Round-Down: Adam Johnson’s New Story to Sell for $9,000

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Adam Johnson, the author of Pulitzer Prize-winning The Orphan Master’s Son, has a new story collection, Fortunes Smiles, out today. The collection, which includes six stories, was recently reviewed, with high praise, by Lauren Groff for The New York Times.

Each of the stories in the collection have appeared in esteemed journals such as Tin House, except one. In December, this story, “George Orwell Was a Friend of Mine,” will be the feature of a collaboration with the artists at 21st Editions called “The Janus Turn.” Only thirty-seven copies of the resulting work will be produced. And they will each sell for the handsome sum of nine thousand dollars.

Ron Charles at The Washington Post said of the collaboration: “What a different experience this will be than scrolling through the text on your e-reader. You would never accidentally leave this on the subway.”

It’s true, of course—you wouldn’t. 21st Editions is a maker of literature-focused art that encourages the exploration of the thoughtful intersection between content and its forms.

But does engaging with a story differently, in another format, ineluctably change the story itself? I’d argue the answer is yes—it does. That the work is titled “The Janus Turn” already creates a new perspective, a complicated duality, story and art mirroring one another.

If there is another question, then, it seems to be: Is “The Janus Turn” worth $9,000? To which I would respond, “Of course. Could a Picasso be worth millions?”

It’s true that it’s not the same thing—but I do think that it is impossibly difficult to assign monetary value to the care taken and the process endured in creating art.

It would be interesting to see how 21st Editions could grow its operation with other written work or make its art more accessible. It does seem, however, that these are things that seem to run in some discord with the company’s high aim to follow, as noted in the Wall Street Journal, “in Alfred Stieglitz’s footsteps,” in enriching and exalting photography as an art form. Compromise in any direction would simply cheapen the work. This is art at its highest and, sure, most expensive, but it is well worth our attention and admiration.

Indie Spotlight: Tupelo Press

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Founded in New England by Jeffrey Levine in fall of 1999, Tupelo Press made a splash with its first five collections of poetry, primarily by emerging writers, and it hasn’t looked back since. Tupelo quickly established a reputation for poetry collections that were both exacting and exciting, published to the highest design and production standards. Housed in North Adams, Massachusetts, Tupelo’s most recent titles include Ye Chun’s Lantern Puzzle, a “self-translated” collection of poems that effortlessly move between cultures, countries, and time itself; Soldier On, a collection of smart, conversational poems by Gale Marie Thompson; and, most recently, Fountain and Furnace by Hadara Bar-Nadav, exquisite poems that are deceptively minimal and powerfully deep.

In addition to publishing more than 150 titles thanks both to poetry contests and open submission periods, and expanding their list to include prose, Tupelo also hosts intimate writing conferences in California, New Mexico, and Maine and sponsors two online poetry-writing marathons. First is a 30/30 project where poets volunteer to write and post a new poem every day for 30 days and second is “The Million-Line Poem,” where, thanks to contributions of poets around the globe, a poem currently is growing couplet by couplet, until the final product will be celebrated with readings across the country.

Finally, Tupelo Press has established a Teen Writing Center in Charlottesville, Virginia, offering workshops and camps to high school aged students. Poet Jeffrey Levine, founder and editor of Tupelo, shared with me how the press has managed to grow so quickly while maintaining its level of excellence.

KF: With its conferences, teen center, and online presence, Tupelo has greatly expanded since your five titles from 2001. How do you juggle so many concurrent activities while maintaining your high publishing standards? Do you see the conferences, online projects, or teen writing center as venues for discovering new Tupelo authors?

JL: Certainly, the conferences and the Tupelo Quarterly bring us into contact with a rich pool of talented writers, some of whose books we’ve already solicited. But our secret is an extraordinary team. Continue Reading

Round-Down: Historical Underpinnings of Continual Sexism in Publishing

 

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Writer Catherine Nichols’ recent experiment, in which she submitted a manuscript to agents under a male pseudonym and received eight-and-a-half times the number of responses that the same manuscript received under her real name, confirms a gender bias in publishing that desperately needs addressing.

Nichols is not without precedent in her experiment. Many famous examples of women writers adopting male pseudonyms to enter the male-dominated field of literature exist. Louisa May Alcott first entered publishing as A.M. Barnard. Mary Ann Evans is better known as George Eliot. Charlotte Bronte was once known as Currer Bell. Taking cues from her sister, Emily Bronte offered herself to the world as Ellis Bell. Karen Blixen published under the name Isak Dinesen. Nora Roberts, to avoid being typecast as a romance novelist, entered the realm of detective fiction as J.D. Robb. And we know Joanne Rowling as J.K. Rowling because a publisher was afraid no one would want to read about a magical boy wizard if a woman authored the tale.

