Today: the Rejectionist very publicly breaks up with Cormac McCarthy over at Tiger Beatdown! That's way more exciting than some old barbecue.
Friday, May 28, 2010
It's a holiday weekend! Maybe we will make up our own novel cover! Read an awesome essay that has nothing to do with publishing! Play a SWEET VALLEY HIGH DRINKING GAME YES REALLY! Or maybe we will have too many whiskies and send the STEPHENIE MEYER ENGAGEMENT RING TO ONE OF OUR LUCKY FIANCÉ/ES YOU KNOW WHO'S FIRST ON THE LIST ERIC!!!!!! You're welcome.
Thursday, May 27, 2010
Emily St. John Mandel is the author of Last Night In Montreal (selected by Indie Booksellers for the June 2009 Indie Next List) and The Singer's Gun (#1 on the Indie Next List for May 2010), two of our favorite books we've read all year (which is about 55 books so far (okay, some of them were really cheesy fantasy novels), so that's not like faint praise or anything). Suffused with the gorgeous melancholy of, say, listening to Cat Power on a rainy day, they're the kind of books that make you want to pack a bag, head for the airport, and decide where you're going when you get there. The Singer's Gun has funny parts, too. Promise. Emily also blogs regularly for The Millions, where she says lots of smart things. She is reading TONIGHT at Housing Works (with COLSON WHITEHEAD!! and FREE DRINKSIES!!); New Yorkers, GO!
New York figures prominently in both of your novels, and you've said elsewhere that, though you moved to Montreal after only a few months here, you missed the city so much you came back for good. What is it you love so much about New York? Do you think the city has influenced your fiction?
I think our relationships with cities are as personal, complicated, and subjective as our relationships with people, and when I came to New York I felt that I'd finally found home; it was something akin to love at first sight. I think the city probably has influenced my fiction, yes. There's an intensity about New York that I haven't found in any other city, and it would be nice to think that perhaps that electricity has seeped into my fiction a little bit.
The Singer's Gun, like other great crime fiction (Henning Mankell, for example), uses the structure of a thriller to talk about much larger issues, like immigration, loss, and identity. Was that something you set out to do when you started the novel?
Thanks for calling it great crime fiction. It's interesting -- when I set out, I didn't think I was writing a crime novel. What I want to do, in my work in general, is write fiction that's as literary as anything out there but with the strongest possible narrative drive. Somehow, writing extremely plot-driven fiction seems to have pushed me over into the borderlands of genre -- in most bookstores my book's shelved with literary fiction, but at least one genre bookstore carries it (Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego) and it was reviewed in Mystery Scene. With this particular book, I knew when I started out that I wanted to write about work, and about what it means to live an honorable life. Other interests -- loss, immigration, identity -- worked their way into the narrative over time.
You blog for The Millions, have a day job, are busy promoting The Singer's Gun, and are working on a third novel. Is it a struggle for you to balance all the different Emilys? Do you find writing for the internet makes it challenging to work on your fiction?
Yes, but I see it as a short-term problem. At present, I don't really have enough time to do everything I need to do and I'm perpetually several emails behind. That said, there's nothing I want to give up -- I love writing for The Millions; promoting The Singer's Gun is absolutely essential both for the book and for my career and it's mostly enjoyable anyway; my day job's only 17.5 hours a week and I enjoy both the work and the health insurance. The third novel inevitably suffers in the short-term, because it's the only thing I can really let slide temporarily; I've resigned myself to not having much time to work on it for these next few months while I devote all my efforts to The Singer's Gun . I'm looking forward to working on it more intensively in the fall and winter.
Disappearance is a recurring theme in your work. If you disappeared tomorrow, where would you go?
I love this question. If money were no object or if I were making a living off of my royalties, southern Italy. If I had to have a day job, then probably somewhere in one of the two countries where I can work legally -- probably San Francisco.
Some books you've read lately and found pleasing?
The books that have really stood out for me over the past year or so have been Colum McCann's Let The Great World Spin and Dan Chaon's Await Your Reply. I also read a couple of books in the past few weeks that I very much liked -- Jennifer Gilmore's Something Red and Emma Straub's Fly-over State.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Happy super-belated Harvey Milk Day! Equal rights are human rights!
