After 40 years of obscurity, comic novelist Bob Plunkett is finally getting the attention his devoted fans thought he deserved. His novel “My Search for Warren Harding” was recently republished after 40 years to acclaim by the New York Times, the Paris Review and the New Yorker.
He talked about the book and his sudden emergence on the national literary scene on WMNF WaveMakers with Janet and Tom.
The Times described the novel as “a biting comedy about a scholar who goes to extreme, morally questionable lengths to access letters Warren Harding sent to his mistress.” The novelist Danzy Senna writes in the novel’s new introduction that it “anticipated and influenced much of what the culture would begin to find funny.”
Plunkett says he is heartened by the new and unexpected attention. “You know, you never get enough attention,” he said on WaveMakers. “I thought the attention I got when Warren Harding came out was OK but not enough. And then it kind of died down.” He kept writing, published a second novel, wrote magazine articles. “I was quite content but then things gradually started to dry up. And I ended up in a trailer park in Florida.”
He talks about his love for trailer parks, surviving Hurricane Ian, quirky Florida architecture, the changing political landscape of Sarasota and his approach to writing.
After living in New York City and appearing in the Martin Scorsese film “After Hours,” Plunkett ended up as a gossip columnist for Sarasota Magazine, writing under the pseudonym Mr. Chatterbox, a name he borrowed from an Evelyn Waugh novel. He chronicled the ups and downs of Sarasota’s moneyed set, rubbing elbows with likes of Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris. He was in the room at a Sarasota elementary school when George W. Bush was told a second plane had hit the World Trade Center on 9/11.
He has watched Sarasota change over the years, shifting from a moderate Republican city where everyone worked together on charity events to a much more politically polarized center for right wing politics. “The whole thing has turned into a situation where there’s two sides and they’re constantly bickering.” Plunkett says, “and it’s not pleasant and it’s not fun.”