Other issues underline the gender bias ever-present in the field of literature. As Taylor Sperry points out, accidental sexism is perhaps the most insidious, because it’s the hardest to recognize in our own selves. And if we can’t check ourselves, there is no real hope for social change. In an article for the Irish Times, Sarah Davis-Goff of Tramp Publishing, inspired by the VIDA count and Nicola Griffith, asked writers, men and women alike, to name their literary influences. Of the 148 influential authors listed, only thirty-three were female. The rest were all male. This is not to suggest that these men and women were conscious of this imbalance, but rather to highlight the more insidious unconscious sexism that exists even in the best-intentioned of us.Continue Reading

Round-Down: University of Akron Press Shuttering

1200px-InfoCision_opening_day2Last Tuesday, highly regarded University of Akron Press announced on social media it was closing its doors, its employees having received “pink slips.” This was an effort on the part of the university–specifically UA President Scarborough and the board of trustees–to eliminate a significant portion of its debt, which currently stands at an alleged sixty million dollars.

A few days later, however, the university issued a statement insisting that UAP will not close. The University of Akron Press’ website now prominently features this note:

“The operations of University Press are being transferred to the Division of Libraries, where the director will work with the interim dean of Libraries and the Provost to assess UA Press operations and to recommend priorities going forward.”

Many, including Bob Dyer at Ohio.com, question how UAP will operate with no staff. The urgings for the university to reevaluate its decisions are ongoing; author John Repp, for example started a petition on Change.org calling for funding to be restored to the University of Akron Press.

Established in 1988, the University of Akron Press was home to the Akron Series in Poetry, a lauded book prize that published works by talents such as Oliver de la Paz and Emily Rosko. And yet, the work of UAP is not valued. It is great work, and we, its readers, are great advocates for it. Money at the University of Akron is instead poured into the construction of stadiums and the upkeep of what can safely be called a poorly performing football team.

What seems lost on any administration that does not support its comparatively low-cost humanities programs is that the humanities at their core provide absolutely invaluable points of connection. The benefits of these programs elude quantification. And it sadly may take their removal to force others to see what is missing in their absence.Continue Reading

Round-Down: Why GO SET A WATCHMAN May Have Been Better Unpublished

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Discussion surrounding the recent release of Harper Lee’s purported To Kill a Mockingbird prequel–or draft, or sequel–Go Set a Watchman has dominated the literary community for the past several weeks. Just about every article on Watchman touches on the question of either whether Lee consented to having the long stowed-away manuscript released. At The New York Times, Randall Kennedy asks exactly this.

The initial reactions to Watchman’s release are expectedly mixed, yet strong. An informal poll conducted by CNN, in which about twenty thousand people have now participated, reveals public response to the question “Are you planning to read Go Set a Watchman?” Just over sixty percent say they will, and there’s about a twenty percent split on either side between those who are flatly not interested and those who won’t because they “want [their] memories of the original unsullied.” Lee’s new novel is operating under the extremely unique condition of existing within the same realm as and including many of the same characters from Mockingbird, a text that has been so widely loved and taught. It is because of these conditions that we should consider some facts of the questionable circumstance.Continue Reading

The Economic Crisis and Survival of Greek Letters Part 1: A Tiny Interview with Evangelia Avloniti of the Ersilia Literary Agency

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This interview is part 1 of a 2 part series on contemporary Greek letters and the economic crisis. 

Literature survives. Always has, always will. Modern Greek letters alone have seen the rise and fall of the Ottoman Empire, two world wars, followed by the Greek civil war in the 1940’s along with its recovery period and its military junta soon thereafter. And most recently, it’s overseen six years of Economic crisis, which has seen Greece on the brink of exit from the Eurozone. No matter—the literature survives. And in that there’s not only hope but celebration.

Some would argue, because of the crisis, that Greek letters are more popular than ever before. I talk with Evangelia Avloniti of the Ersilia Literary Agency about just that: the economic crisis, the future of Greek letters, and the author she’s most excited about right now.

Evangelia Avloniti founded the Ersilia Literary Agency in 2009 just as Greece began sliding into financial distress. Today, the Ersilia Literary Agency is considered the premier literary agency in Greece representing a select list of twelve Greek authors, locally and internationally, as well as thirty international publishers and agents among which are Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Grove Atlantic, Kuhn Projects, Zoe Pagnamenta, Levine Greenberg Rostan, and Elyse Cheney Literary Associates.