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Oh, BEA! There are some things in particular Rejectionists dislike enormously: 1. large groups of people 2. artificial lighting 3. "networking". So BEA, it is very stressful for us! It makes us want to cut class and smoke cigarettes behind the gym! put gum in the water fountain! mouth off to teachers! Like those humorous posters of wet angry cats in bathtubs? That is the face our heart is making, on the way to the Javits Center!
Last year at BEA we didn't talk to a single person and wandered around feeling more and more with each passing hour that we had entered some alternate dimension, where we would never be able to leave the cavernous expanse of the Javits Center, and would continue to trudge for all eternity through this nightmarish parallel universe, beneath the panoply of oversized banners trumpeting the publication of The Lost Symbol, clutching our sweaty galley of The Unnamed to our bosom and subsisting entirely on pilfered buffet bagels.
BEA also has the unfortunate effect of engendering a massive sartorial crisis in our person, since our traditional preparation for stressful situations is to attire ourself in our soothing comfort outfit (in hot weather a six-sizes-too-large sleeveless Slayer shirt over bike shorts and the top half of a bikini), which if it were just us on our own recognizance we would probably in all honesty wear quite happily to BEA (and would have the added pleasing effect of ensuring that no one would try to talk to us). But our behavior at BEA is, like, a REFLECTION ON "STEVE", whom we adore with all our heart, and it would be deeply upsetting to us if someone was all like, "Man, we thought that 'Steve' chap was a brilliant and able agent, but anyone who would hire a person this visibly deranged clearly has lost his marbles, let's never work with him again!" SO WE GET A LITTLE ANXIOUS ABOUT OUR OUTFIT. It doesn't help that there is literally not a single item of clothing in our wardrobe that a normal person of any gender might wear to a business event, except for a very nice little wool suit our mom bought us when we moved to New York; but even our love for "Steve" is not enough to get us in a wool suit on a day that's supposed to break 85.
So this year! we unearthed a vaguely tasteful, never-worn black shirt from the bowels of our closet and found a frippy floral skirt our Support Team's father had used as packing material for something, whilst feeling very much that putting pointe shoes on a hippopotamus does not transform said animal into a motherfucking ballerina; camouflaged our Gay Fashion Hair with a Jaunty Scarf; and embarked upon a long and sulky journey to the Javits Center, located at a point in West Chelsea so far from our apartment it may as well be in the middle of the Hudson and require us swimming there. And when we arrived, already sweaty and cross, what did we discover? That the organizers of BEA had neglected to successfully transmit to a great many BEA attendees that this year the exhibition hall was not open on the first day of BEA, a fact we did not learn until AFTER getting into a fight with a security guard (picking fights with armed people telling us not to do things is, like, a recessive gene! inherited from our grandmother, who got into brawls with Nazi soldiers in occupied France! true story!). We were left milling about with an increasingly irate crowd of persons, including a forlorn gentleman who had traveled three hours on the train from New Jersey and tried to invite us out to lunch at ten in the AM, which became extremely awkward quite rapidly and necessitated our pretending that we were abruptly receiving a Very Important Call on our very obviously not ringing cellphone. Probably this whole debacle is a really amazing metaphor for the current state of the publishing industry, if we felt like going there, but instead of utilizing our analytical faculties we returned to the office, where we realized in the fluorescent glare of the office bathroom that our sorry attempt at a ladylike outfit was, under direct lighting, pretty much entirely transparent. AND THAT SAINTED ANGEL "STEVE" SAID NARY A WORD OF REPROACH.
Sunday, May 23, 2010
My boss "Steve,"
a literary agent, was talking. "Steve" is a literary agent, and sometimes that gives him the right. The four of us were sitting around the conference table drinking bourbon. It was Friday afternoon. Fluorescent light filled the conference room from the big fixture on the ceiling. There were "Steve" and me and Cretinous and his seventh assistant Winston--Winston, we called him. We lived in New York. But we were all from somewhere else. There were takeout containers on the table. The bourbon kept going around, and we somehow got on the subject of books. "Steve" thought real literature was nothing less than literary literature. When he was young he'd spent twenty years as an editor before quitting to become an agent. He'd left editing for good, he said, but he still looked back on those years as the most important in his life.
