The Hobart interview that keeps on giving; Granta's Sigrid Rausing retires; lit mags closing; press for Obsidian & The Continental; craft advice from Orca Editor; work opportunities; 200 + markets...
I've been thinking about JT Leroy recently... and now the mention of American Dirt. And, I'm reminded of another Oprah pick that got in trouble -- A Million Little Pieces which (I just looked it up) came out wayyy back in ye olde times of 2003. Shockingly... 20 years ago. (Yeesh.) Anyways, some will recall that there were discrepancies in A Million Little Pieces and the author, James Frey, was forced to apologize to an extent. All this, in part, to say that I actually remembering enjoying reading A Million Little Pieces and I wonder if others feel the same now or if it feels like a George Santos situation.
My take on American Dirt: https://www.levraphael.com/blog/what-was-missed-in-the-frenzy-about-american-dirt/
Penguin published a whole series of amazing Central European writers in the 70s and 80s: https://neglectedbooks.com/?p=7808 I read almost all of them and taught the harrowing and brilliant "This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentleman" by Tadeusz Borowski when I was at Fordham teaching an evening course in Holocaust Literature.
“faucets have stopped running water but now cough and gurgle and pour out teddy bear hair ...” You’re a little devil, Becky Tuch.
Your cheekiness, Becky Tuch, is excellent. A day brightener.
Slamming your fist against your desk and crying, “Cowards! Cowards! They’re all bloody rotten cowards!” should definitely be first on the list when it comes to rejection.
I note that a co-founder of Heresy Press is quoted in both Pamela Paul’s NYTimes op-ed piece and the UK Times piece that you linked to.
I hadn’t seen Paul’s piece, but allowed myself to be dragged into reading about that stuff again, mostly because I’d read a more recent piece she wrote about “the Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative, an attempt by a committee of I.T. leaders at Stanford University to ban 161 common words and phrases” (something about “committee of I.T. leaders” makes your heart sink just a little, doesn’t it?):
I also read Max Read’s piece, which I found unconvincing. He’s talking about the article he wanted to read, not the one she wanted to write. I would imagine Paul has been given a wide remit and so she writes about whatever she wants to write about, and because it’s “Opinion” it probably gets different editorial scrutiny than other types of articles. Whatever. It’s the NYTimes. In any case, these pieces probably have a word limit.
Your news about Heresy Press made my heart sing and I've already sent them a story.
I'm excited about Heresy. Its mission alone will likely draw many submissions. I'm curious to see its progression.
Two thoughts: (1.) Museum of Americana NEVER replied to any of my submissions nor my friends. Maybe they don't just need a Managing Editor. How about apologizing to writers you've ignored to start with, throne-mates at Museum of A? . . . . . . (2.) Our Samhain poetry collection "Messengers of the Macabre: Hallowe'en Poems" included haibun dedicated to Santa Muerte and the Day if the Dead festivities that take place in early November. Our cover art showed Santa Muerte. [If you've never seen this folkloric figure, it's akin to a female Grim Reaper.] Our haibun were NOT disrespectful of Mexican culture -- but neither one of us is Mexican. A well-known Mexican editor refused to blurb our book and some poets pulled out of the group project, terrified that the cover art would result in widespread shaming on social media. My co-author got so nervous about "cultural appropriation" that he increased the size of the artwork. Therefore, a colorful painting of Santa Muerte with lots of details became a huge pair of eerie eyes and little else. . . . . . . . . . . Should we cease writing poetry about Greek deities if we're not from Athens? Can I feel safer writing poems about Roman goddesses because I have Italian ancestry? Where does this issue end for wordsmiths? I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Do "woke critics" actually read anything, let alone books?
I have to say that Heresy Press sounds sort of intriguing until I get to the end of the statement: "unfettered creativity and fearless imagination." I am schooled by Claudia Rankine to hear those phrases as code words for, "white people, don't worry." Claudia Rankine and Beth Loffreda troubled the idea of the imagination as an "unfettered," politics-free, un-raced zone years ago already now in their work on the Racial Imaginary: https://lithub.com/on-whiteness-and-the-racial-imaginary/
As for the Pamela Paul article about *American Dirt,* suffice it to say I'll be very interested to read that rebuttal. The fact is that the uproar over *American Dirt* brought issues about the politics of publishing into the spotlight in an important way. I think some of the handwringing over authors being cancelled and censored might be overblown. Meanwhile, crime writer Aya de Leon had a take on the controversy that highlighted the role of genre--and the politics and aesthetics of genre--in the whole debate: https://crimereads.com/american-dirt-is-the-latest-shot-fired-in-the-genre-wars/
And then there's the other kind of 'woke', the one we should really be stressing about. From Australian magazine, Crikey. A long read, I know, but well worth it.
