Okay, writers, let’s have a serious talk about James Franco.


We have been talking some shit about this guy for a while now, and maybe it’s worth revisiting that. Last year, shortly after Franco made a video of his less-than-inspired and less-than-inspiring “inauguration” poem, we set out on a mission to hate on everything Franco attempted to contribute to the literary world. We even wore cardboard-cutout masks of his face around AWP in Boston.

But the guy is trying, people. He really is. Perhaps what we need to consider is that Franco has so much fame and so many resources, that his trying is significantly more public than our own. I mean, I wrote a really shitty poem the other day, shared it with maybe four people, and then it disappeared into the ether.

The difference is that if Franco tries to share a shitty poem with even one person, that person is most likely going to pass it on to a dozen of their friends. And on and on.

And all of us writerly folks are itching for the next chance to piss on his work.

That’s why we’ve been going nuts over this upcoming Franco adaptation of Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying.

(Don’t get me wrong, here. I definitely was a little weirded out the first twenty times I saw his face below WILLIAM FAULKNER on the updated book covers.)

james-franco-as-i-lay-dyingJust think about it: you’re not going to boycott Franco’s As I Lay Dying because you have such low expectations for it; you’re going to pay $12.00 to see it when it’s still in theaters because you have such low expectations for it. And if it turns out to be a spectacular movie, sure, 75% of you will trash it because you and everyone else thinks it should be trashed; but 25% of you will be glad you paid the price of admission.

When I launched the Last Annual James Franco Award, I was not being serious. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I sincerely want Franco to send me his poetry. And I want it to be good. Should I not encourage him to write great stuff? That would kind of be like having James Franco as a student and telling him in every workshop, “I’m sorry, I just can’t take you seriously, James Franco. Maybe you should just give up or be somebody else.”

Yes, I will turn away any submissions that do not fit with the aesthetic of our press; but I’d be crazy to hate on Franco just because it’s cool to hate on Franco. When he sends me a poem, he will win the Last Annual James Franco Award. And if the poem knocks my socks off, I’ll publish the hell out of it.

Share your thoughts on Franco in the comments section of this post.

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  1. Presumably, he was proud of his inauguration poem. Proud enough of it, in fact, that he let Yahoo! publish it for the world to see and, in probably most cases, consider bad. I was one of those people. If Jame Franco starts writing stuff I like, I’ll be the first to admit it. He hasn’t yet, and I’m not holding my breath. Other actors who write, who are perhaps less in your face about the fact that they’re writers, have written stuff I find to be quite enjoyable. Joseph Gordon Levitt comes to mind. So, too, does B.J. Novak. I think it would help Franco a lot to quit with all the promotion and just write. I don’t know if that’s possible. He’s way more image conscious than those other actors.

    • Andrew Keating

      Well put. As I read this, I also thought of other celebrities who publish books: athletes and pop stars and the like (not just ghost written stuff). Why aren’t we more upset about Snooki’s novels?

    • Andrew Keating

      I will say, though, that there is a point for most of us when we realize that not all our shit is made of gold. Maybe Franco still hadn’t reached that point as a writer by the time of his inauguration poem.

      • It’s possible. But I think Franco is in an unfortunate position, then, where that’s concerned. I’d liken him to the spoiled rich kid that never faces any adversity and has everything handed to him. Because of Franco’s prior fame, he was in a unique position to have everything handed to him (hell, he and Gary Shteyngart are best buds by all indications). Accordingly, no one has ever been there to tell him his shit doesn’t stink, and still hasn’t. I wouldn’t doubt he’s insulated himself from criticism with this knowledge, with this feeling that he’s in a Phd. program at Yale (or graduated from that, too), has studied at Columbia University and has all these rad writer friends. The lack of adversity, the lack of rejection and having to fight through it, is his biggest weakness with respect to getting to the point where he writes something meaningful. I think he lacks the self awareness, too. He seems pretty comfortable, way too self assured.

        • Andrew Keating

          Let me also reinforce that I, overall, am not a fan of the guy or his work to this point. I agree with almost all of what you’re saying. But wouldn’t it be lovely if, somehow, in some small way, Franco could hear Cobalt say “yeah, we’ve been kinda dissin’ you, bro, but keep trying, it’ll get better.” And then, as if by magic, he begins to love himself more profoundly, and he starts writing better stuff? Wouldn’t that be special? Wouldn’t that just make us all feel a little better? Like “if Franco can do it, so can I”?

          • Agreed. At the very least, he could end up being more like Ethan Hawke (who’s got a lot of the same pretension about him) who at least contributes to worthy literary causes like co-founding the Young Lions Award, and expanding literature’s audience / making it more hip, potentially.

          • Andrew Keating

            Ethan Hawke ruined Slaughterhouse Five for me. But at least he knows how to honor a Keating.

