The biannual event will feature more than 30 writers, critics, and musicians, including Robert Polito, DJ Morbita, Megan Abbott, Robert Olen Butler, and Philadelphia singer and novelist Wesley Stace, who is known to music fans as John Wesley Harding.
"In the past we've focused on literature and films," says NoirCon founder Lou Boxer, 51, an anesthesiologist and bibliophile from Media. "This year we have expanded the program to include noir music, noir art."
The festival will feature two guests of honor, Penzler and Lawrence Block, the crime writer known for his Matthew Scudder and Bernie Rhodenbarr book series.
Penzler, founding editor of the Mysterious Press book imprint, says people tend to think of noir only in connection with crime movies such as Double Indemnity, Out of the Past, and The Woman in the Window, steeped in a striking expressionistic style.
But noir, he insists, isn't merely a style but a worldview, a pessimistic, fatalistic take on the universe as a cold, heartless mechanism. In the noir world, free will is an illusion and human life is thoroughly dominated by forces we can't control.
Noir novels drive this point home with stories about social outcasts who have little say in their fates.
"Noir is a kind of literature that is about losers, about people who through their own moral flaws create a world for themselves in which they are doomed," Penzler says.
Stuck on the lower end of the social spectrum, they invariably turn to crime.
"The protagonists . . . are people who lack a moral sense, who will do anything they can to get what they want, usually money or sex," Penzler adds.
For all their grasping, they end up more lost than ever. "They may not die in the end," says Penzler, "but they sentence themselves to a life of imprisonment or abject sadness."
Noir isn't for everyone, says Jeremiah Healy, who will preside at a program devoted to Penzler's life.
"Noir is like Scotch - it's an acquired taste with a nonmajority following who are loyal to the point of being rabid," says Healy, a Bergen County, N.J., sheriff's officer and attorney turned crime writer who is best known for his John Francis Cuddy Private Investigator novels. "The people who attend NoirCon really have taken this as their drink of choice," he adds.
NoirCon is organized by theme: There will be panels on "L.A. Noir," "Jewish Noir," "Music in Noir," and "True Crime."
"Crime in Primetime" will look at noir's influence on TV, with presentations on Hill Street Blues, The Shield, and Breaking Bad.
"Each one of us will highlight a specific show that we feel really demonstrates the innovative nature of noir," says Ball State University's Richard Edwards, who will talk about AMC's Breaking Bad and its chemistry teacher turned drug lord.
"It's one of the most noir shows of all time," Edwards says. "It doesn't have the traditional look . . . but it has the essential element of noir: It's about an act of fate that grips up the main character, who then descends into an ever-deepening life of evil and crime."
Another panel, "Burlesque Noir," will feature two sexologists and Philadelphia burlesque artist Lulu Lollipop. They'll talk about the prevalence of strip joints in hardboiled stories.
The "Good Country People" panel will explore Southern Noir. "There's a deep connection between the noir figure and the grotesque figure in Southern Gothic," says panelist Vicki Hendricks, whose books include the 2010 short-story collection Florida Gothic Stories.
"People think of noir as taking place in the city, whereas the Southern novels are set in the country," says Hendricks, who has taught writing at Broward College in Fort Lauderdale for 31 years.
The late crime writer Patricia Highsmith ( Strangers on a Train, The Talented Mr. Ripley) will be the subject of a panel featuring Joan Schenkar, author of the acclaimed biography The Talented Miss Highsmith. Schenkar says she'll talk about her forthcoming book Love in a Cold Climate, a study of Highsmith's second novel, the lesbian love story The Price of Salt.
Noir, noir, noir. If NoirCon is any indication, it's everywhere. "The term means whatever the person using it wants it to mean," says Block, 74, one of America's most distinguished crime writers.
Block concedes one thing: 9/11 ushered in an anxious, paranoid cultural climate ripe for noir.
"I think there are as many reasons for general pessimism today as there ever were," he says. "So, I suppose it means [noir] will flourish."
Thursday through Sunday. Most programs at Society Hill Playhouse, 507 S. Eighth St.
Information: 215-923-0210 or www.noircon.com.
Contact Tirdad Derakhshani at 215-854-2736 or email@example.com.