Author and journalist Lynell George just won the Grammy for “Best Album Notes” for her work on Otis Redding Live At The Whisky A Go Go: The Complete Recordings. George, who has spent decades working as a journalist in Los Angeles, is this month releasing a collection of essays about her hometown, After/Image: Los Angeles Outside the Frame (Angel City Press). PW caught up with the author after her first Grammy win, for her take on Los Angeles’ evolving publishing scene and the fine art of liner notes.
How does the editorial process for liner notes compare to the editorial process for a book?
I've been doing liner notes for more than a decade now, and each experience is different. I’ve done more than ten projects, ranging from Nat King Cole to Aretha Franklin to the Isley Brothers. Because this recording happened live at The Whiskey, I really wanted to find people who were in the room to explain what their experience of the show was like. I immersed myself in those experiences.
Your forthcoming book explores how the different neighborhoods of Los Angeles shape Angelinos’ experiences. How does the city shape writers?
Los Angeles has always been a fascinating place to be a writer, because it keeps surprising you. You turn a corner, and you say, “I didn't know that was here!” or “I didn't know that was still here!” You have to be open to this sort of wild experience of it. That’s what's marked me most as a writer—being open to all of the different narratives in Los Angeles.
As an author and journalist growing up in L.A., how have you seen the city's literary scene evolve?
I’ve been covering writers and the literary community in L.A. since the 1980s, and there's always been a literary community here to write about. It just hasn't been part of a national conversation. Writers like the poet Wanda Coleman were really trying to write L.A. into being. That was one of the reasons I became a journalist, because I wanted to start telling a story about the city that I wasn't seeing other places. There is a vibrant writing and publishing community that's emerging. We're trying to write outside of the clichés and outside of what is expected in L.A.. We're trying to get beyond the beaches and Hollywood, the things that seem to define Los Angeles. Because there's so much else!
Los Angeles is a long way from the big publishing houses of New York City. As an author, has that distance affected your work?
I did the liner notes for a project by Anthony Wilson, the jazz musician. He says L.A. gave him the space to develop his own style. There is a sort of a free-form experience you can have here. Readers can look at their own cities in the same way. Cities are where we form our memories and how our identities take shape. That’s how we begin to see our place in the world. I'm hoping that any reader—no matter where they come from—can use my book like a map. You can go out into your city and see the ways it is changing. That’s how you keep yourself excited and fresh. That’s how you keep your spirit open.