“The front line in the global culture wars has pushed its way into the heart of Florida’s education system, as Governor Ron DeSantis competes to become the leader of the Republican Party’s “boo to books” faction.
He’s accelerating a national trend that’s ripping the mask off the coded “war on woke” to reveal what it’s really about: a war on empathy, kindness and understanding. As Adam Serwer warned in The Atlantic back in 2018: “The cruelty is the point.”
Australia can expect the same action on full-bore “rinse-repeat” any day now.
We’re used to understanding rows about books in schools as history put to national mythmaking purposes. Courtesy of Geoffrey Blainey, we’ve even got our own sneeringly punning tag: “black-armband-ism”.
In the dying days of the Morrison government, former education minister Alan Tudge tried to whip it all up again in a local culture clash with attacks on the curriculum. In his first days as opposition leader, Peter Dutton pledged to Sky After Dark that he’d make the national curriculum (“the values argument,” he eye-rollingly called it) one of the big issues in the national Parliament.
Narendra Modi’s India is travelling the same road, with schools being required, among other things, to erase the Islamic past, including “cancelling” former national heroes like Tipu Sultan.
In the US, States use market power to dictate to textbook suppliers how they write about history. The result? Publishers revert to the largest lowest common denominator — usually Texas — to decide what to leave in and out.
But what’s happening in Florida — and across much of the United States — is something new. Now it’s fiction that’s the target: great modern writers like Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood, Sherman Alexie – even Australia’s own Anh Do.
The right’s assault on fiction began in the 2021 Virginia state election when Republicans promoted a (conservative activist) mother complaining about her Year 12 son’s distress over Morrison’s Beloved. (She should have been thankful. You’d have to be a sociopath not to be shaken by Morrison’s powerful book.)
According to Pen America’s Index of School Book Bans, in the last complete school year (2021-22), 1648 titles were banned. According to PEN: “1261 different authors, 290 illustrators and 18 translators.” Expect that number to be up when we get this year’s count.
Three-quarters of the books banned were works of fiction. About 41% had LGBTQIA+ themes or characters (about a quarter of those with trans characters) and 40% had “protagonists or prominent secondary characters of colour”. About 20% addressed race or racism.
The house journal of America’s once Republican-voting managerial class, Harvard Business Review, gives us a clue of what’s going on: “reading literary fiction helps people develop empathy, theory of mind and critical thinking. When we read, we hone and strengthen several different cognitive muscles, so to speak, that are the root of the EQ [emotional intelligence].”
When business says “EQ”, the right hears “woke!”. Empathy about trans people? Critical thinking or even maybe (gasp!) theorising about racism? No way: “Florida is where woke goes to die.”
The books are being targeted under Florida’s Stop WOKE Act (capitalised as an acronym for “Wrong to our Kids and Employees”). Passed last year, the law makes it discriminatory to teach that individuals are “inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously” or that privilege or oppression may be based on race, gender or national origin.
Florida schools are being encouraged with an “if in doubt, take it out” sensibility, often stripping classrooms of all books. The national College Board has generated its own controversy when it rewrote its official curriculum for Year 12 Advanced Placement African American Studies, seemingly to accommodate the Florida law.
Guess who’s missing in action? America’s mainstream media, last year so hysterical about cancel culture, now lackadaisical about books in schools. The New York Times shrugged off Florida’s bans last week as just politics with a report headlined: “DeSantis Takes On the Education Establishment, and Builds His Brand”.
Trouble is, the centrist establishment commentariat in the US media has been egging on the “war on woke”, arguing (as Nyadol Nyuon criticised it recently) “that cancel culture and political correctness pose a symmetrical threat, or an even greater threat”.
While Florida schools were taking books off the shelves, former New York Times books editor Pamela Paul (who explicitly made the case for right banning, left panning both-sides-ism last year) was cheering on Stanford University’s abandoning of its Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative.
About as long as we’ve had Sky After Dark, we’ve had the “war on woke”. How long until that joins the war on the empathy that fiction offers?"
Propitiations !!! Yes, I shall be randomly shouting that word out today (likely all week) as I inhabit giant cooler-warehouses filled with flowers and bouquets in advance of the manufactured "holiday" a week from now... there may also be hand gestures involved, just sayin'
(another killer read, B. Tuch, thank you !)
As always, food for thought, grist for mill. Thanks, Becky.
Great article and you made me go read all of your links as usual! but I didn’t think Max Reed’s rebuttal was against what Pamela Paul was saying but was suggesting ways she could have made her argument much stronger. I think this is an important point actually. He’s not saying she’s wrong. But what a find he is! Hysterical and so smart. I’m going to subscribe to his newsletter. Thanks Becky.