Winston said the agent he assisted before he assisted Cretinous loved him so much she tried to promote him.
Cretinous laughed as Winston said this. He made a face. Winston looked at him. Then Winston said, "She told me I have what it takes to be a real agent. She kept saying, 'You can do it, don't you see? You don't have to be an assistant any more.' But she wouldn't pay me. My paychecks kept bouncing." Winston looked around the table at us and then looked at his hands on his glass. "What do you do with a boss like that?" he said. He was a nervous person with a gentle face, dark eyes, and brown hair that was cut short. He liked ties with penguins on them, and old-fashioned cufflinks. He was forty years younger than Cretinous, had suffered periods of melancholy, and during the late nineties, before he'd gotten his MFA, had been a stockbroker, a "stuffed suit," as he put it. Cretinous sometimes, unaffectionately, forgot Winston's name.
"My god, don't be silly. You can't be an agent, and you know it," Cretinous said. "You're not clever enough. You can't even put letterhead in the printer the right way. I don't know what you are, but you're sure as hell no agent. "
"Say what you want to
, but I know she was right," Winston said. "I know she was right. It may sound crazy to you, but it's true just the same. Agents are different, Cretinous. Sure, sometimes she tried to sell film rights herself, okay. But she was a good agent. In her own way, she was a good agent. And she knew I had what it took, Cretinous. Don't deny me that."
Cretinous let out his breath. He held his glass and turned to "Steve" and me. "She rejected John Grisham," Cretinous said. He finished his drink and reached for the whiskey bottle. "
Winston's a nincompoop. Winston hits 'reply-all' instead of 'reply to sender.' Winston will always be an assistant. Winston, don't look at me that way." Cretinous's scowl could have stood up on its own and walked across the table.
"Now he wants to cut me down," Winston said. "Always cutting me down." He wasn't smiling.
"Cut you down?" Cretinous said. "I know what I know, and that's all."
"What would you call it then?
" Winston said. "How'd we get started on this subject, anyway?" Winston said. He raised his glass and drank from it. "I thought we were supposed to be talking about manuscripts." He snuffled now, weeping quietly, and I thought that would be the end of it.
"You'll just never be an agent. That's all I'm saying, Winston," Cretinous said. "What about you guys?" he said to "Steve" and me. "Seen any good manuscripts lately?"
I shrugged. "I'm the wrong person to ask," I said. "I send all the good stuff to "Steve."
All I see all day is goddamn werewolves and vampires. What the fuck drives these people, anyway? It's as if they think there's only one kind of book. But what I think you're saying, Cretinous, is that you wouldn't have rejected John Grisham. "
"The kind of books I'm talking about is," Cretinous said. "The kind of books I'm talking about, you actually make money."
Friday, May 21, 2010
Monday, May 17, 2010
REJECTIONIST: BUT WHAT IF WE ARE SECRETLY A LOSER OF NO TALENT AND NO ONE LOVES US AND IN A FEW YEARS WE ARE SO INCAPACITATED BY OUR OWN FAILURES AS AN ARTIST THAT WE BECOME UNABLE TO LEAVE THE APARTMENT AND MUST TRAIN THE CAT TO CARRY A SMALL BAG TO THE LIQUOR STORE AND FETCH OUR FIFTHS OF BOURBON FOR US GAAAAAAAAAAAAH
SUPPORT TEAM: That would be a really amazing children's movie.
Sunday, May 16, 2010
So the Rejectionist totally has a Serious Problem! It is called The Problem of Compulsive Book Acquisition, and sometimes it threatens to take over our whole life! Also our apartment! Witness:
This is PILE ONE of Unread Books:
This is PILE TWO, of equal parts read and unread books:
This is not even including our OTHER set of shelves replete with books we have FINISHED and like to keep near our person at all times. So you would think, yes, that that is more than enough books? Because even at the Rejectionist's semi-freakish reading speed, we will be busy for, you know, a long time. So what did we do this weekend? 1. Bought a bunch of books at the Chelsea Housingworks (possibly the best-kept secret of used book bonanzas in the entire Manhattan metro area) 2. Attended the super-fun Brooklyn Public Library booksale/fundraiser (OMG New York! Lord almighty! When we were like "JESUS GOD we need to stop acquiring so many books, send help" we did not mean you should send help by GUTTING FUNDING TO THE PUBLIC LIBRARY SYSTEM, WHAT THE FUCK!?!?!?) where we bought a bunch of books 3. Picked up our holds at our local BPL branch 4. Put some more books on hold. IT IS A SICKNESS, IS WHAT IT IS.
