29 April 2012
Classes ended last Thursday, a week full of evening events, and now… it’s taking some time to “come down.” Shifting gears from teaching to writing — from teaching to anything — requires some brain-clearing, and I wish it was faster, but it just ain’t. Believe me, if sex/drugs/rocknroll worked in this regard, I’d be all in. But alas… Yesterday was shell-shock (manifest in over-eating and a TV marathon, ugh). Today, a good long walk, some gardening, and — what seems to work best of all — laughter.
I am speaking of the White House Correspondents’ dinner, which took place last night. If you know me, you know that I am in love with the President, and especially his comedic talents. (It’s all in the delivery, as they say; the President makes jokes work that could easily crash and burn.) Jimmy Kimmell was damn good as well: I don’t know if it’s his style or if he was nervous, but he blew threw joke after joke, barely noticing how they were received, which I found pretty effective. Laugh with me, friends. It’s good for the soul, good for the mind, good for art.
23 April 2012
Lots of good stuff going on this week in NYC, wish I could get to all of it:
First Person Plural: new reading series in Harlem, at Shrine World Music, 2271 Adam Clayton Powell Blvd, 7pm, Monday 4/23. Featuring: Ed Park, Tiphanie Yanique, and Bathsheba Doran.
Celebrate Poetry @ Housing Works Bookstore Cafe: w/ Phillip Levine, Tracy K. Smith, Saeed Jones, and Karolina Manko. A joint event of Knopf + tumblr. Also Monday 4/23 @ 7pm, 126 Crosby Street.
A Tribute to Philip Larkin: co-sponsored by the Poetry Society of America and Cooper Union. Tuesday 4/24 at Cooper Union, 7pm, The Great Hall, 7 East 7th Street. Readings by Meena Alexander, Archie Burnett, Billy Collins, James Fenton, Jonathan Galassi, Deborah Garrison, Adam Gopnik, Eamon Grennan, Mary Karr, Nick Laird, J.D. McClatchy, D. Nurkse, Katha Pollitt, Rowan Ricardo Phillips, Saskia Hamilton, Vijay Seshadri, Paul Simon, Zadie Smith, and Andrew Sullivan. With live jazz performances.
WomenTalkFeminism (WTF) Panel Discussion at Columbia: “Selling Identity,” a discussion of how aspects of a writer’s identity–gender,race, ethnicity, and sexuality–are used to market a book and how these identity markers can limit or expand a book’s appeal to a wider demographic of readers. With editor Christopher Jackson,VIDA founder Cate Marvin, poet Amy King, and author Tiphanie Yanique. Wed 4/25, 8pm, 413 Dodge Hall.
21 April 2012
A lot’s been happening in the publishing world, it seems — with the DOJ going after Apple and the corporate conglomerates over e-book price points and whatnot. It occurs to me that I am really in denial — and out of touch — when I start to feel frustrated that no one ever speaks to how e-book pricing affects authors. The author’s voice or stake in this is, apparently, so WAY off the radar. The cost of a book once seemed to mean something for whether an author got paid; now it’s more a matter of whether corporate publishers can stay in business, keep from laying off half their employees, etc.
Case in point: this week’s “On the Media” program at NPR is called, “Publishing: Adapt or Die.” I was pretty blue after listening to it. It actually poked holes in my sense of purpose re: finishing my second novel. It wasn’t because of the money issue, but more the readership issue, the declaration that “no one reads literary fiction” anymore.
I started this blog in 2009, a year before my (first) book came out. A lot happens in three years; publishing years are like dog years these days. I was reminded of how much has changed when I co-moderated a panel at Columbia last week on “Current Landscapes in Publishing.” One of the questions I asked was whether the panelists felt optimistic or troubled by what’s happening in their corner of the publishing world, and every one of them was optimistic, excited, energized, etc. Five out of the six were writers themselves in addition to being editors; the publications/organizations with which they were involved ranged from mainstream/corporate to super-indie/startup, and a few in between. None of them seemed concerned about the fact that they might never see monetary compensation for their own work. They were all happy that content was booming, that literary culture (online) was thriving, that it’s “a reader’s market” now.
Two of the publications represented — The New Yorker and Electric Literature — do in fact compensate writers significantly for their work. I wonder how sustainable each model is into the future. (The co-creators of EL do not get paid, which is the standard for editors of most new and online literary publications.)
I’m slow to this adjustment (but that’s not surprising, I’m generally slow about most things). Hopefully I’ll get there. Or maybe not. Does anyone else think we should be mad — more mad, a little mad — that it is becoming increasingly difficult to make a living as a writer? To me, there is actually a significant difference between no compensation and modest compensation: it’s the difference between having to devote full-time to non-writing work versus part-time. It’s the difference between getting a book written and not getting a book written. I’m not talking about six-figure advances, I’m talking about any advances at all. I’m talking about piecing together bits of income to live a simple, low-overhead life.
Ugh. I’m devolving here. Ok, let me turn this around and give a shout-out to all those literary publications and institutions who are scraping up money for writers. Thank you thank you thank you.
p.s. Of course my blind spot here in this rant is that the consumer has to be willing to pay for the content. One of our panelists was wise to say so. I’ve been trying to be more mindful/faithful about myself as a literary consumer, about subscriptions, about paying for what I possibly can. At the risk of sounding corny, every little bit counts!
9 April 2012
That’s right, not a typo, post NINETY.
Thanks to Nick at The Millions for alerting me to this:
96-year-old novelist Herman Wouk has sold his latest novel to Simon & Schuster. The Lawgiver follows the production of a movie about Moses through “letters, memos, emails, journals, news articles, recorded talk, tweets, Skype transcripts, and text messages” sent between characters.
Not his debut, obviously, but still. If blooming is understood as “peaking,” this is quite an impressive late-life peak.
9 April 2012
This is old news now, but I was reminded of it when dining with a friend last night and singing the praises of our favorite roasted vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower)…
I’ve already written about the unjust rap that spinach gets, i.e. reading a literary work being compared to “eating your spinach.” Last week, Justice Antonin Scalia repeatedly – 9 times, according to the NY Times — compared the health-care mandate to forcing Americans to eat their broccoli.
“Could you define the market — everybody has to buy food sooner or later, so you define the market as food, therefore, everybody is in the market; therefore, you can make people buy broccoli?”
Well why not make people buy broccoli? Prices would go down, health will surely go up, in which case health costs across the country will go down. Green vegetables for everyone!
I understand that it’s a slippery slope, but we’re being “mandated” by the government to do plenty of things that are “good for us” — don’t smoke, go to school, etc. I mean, in a world where 10 year-old girls are sold into sex slavery, there’s something a little absurd about living in a country where people would be up in arms if told to eat broccoli.