  2. As Matt states here, Franco has an MFA from Columbia and is getting his PhD from Yale. What makes a writer or journal think that they have more of a right to the world of literature than he does? On what grounds are we making fun of him? You don’t like his poetry? That’s reasonable enough; plenty of MFAs churn out bad poems. Yet most of his detractors simply don’t have any authority to say his work and his taste are objectively bad.

    Besides, let’s not pretend that Cobalt wouldn’t benefit greatly from Franco sending a piece your way.

    • Andrew Keating

      Haha! Yes, we would definitely benefit (if it’s good anyway).

    • I hear you, Anthony. but I’d caution against the trap of ivory tower legitimacy. Just because Franco’s been able get those fancy degrees (which the Ivy League and most every other institution is all over giving admittance to famous people because a.) it further raises their institutional profile and b.) the possible donations and fundraisers said people are likely to give in the future (it’s been alleged that’s precisely the reason Franco was admitted to Yale’s program)), doesn’t necessarily mean he’s enhanced his appreciation / understanding of the craft itself. So, while I think it’s only a passing amusement to poke fun at him, I likewise think there’s reasonable criticism you can direct toward his work, which in more cases than it doesn’t, seems half baked to me (and so speaks to my concern that folks will get the impression good writing happens easily and immediately).

      That said, I weighed heavily even making this comment, because the fact is I’m pretty ambivalent about what Franco does, and like Andrew, there’s a big part of me that feels his mere presence in the world of literature is a good thing, because it offers the literary world exposure to a far larger swath of the reading public than literature has got. So I half agree with you.

  3. Timmy Reed

    I don’t mind when people pick on James Franco for not being as hot as me. I forgive folks for petty shit like that. I even don’t mind it when poets or writers don’t compliment me on my eyes, which are way better than anything I have ever written; if you ever bothered to notice, people. James Franco is killing it though, so it is easy for me to forgive him for doing something silly like writing poems or making paintings or being the subject/participant of a pretty comical/enjoyable (but not as silly as most dead serious writing I come across) Comedy Central roast. I even do those silly things myself! Me, a hot guy like Timmy Reed, writing some bullshit! Crazy, I know but it is true. With that in mind, I feel like Franco is doing a great job being young and exploring his opportunities. I would pat myself on the back for putting in the work that he does (I don’t, but I am still waiting to be cast in something as myself, or someone equally tiny and handsome, preferably a character that winks a lot cuz I am good at winking (hopefully as an extra on the show VIkings) then I promise I would get back to writing and definitely do college and all the other stuff Franco has been doing. I swear I would find the time. I found the time for this digression about James Franco, who I will call “Jams” when we start hanging out. Attempting to adapt Faulkner (the movie is on Netflix, BTW. Haven’t watched it yet but I blame that more on Faulkner than Franco, to be honest about my biases. I just don’t think his novels are likely to make good movies.) is a cool thing for a young person in Hollywood to attempt, if they feel like trying it and have the means to. It is an ambitious novel to adapt, for sure, but that seems like something the literary community should pat him on the back for; mostly people hate when their favorite, difficult-to-adapt novels are put on the big screen but I alway at least admire the attempt, if not the outcome. Who cares if you made a bad music video version of the Great Gatsby, Bas Luhrmann? I don’t get mad about the movies and books people write, because i don’t have time. Well, sometimes I get made but then i see a bird flying or someone doing anything in the real world and it brings my dumb pop culture hate back to reality. They made art, god or bad, like anyone else, so what? So I say kudos to Jams Franco! I can’t wait to hang out with him after I get this facelift or learn how to be funny away from the vanity mirror in my bathroom. Cheers for Jams Franco because I have the time to clap and he probably doesn’t. Also, if people are going to spend a lot of your time hating Hollywood actors/writers/directors/producers, aren’t there better ones to hate? Does not Christian Bale or (watch me date myself and show I am never going to be cool like Jams because I am older than him) Robert Downey Jr.’s transgressions provide enough fodder? Can folks not feast their hatred upon the next Tim Burton/Johnny Depp vehicle? There will probably be like ten more of those. Ps. What movie stars/TV stars do people wish wrote novels? None of them? I personally would like to read an epic poem by Ray Romano. Just kidding. I wouldn’t read that. But I would publish anything David Faustino from Married…With Children sent me for sure. Who wouldn’t? Suckers. That’s who. Three cheers for the homeboy, Jams! (ps. Andrew, I tried to keep it as serious as I could, given that the topic wasn’t something all that serious…like poverty or the inevitable death of loved ones or snow shoveling.)

  4. Timmy Reed

    May I add that none of my shit has ever been gold but I keep checking every morning like Franco and all the other humans, god bless us.

  5. As I Lay Dying is on Netflix and it’s awesome.

    • Timmy Reed

      i added it to my list when I first saw it. You’ve now bumped it ahead of “Only God Forgives” in my viewing schedule

    • Andrew Keating

      Is it awesome-awesome, or is it sarcastic-awesome? I ask only because I do not watch many movies these days, and my Netflix time is semi-sacred. All my love goes to House of Cards/Arrested Development.

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