So anyway! Today we want to talk about bookstores! and how much we love them! LOVE THEM. New York is maybe the most amazing place ever for bookstores; there are Venerable Bookstores, like Three Lives (DREAMY) and Shakespeare & Co. (less dreamy aesthetically but OMG do they have a lot of books in there) and of course our BELOVED WORD bookstore, which is like the bookstore our house would be if our house were a bookstore, if that makes any sense, complete with awesome parties in the basement. There is the Strand if you like A LOT of books and also fighting your way through displeasing tourists.
(True story: when we first arrived in New York we applied for a job at the Strand, which entailed filling out a long complex application with lots of essay questions about why we wanted to work there, what bookselling meant to us emotionally, etc. etc. etc. At the end of the application was a Special Test with a column of books on the left and authors on the right; one was obliged to draw a line from the author to the correct title, an activity that proved quite easy for us, until we got to the end and the only title-author set remaining was Crime and Punishment and Mikhail Bulgakov. As someone who thinks The Master and Margarita is one of the most splendid novels ever written, and Crime and Punishment one of the most boring, the Rejectionist is well aware that Mikhail Bulgakov is the author of the former, not the latter. SO WHAT DID THIS MEAN. Was it some kind of code? Did the fine people of the Strand really not know that Dostoevsky wrote C&P ? Was there someone watching us complete this item through a hidden peephole, to observe how we behaved under duress? THE REJECTIONIST WAS TOTALLY THWARTED BY THIS IMPASSE, and after some deliberation, wrote a polite note explaining that C&P was in fact the responsibility of poor old Fyodor, who was unfortunately not included on the list of authors. (Which is not an especially esoteric fact. It's not as though we were all like "Well actually, dear Strand management, Naturalis Historia is the work of Pliny the Elder and not Pliny the Younger, who as you know was his nephew, and recognized for his correspondence with Tacitus and other figures of importance," which would be a sort of obscure thing to know. Knowing that Dostoevsky wrote Crime and Punishment, not so much.) The Strand never called us for an interview, so apparently we failed. If any Strand employees are reading this, and know the SECRET OF THIS EMPLOYMENT TEST, WE ARE STILL VERY CURIOUS ABOUT IT.)
Anyway! There is the aforementioned magical used book shelf of the Chelsea Housingworks, and then the whole Soho Housingworks Bookstore OMG AMAZEMENT, and the extremely sordid Barnes and Noble on Sixth Ave, which we do not enter if we can help it, but which does have an excellent science-fiction and fantasy section, and is where we go if we need something by China Miéville RIGHT NOW and cannot wait to get it ordered in at WORD. AND there is that really great little store on Fourth which we can never remember the name of. Oh! And there is Bookthug Nation, which has a fab selection of used books, despite the name. (GENTLEMEN! We do adore your store, but were somewhat startled to notice that all the work by lady theorists is shelved under "cultural studies," whereas all the work by man-theorists is in "philosophy"! Perhaps you will correct this oversight! IT MIGHT HELP IF YOU HIRED SOME LADIES.)
NOW YOU TELL US: Where is YOUR favorite bookstore? Is it the stupendous Elliott Bay Book Co.? Charming Village Books, in lovely Bellingham, WA? The Montague Bookmill, which is 100% totally the coolest used bookstore in the entire universe? Have at it!
