Provincetown: Background information when reading Who Is Rich?

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Who Is Rich?

by Matthew Klam

Who Is Rich? by Matthew Klam X
Who Is Rich? by Matthew Klam
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2017, 336 pages

    Jul 2018, 336 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte
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This article relates to Who Is Rich?

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ProvincetownIn Who is Rich?, Matthew Klam deliberately avoids setting the story in any specific place, but we do know it's in New England. "Everybody knows a spot like this, a fishing village turned tourist trap, with pornographic sunsets and the Sea Breeze Motel," Rich says.

Nevertheless Klam does drop clues, including this crisp sentence: "This place had been known at one time or another for whale hunting, Portuguese immigrants, sand dunes, herring shoals, shipwrecks off the point, but also for a certain kind of seeker or desperate kook, Puritans, dropouts, communists, frazzled intellectuals, painters from New York, experimental-theater types, alcoholic fishermen, sailors stationed here between the wars, stubborn or demented individuals hoping to escape persecution. It was seen as a haven for artists, a place of open-mindedness, and throughout the world for the last hundred years as a center of unconventional living, as a gay summer resort." This points to the spectacular Provincetown as setting.

Nauset TribeBefore the Pilgrims arrived, the area had been settled by the Nauset tribe who, just like the neighboring Wampanoag, spoke a language called Massachusett. Before the Mayflower landed in November, 1620, the area had been identified for being rich in cod by another representative of the colonies, Bartholomew Gosnold, who named the area Cape Cod. As is now famously known, the Mayflower Pilgrims' initial plan was to move south to Virginia but severe storms altered the course of history, and they set up anchor in Provincetown Harbor (Plymouth, which hosts the famous Plymouth Rock, is across the bay and is where the Pilgrims eventually settled).

Cape Cod was known for its fishing grounds even as the early Pilgrims valiantly soldiered on with their farming practices against rough weather and winds. Meanwhile the Governor of Plymouth Colony bought out a significant portion of the area from the Chief of the Nausets, including all of Provincetown.

Pilgrim MonumentAfter the American Revolution, Provincetown saw an expansion of fishing and whaling fueled in significant part by Portuguese immigrants from the Azores. Over the decades, Provincetown's spectacular geography (it is located at the very tip of Cape Cod) drew the attention of painters and other artists who also settled in the area, drawn by cheap real estate prices as much as the "pornographic sunsets" that Klam describes.

When a damaging hurricane in the late nineteenth century severely crippled the fishing industry, artists slowly came to the forefront buying abandoned buildings and developing art schools. Provincetown was one of the first places in the nation to teach outdoor painting classes. This slow evolution continued and in the '70s, the town officially launched a business initiative to attract the LGBT community to the area, a move that has been a huge success. Today Provincetown is consistently rated at the top in the United States for gay-friendly towns and tourist destinations.

Provincetown StreetSteep real estate prices have pushed out many in the artist community unfortunately, and there have been murmurings that the LGBT population is also becoming sidelined. Public media company, WGBH, published an essay in 2015 that complained about Provincetown's annual Carnival losing its queerness.

Provincetown, courtesy of
Nauset tribe, courtesy of
Pilgrim Monument in Provincetown, courtesy of
Provincetown, courtesy of

Filed under Places, Cultures & Identities

Article by Poornima Apte

This "beyond the book article" relates to Who Is Rich?. It originally ran in September 2017 and has been updated for the July 2018 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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