many stories of the starry-eyed writers who labored at the present-day Shakespeare and Company, and of their exploitation by the owner, who’s been repeatedly described to me as a kind of Dickensian villain.

    Meanwhile, I wish I could identify two of the guys in your accompanying picture of City Lights. I recognize Neal Cassady and Allen Ginbserg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, of course, but I’m clueless as to the man to Neal’s left (who looks a bit like Kerouac) and the man between Allen and Ferlinghetti. Do you know who they are, Tony? David Wills?

  4. Becky says:

    City Lights is reason enough to go to San Francisco. When and if I get there, I will probably cry and fall on the ground and have a religious experience.

    If I read there, I would probably tip over dead. Not only from shock but because I am terrified of reading out loud.

    You lucky, lucky man. Or maybe not lucky. Maybe blessed.

    Places like that make me want to believe in ghosts.

  5. Matt says:

    Big congratulations, Tony.

    I’ve been to S.F. several times but have never actually set foot in City Lights. Been across the street from it, though, but at the time there wasn’t opportunity to step in and browse. I hope to amend that sometime in the near future.

    • Tony DuShane says:

      thanks matt.

      sometimes, if something is so good, you have to do a bit of courtship with it. so being across the street was like gazing into each others eyes, yet not acting on your impulses b/c you want the relationship to last.

      then, when the time is right, you’ll cross the street and enter her. it will be warm in there, and you’ll have an odd craving for a cigarette when you leave.

  6. stacey says:

    hey tony!
    i work at city lights, and your post made my day. glad we made yours!

  7. Knock, knock. Congrats on reading at City Lights. When I visit California one day as a tourist from the East Coast, it will surely be one of my destinations.

  8. jonathan evison says:

    . . .atta’ boy, tony! . . . more good things to come for you!

  9. lance reynald says:


  10. Joe Daly says:

    Well done, and congratulations! A great reminder that as long as you keep doing the right thing, the right opportunity will find you.

    Totally agree about your idea for a religion. I’m reminded of the saying, “Religion is for people who don’t want to go to hell; spirituality is for people who have already been there.”

    Great read.

  11. Mary says:

    Congratulations on your reading at City Lights! Your 24-year old self was pretty cheeky and adorable. I hope one day you’ll get to read at Shakespeare and Co, too.

  12. Tom Hansen says:

    Great post.

  13. Irene Zion says:


    I’m really impressed that you got to read there.
    I’m also sorry that there are intolerant people, but, oh well.
    I also still don’t believe that you are not wearing a fake mustache and beard and big black glasses and a hat to conceal your true identity. I’d like to know who you really are.

  14. Lenore Zion says:

    congrats on realizing your dream. i always react to realizing dreams by becoming depressed and wondering what there is to live for. i hope you aren’t doing that. you should have a burrito instead.

    • Tony DuShane says:

      in the film ‘comedian’, colin quinn tells jerry seinfeld:

      ‘you know when you’ve made it? when you’re on the stage and you’re killing, and you still feel miserable.’

      funny but true statement.

      hey i got a book deal. 10 minutes later: nope, still feel like shit.

      hey it got a good review. 10 minutes later: nope, still feel like shit.

      hey, david sedaris sent me a post card saying he liked my short story. 10 minutes later: nope, still feel like shit. two years later: i can’t find the damn thing, i should’ve framed it right away.

      i guess i’m sayin’ ….i feel ya…. but i’m more of a, okay, what’s next? when i feel like shit….and that 10 minute buzz is worth it.

  15. Zara Potts says:

    I’m so glad your dream came true.. now we just have to get you into the Bad Seeds huh?
    Oh, and I would be a starter for ten in any religion called ‘Just Don’t Be A Dick.’
    In fact, I’m going to adopt that right now….

    • Tony DuShane says:

      Sincerely compliment a fellow human every day. This message is brought to you by:

      The Church of Just Don’t Be A Dick.

      Hoping for a less dickish world one hug at a time.

  16. Simone says:

    “Establishing goals is all right if you don’t let them deprive you of interesting detours” ~Doug Larson

    The Paris thing at Shakespeare & Co was just an ‘interesting detour’, and City Lights may as well be the goal.

    Well done, and well written.

  17. Paul Clayton says:

    Congrats on your novel and reading, Tony. I just bought an old motorcycle and drove it home from work. As I was pulling up to my house two Witnesses, young guys, dressed in suits, were about to walk up and knock on my door. They were both about 18 or 19. One of them saw something magical and wonderful in the bike; I could see it in his eyes. The other would not allow himself to admire it, seeming to be more intent on his mission. Having spent much of my young adulthood involved with a religious group, I could relate to them (although they didn’t know that). I told them I would take a pamphlet and that I would contact them if I wanted to talk. The one guy said, “I really like your bike!” before they walked off. He’ll probably drop off first. Later!

  18. Alison Aucoin says:

    I’d need a valium drip to read at City Lights. Shakespeare & Co, forget it.

    I was going to have my daughter converted to Judaism but now I’m thinking of skipping the mikveh and just telling her not to be a dick. Really.

    American passport trumps French surname in Paris. They do not wish to claim us.

    • Tony DuShane says:

      what’s funny is i’m really only french by name, my norwegian mom and italian grandmother diluted that mix real good….after earlier mixes.

      now i got scandis and latins fighting it out in my blood. i want to grab my nuts, yet, eat herring at the same time. it’s a travesty.

      i think i’m going to sign off all my correspondence now with ‘dont be a dick’.

      just don’t be a dick,
      father tony

  19. This is awesome…

    What an honor, man. Kudos.

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