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
The Case for Books
Robert Darnton! He is the dreamiest! Rhodes Scholar! MacArthur Fellow! Chevalier of the Légion d'Honneur! Champion of the people! There is probably no one else alive on this earth who knows more about the history of the printed book, and very few people who know more about the history of the French Revolution, and you know what Rejectionists like very much? Books! and the French Revolution! (Perhaps you would like to read some of his livres on these topics? Well, he writes them IN FRENCH AND IN ENGLISH. Touché, monsieur.) ANYWAY. The Case for Books (get it? SO PRECIOUS, THAT ROBERT DARNTON) is a collection of a decade’s worth of essays published in the New York Review of Books, largely on the history of printed books and their role in the digital age. (You can read his other essays for NYRB here.) Contrary to what you’d think, Darnton is no enemy of the tinterweb; in 2007, as the newly appointed director of Harvard’s library, he was thrilled to discover the university was in secret talks with Google to discuss the prospect of digitizing its immense and invaluable holdings. He’s a huge proponent of the possibilities the internet can offer scholars in particular, and an enthusiastic advocate for publishing research online; he's also the founder of the Gutenberg-e program, which funded the conversion of exceptional dissertations into high-quality electronic monographs.
But Darnton can’t hide his unabashed adoration of the printed book (or, as we say chez Rejectionist, “real books”), and his boundless love for the medium translates into a series of witty, charming, immensely erudite, and often passionate disquisitions on everything from the eighteenth-century adventures of a pirated Voltaire folio to the inner workings of Google’s cabal of overlords. The essays weren’t revised for the collection, and the first few (all dealing with the Google Books project) tend to repeat themselves; but Darnton’s prose is never less than a joy to read. He has a magpie’s eye for weird facts and historical details, like the very best sort of history teacher; did you know, for example, that a recent survey of French students found that 43% of them consider the smell of printed books to be of great importance (French e-publisher CaféScribe has responded to this by issuing scented stickers that emit a fusty, bookish order, which one may affix to one’s monitor or e-reader)? Or that the philosopher Marshall McLuhan predicted that the electronic age would drive printed books into obscurity… in 1962? Or that the development of microfiche led to a shocking purge of library collections that continues to this day?
Though he's more than willing to embrace the seemingly limitless potential for digital media to promulgate new ideas, Darnton's real argument is that the printed book will never be entirely replaced--and that, ultimately, the printed book is irreplaceable. It's hard, after all, to argue with five centuries of evidence. Funny, lively, unpretentious, and wise, The Case for Books is a collection of delights. Dear Robert Darnton: if you are reading this, we would be awfully excited if you wanted to come over for dinner.
Sunday, May 09, 2010
OMG, Author-friends, will you bear with us for a minute while we talk about HOW BEYOND AWESOME OUR MOM IS? Because our mom is awesome. OBVIOUSLY our mom is awesome, because she gave birth to US, although if our mom had realized the foaming weirdly-dressed pinko communist her wholehearted support of our early childhood activities would produce, she would have maybe thought twice about telling us we could be whatever we wanted to be in our life. Ha! Parents, let that be a lesson to you! Crush the aspirations of your offspring, LEST THEY TURN OUT LEFTIST! But for the record! OUR MOM TOTALLY TRIED HER BEST, and made us go to church,* and NEVER brought us up to say a lot of bad words or wear leggings as pants or shout at people or tell them their books are stupid; our mom actually says things like this a lot: "you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar" and "if you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all" EXCEPT IF THAT WAS TRUE FOR US WE WOULDN'T BE ABLE TO TALK. But it is NOT our mom's responsibility, this deranged and easily agitated person that we have become. Our mom is the BEST.
There is one thing that is extra true about our mom, though: underneath that demure and unfailingly polite and decorous Catholic-lady exterior is a FIRE-BREATHING DRAGON OF TERROR; and everything we know about being a lady you do not fuck with we learned from our mom, although she would probably keel over and die before referring to herself as "a lady you do not fuck with" (BUT IT'S TRUE, MOM). People who fuck with our mom are NEVER HEARD FROM AGAIN. Our mom taught us the best lessons of all, which are these: love yourself, know when you are right, let go when you are wrong, and never, ever back down when something matters to you. And also, in the words of the inimitable Lil Wayne, who our mom has never heard of and would be greatly alarmed at appearing in the same sentence with if she had, "Fuck other people." HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY, MOM. WE HEART YOU. Sorry we cuss so much IT'S BECAUSE WE DIDN'T SAY A BAD WORD FOR THE FIRST EIGHTEEN YEARS OF OUR LIFE.
