James Franco, SoA ’10, may have an endless to-do list, but at 33 years old he will soon check off another box: becoming a published novelist.
The screen star, writer, producer, and graduate student, among other titles, recently signed a deal with Amazon’s burgeoning publishing house. Ed Park, an adjunct faculty member in the School of the Arts writing division, acquired Franco’s book when he became senior editor at Amazon in September. Park, SoA '95, also founded the literary magazine The Believer and was an editor of the Voice Literary Supplement.
Franco has unofficially titled the novel, which will be loosely based on his life as an actor, “Actors Anonymous.” At this time, no publication date has been set, and Franco has revealed few details regarding the work.
This does not mark Franco’s first published work. Scribner published “Palo Alto,” a raw and vivid collection of short stories set in his California hometown, in October 2010. In April, Rizzoli New York will release “James Franco: Dangerous Book Four Boys,” a diary-like collection of material derived from an art show that he helped to curate in 2010 in various cities, including New York.
Mary McNamara, a television critic who reviewed “Palo Alto” for the Los Angeles Times, wrote, “Some may buy it out of fan-based curiosity while others may refuse out of the bitter assumption that it would not have been published if Franco had not co-starred in all those ‘Spiderman’ movies.”
Her review, like some others, did not consider “Palo Alto” an incredibly impressive first book. McNamara continued, “The actual stories of ‘Palo Alto’ read, separately and together, like precisely what they are: the work of an ambitious young man who clearly loves to read, who has a good eye for detail but who has spent way too much time on style and virtually none on substance.”
Columbia professors also remain critical of Franco’s literary abilities. “Franco took a [nonfiction] Independent Study with me,” said Margo Jefferson, Pulitzer Prize-winning cultural critic and professor at SoA. “He passed the first semester. After that, he turned in no work. So he failed the second semester.” In 2008, Franco enrolled in Columbia’s SoA fiction-writing program, while concurrently studying directing at New York University and taking additional fiction writing-classes at Brooklyn College. Franco is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in English at Yale University.
Some members of the Columbia community said that they were similarly skeptical.
Dan Natkie, CC ’13, a philosophy major, said that he “[doesn’t] really have any intention of reading the book.”
“I’m not particularly impressed by his acting talent or anything of that nature, so if it’s about his acting life, I would rather read a book by an actor who has had an established career, maybe someone with more insight who I could learn from,” Natkie said. “If a person is intelligent … and they happen to be in another field, so it’s easier for them to get published, then I think that’s perfectly fine—if they have something valuable to say and can bypass the politics of publishing.”
Still, other Columbia faculty members plan to give Franco a chance to prove his talent with this upcoming work. “Of course I hope that James’ novel meets with great success, as I do for all the books written by our students,” said Victor LaValle, acting fiction director at SoA. “I look forward to reading it.”
Correction: A previous version of this article erroneously included a quote from Professor Nicholas Christopher. Spectator regrets the error.