Respect can be as elusive as the unicorn. I know something of this because I write books that are set in the Middle Ages, and the historical novel is often seen as the unwanted stepchild in the fictional family. I know even more about respect--or the lack thereof--because I live in New Jersey. I was actually born in New York City, but my family moved to Atlantic City when I was five, this being my dad's home town, so I think that qualifies me as a Jersey resident if not a bona fide native. I certainly know all about the Jersey jokes that amuse the rest of the country. You've probably heard them. Our state bird is the mosquito. Our state tree is dead. It doesn't help that we are represented on television by Tony Soprano and "Jersey Shore."
But many people don't know that New Jersey is a fertile breeding ground for writers, some of them quite renowned. And I would wager that most would be truly startled to learn that the star in the Jersey firmament is--drum roll here--Newark. This is a city that struggles with many burdens. It is the largest city in New Jersey and one of the oldest, founded in 1666. It has a high unemployment rate (25% of its families live below the poverty line), its schools were taken over by the state in 1995 and it has a sad history of political corruption. What it does have in plenitude, though, are gifted writers. No less than seven well-known authors were Newark born and bred. Since Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, has now pledged one hundred million dollars to regenerate the city's public school system, it is interesting and heartening to speculate how many more Newark writers will be on a list like this in 20 or 30 years. But for now, here is New Jersey's baker's dozen of talent.