*As a compromise we were allowed to read the Bible during the boring parts of church, and as a result can still to this day relate entire passages of the Old Testament, which, by the way, is REALLY DIRTY.
Wednesday, May 05, 2010
For today's rejection time, why don't you go and visit the charming T.H. Mafi, who was brave enough this week to attempt an interview with our person. Ah, the follies of youth! At this time, the Rejectionist wishes to magnanimously confer Official Fiancé/e Status upon this delightful young moppet, who on occasion makes us reconsider being such a hateful old crank, EVEN THOUGH SHE CENSORED US. Unicorn
s and rainbows, our fucking ass. Heh.
UPDATE: The Rejectionist also wishes to announce her formal engagement to Keith Popely, unless Keith Popely is already her fiancé/e and she has forgotten, which would be embarrassing, but in that case, um, well, Keith Popely is EXTRA her fiancé/e.
Tuesday, May 04, 2010
Here, for the first time ever, we present to you a moment-to-moment account of a day in the life of the Rejectionist, with a loving nod to our VFF* Eric.
7:10 AM: Rise refreshed and ready to greet a new day
REJECTIONIST: @&$@#@ CAT GET YOUR PAW OFF OUR @#$%@% FACE OR WE'LL COOK YOU
8:00 AM: Energizing commute to the office
REJECTIONIST: GOING TO DISEMBOWEL NEXT MAN IN SUIT WHO HITS US WITH WET UMBRELLA ON L TRAIN
9:17 AM: Strategize innovative approaches to problem-solving with other industry personnel
CRETINOUS VAN POOPYPANTS: WHY HAS NO ONE MADE MY COFFEE
WINSTON: (Trembling) I'm so sorry, sir! I'm terribly sorry! It will never happen again! I was-- er, I was just--
REJECTIONIST: Helping us fix the photocopier! Weren't you, Winston?
CRETINOUS: WHO IS THIS GNAT? WHAT IS THIS BUZZING IT EMITS?
WINSTON: (Whispering) She's "Steve's" assistant, sir! Er, yes, the photocopier! I was helping the Rejectionist fix the photocopier!
CRETINOUS: TODAY I FEEL MAGNANIMOUS, PEON, AND YOU MAY KEEP YOUR JOB
WINSTON: Oh, thank you, sir!
(CRETINOUS enters office. WINSTON embraces REJECTIONIST, weeping with gratitude)
10:04 AM: Editorial consultation on major client project
"STEVE": &*@#*@&#&@ TRACK CHANGES
REJECTIONIST: Just click the "accept changes" button!
REJECTIONIST: Here, we'll do it.
10:34 AM: Investigate potential markets
firstname.lastname@example.org: dude emily gould got 6 figures for that fucking book of blog posts
email@example.com: patience, our time will come
11:32 AM: Nurture burgeoning talent
RANDOM CALLER: Hi, I just thought I'd call and see if you could take the next half-hour of your time to explain to me what exactly a "literary agent" does?
REJECTIONIST: GOOGLE, MOTHERFUCKER
12:30 PM: Enjoy nutritious luncheon in the company of coworkers
NICE ASSISTANT: Want to go out for lunch?
REJECTIONIST: (Gazing sadly at small bowl of brown rice brought from home) We already spent our spare quarters on laundry this week.
NICE ASSISTANT: Um, I can afford to loan you a dollar.
1:28 PM: Liaise with valued clients
"STEVE" CLIENT: Wife leaving blah blah turning to alcohol blah blah editor clearly moron blah blah can't believe horse piss New Yorker tries to pass off as literature blah blah no one understands unique gift blah blah "Steve" not returning calls blah blah
REJECTIONIST: Mmmmmmmmm the pathos
2:30 PM: Prioritize invitations to industry events
firstname.lastname@example.org: dude this one has free wine AND cheese
email@example.com: so totally there
4:45 PM: Confer with senior team members
"STEVE": (Weeping) WHY DO THEY KEEP SENDING ME THIS GARBAGE MAKE IT STOP
REJECTIONIST: We got you a cookie
5:30 PM: Depart office with tasks accomplished
REJECTIONIST: Damn, forgot to google that youtube video of the pigeon riding the subway
7:48 PM: Attend important cultural happening
SUPPORT TEAM: OMG ALL SEASONS OF XFILES STREAMING ON NETFLIX
REJECTIONIST: THANK YOU BELOVED UNIVERSE
10:15 PM: Compose own Great Literary Works
REJECTIONIST: Oooooh! SEVERAL youtube videos of pigeons riding the subway!
11:58 PM: Enrich mind with masterpiece of modern literature
REJECTIONIST: Dragons of Spring Dawning for the 245th time HUZZAH
12:45 AM: Drift off to blissful slumber secure in the knowledge that the Rejectionist has triumphed over yet another day
SUPPORT TEAM: Is that the cat or someone climbing the fire escape?
SUPPORT TEAM: Okay, I'll check.
*Very first fiancé.
Monday, May 03, 2010
Zetta Elliott is the author of three books of plays, the picture book Bird, a memoir, and the YA novel A Wish After Midnight. Her poetry and essays have been widely published, and her plays have been staged all over the country. Oh, and she's awesome.
I first “met” The Rejectionist when she urged me not to lower my expectations of white female authors—solidarity is possible if we “aim high”! I love optimism, yet when The Rejectionist offered me the chance to write a guest post, this is what came to mind…
“Giving Up the Myth of Meritocracy”
If you’re invested in the diversity debate, you’ve probably read Peggy McIntosh’s article, “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences Through Work in Women’s Studies”. If you haven’t yet read this article, please do so now! McIntosh offers us one of the most accessible definitions of white privilege along with this useful metaphor:
I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was “meant” to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, assurances, tools, maps, guides, code-books, passports, visas, clothes, compass, emergency gear, and blank checks.
In order to expose the invisibility of privilege (which is what makes it so easy to deny), McIntosh compiles a list of 46 advantages she can count on as a white woman here in the US. Though she acknowledges that her list is based on personal experience and therefore is not “generalizable,” many PoC (who live without such privilege) can vouch for her assertions. I went through McIntosh’s list recently and pulled out those advantages that I feel relate specifically to the publishing industry:
6. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely and positively represented.
7. When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.
8. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.
9. If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.
10. I can be fairly sure of having my voice heard in a group in which I am the only member of my race.
12. I can go into a book shop and count on finding the writing of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods that fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser’s shop and find someone who can deal with my hair.
22. I can remain oblivious to the language and customs of persons of color who constitute the world’s majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.
24. I can be reasonably sure that if I ask to talk to “the person in charge,” I will be facing a person of my race.
26. I can easily buy posters, postcards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys, and children’s magazines featuring people of my race.
27. I can go home from most meetings of organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out of place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance, or feared.
30. If I declare there is a racial issue at hand, or there isn’t a racial issue at hand, my race will lend me more credibility for either position than a person of color will have.
31. I can choose to ignore developments in minority writing and minority activist programs, or disparage them, or learn from them, but in any case, I can find ways to be more or less protected from negative consequences of any of these choices.
32. My culture gives me little fear about ignoring the perspectives and powers of people of other races.
34. I can worry about racism without being seen as self-interested or self-seeking.
37. I can be pretty sure of finding people who would be willing to talk with me and advise me about my next steps, professionally.
45. I can expect figurative language and imagery in all of the arts to testify to experiences of my race.
I have a sequel that’s waiting to be written, but I’m very creative when it comes to procrastination and so I found myself thinking of other advantages white writers might experience here in the US (though I suspect this also applies to Canada).* Like McIntosh, I do not mean to suggest that these advantages are “generalizable” (experienced equally by all writers who are white).**
1. You can submit a manuscript and it will likely be judged by someone of your race—even at a multicultural press.
2. You can query a number of agents who have extensive experience selling manuscripts by authors (and to editors) who share your race.
3. You can be pretty sure that the book buyer in a large chain or indie bookstore is someone of your race.
4. You can be pretty sure that your book—if it’s lucky enough to get reviewed by the major outlets—will be assessed by someone of your race who operates with an appreciation of your culture’s particular literary tradition(s).
5. You can attend numerous children’s literature conferences with programming that reflects your interests and/or your culture, you can network with industry professionals who share your race, and otherwise feel comfortable as a member of the majority.
6. You can write about anyone who lives anywhere and be accepted by many as an extraordinarily creative person and/or an expert on topics outside of your lived experience.
7. You can participate in a literary event and trust that your invitation was based on the merits of your book, not your race.
8. You can be pretty sure that the person responsible for acquisitions and programming at most schools and public libraries shares your race.
9. You can be pretty sure that most major award committees are composed primarily of people who look like you.
10. You can trust that disappointing sales for your book will not be attributed to your race (or to members of your race being unable/unwilling to read).
11. You can expect that your book will be displayed in stores and shelved in libraries according to its genre, and not according to your race.
12. You can be pretty sure that a (white) editor will not call your (white) characters’ language “too formal,” nor will you be expected to make hardship and racial conflict the central focus of your book.
13. You can rest assured that your book will be considered “universal” and will therefore be promoted widely and not only to a “niche market.”
14. You can trust that your book will be for everyday use, and not for one particular “heritage month.”
15. You can expect to be invited to give school presentations all year round, and not only during a designated “heritage month.”
16. You can trust that your white protagonist will not be depicted as a person of color on your book’s cover.
Getting published is hard—I think all aspiring writers would agree with me on that point. And race isn’t the bottom line here, but it is a factor in one’s ability to navigate the incredibly homogeneous publishing industry. I don’t mean to suggest that whites are incapable of editing manuscripts by and about people of color; there are many wonderful books that are the product of such collaborations, including my own picture book, Bird (plus one of my closest friends is a white editor!). Really, I’m talking about cultural competence, and that can be demonstrated by anyone who has taken the time to learn about a culture not their own. But as Peggy McIntosh points out, there’s rarely any penalty for whites who choose to remain oblivious. Instead, PoC pay the price and we see that reflected in the dismal statistics compiled by the CCBC: in 2009, out of an estimated 5000 books published for children, less than 5% were authored by PoC. We could conclude that writers of color simply aren’t good enough to be published in greater numbers. Or we could reach a conclusion that’s closer to the one McIntosh reaches in her essay:
For me, white privilege has turned out to be an elusive and fugitive subject. The pressure to avoid it is great, for in facing it I must give up the myth of meritocracy. If these things are true, this is not such a free country; one’s life is not what one makes it; many doors open for certain people through no virtues of their own. These perceptions mean also that my moral condition is not what I had been led to believe. The appearance of being a good citizen rather than a troublemaker comes in large part from having all sorts of doors open automatically because of my color.
My father used to call me a troublemaker, and initially I rejected that label because it felt like a cruel mischaracterization—sure, I asked a lot of questions, but why should I accept the status quo if it served others’ needs and not my own? I now realize that as a black feminist writer, making trouble is what I do! I likely won’t be thanked for my complaints about the lack of diversity in children’s publishing, but that’s ok. Being unpopular just might mean that I’m doing something right…*** ["Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds." -Ed.]
**McIntosh concludes that “since race and sex are not the only advantaging systems at work, we need to similarly examine the daily experience of having age advantage, or ethnic advantage, or physical ability, or advantage related to nationality, religion, or sexual orientation.”
***I think one way of solving the inequalities in publishing is to follow the Brits by adopting a Publishing Equalities Charter here in the US.You can learn more about the UK model here.
TAGSspecial guest post
Sunday, May 02, 2010
Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You
So much funnier than anything else you will read all year, the kind of book you want to read out loud to whomever happens to be sitting next to you ("NO REALLY wait until the scene with his dad where he orders pasta instead of steak and his dad is all like 'are you gay' and then by then end you are laughing so hard you are, like, dry heaving JUST WAIT UNTIL THAT PART." Our poor Support Team.) Also what may be one of the best books about New York ever written. Also what may be one of the best books about being a teenager who is way smarter and way sadder than everyone around you ever written. Also by the end we were crying. Just go get it. Seriously.