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Round-Down: What You Should Know Going Into GO SET A WATCHMAN

Atticus_and_Tom_Robinson_in_courtToday, July 14, is an auspicious day in literary news: Harper Lee’s much anticipated, and controversial, Go Set A Watchman is officially released across the world. An event for the record books–the title already broke the pre-order record held by the Harry Potter series and promises to break still others before the week is done—many eager readers lined up at midnight this morning to grab a copy. Die-hard fans picked up the sequel (or prequel, depending on how one looks at it) to the childhood favorite because, or perhaps in spite, of several shocking spoilers leaked in the days leading up to the worldwide official release.

In a coordinated publicity stunt, HarperCollins released the first chapter of the novel online, in the UK via The Guardian, and in the U.S. via The Wall Street Journal (owned by the same parent company as HarperCollins). Reese Witherspoon’s breathy, wry Southern voice is leant to the experience at both sites via an audio recording, and if you’re still on the fence about whether or not you want to brave a bookstore today, I recommend checking out the text at The Guardian. The colorful animation that accompanies the text as you scroll down to keep up with Witherspoon’s charming intonations lends a visceral experience to the “sneak peak” that will—even if the text itself cannot, as some reviewers caution—provide fans with the same sense of whimsical pluckiness as young Scout’s voice. The WSJ, for its part, has black and white photographs from the film version of To Kill A Mockingbird, as well as from Lee’s own life and town, accompanying the text.Continue Reading

Indie Spotlight: Etruscan Press

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Etruscan Press began in 2001, founded by Philip Brady, Robert Mooney and Steve Oristaglio, who currently serve as Executive Director, Executive Editor, and Business Advisor. Housed at Wilkes University and partnered with Youngstown State in Ohio, Etruscan is probably best known for poetry (three titles have been chosen as National Book Award finalists and other collections have earned a lengthy list of accolades), but Etruscan also publishes a complete range of rich and varied literature. Novels, memoir, short story and essay collections, criticism, translation, and anthologies all have found their way onto Etruscan’s list.

In 2015 alone, Etruscan is putting out Cannot Stay by Kevin Oderman, a collection of travel essays to destinations that are common, uncommon, and even imagined; a gritty coming-of-age memoir, Crave, by Laurie Jean Cannady; and Poems and Their Making: A Conversation, an anthology “moderated” by Philip Brady and described as “a collection of original poems and essays by a diverse cast of inter-connected contemporary American poets, delving into the origin and development of poetic thought, line, and structure.”

Finally, Etruscan is publishing three collections of poetry this year, most notably The Other Sky, a collaboration between poet Bruce Bond and visual artist Aron Wiesenfeld that will surely show up on a number of “best of” lists by the end of this year. For Ploughshares, Executive Director and poet Philip Brady will share how the press achieves its mission of producing a “body of work in fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, criticism, and translation [that] subverts traditional boundaries and manifests the impulses beneath conventional modes.”

KF: Etruscan’s catalogue describes the press as devoted to “producing and promoting books that nurture a dialogue among genres and cultures,” yet your list of titles share such a contemplative and careful approach to both subject matter and precision of language that it seems every Etruscan title could be called poetry. What do you think makes a manuscript uniquely Etruscan? Does genre matter all that much to you over aesthetics?

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Round-Down: Stephen King Releases Exclusive Short Story Audio

maine fireworksIn what Alexandra Alter at The New York Times calls an “unusual experiment,” Stephen King has released a short story, “Drunken Fireworks,” which is forthcoming in his collection The Bazaar of Bad Dreams. The collection is slated for a November 2015 release, making this a months-advance sneak peek at the eagerly anticipated work. In the publisher’s press release, the original audio story is described as a “one-of-a-kind audio publishing event.”

King has long valued hearing work narrated; in fact, he paid his children to read novels aloud and record them. Alter writes that “in his basement in Bangor, Me., there are boxes full of cassettes narrated by his three children, including recordings of novels by James Ellroy, Wilbur Smith, and Frank Herbert.”

It is, of course, hard to say whether this decision to “pre-publish” a story in audio will mark the start of a larger trend toward this sort of promotion. But, it seems King’s collection might be uniquely poised to accomplish this. The ingredients seem to be there–a vast and committed readership, a shorter work, and content that seems enhanced by the audio component (the story takes place in Maine, and King wanted the narrating voice, Tim Sample, to capture the story’s sense of culture and place). Alter notes that, with the digital release, “Mr. King and his publisher are testing whether audio can serve as an effective teaser for a future print book.”Continue Reading

Round-Down: Are BOGO Books A Good Thing?

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Many businesses have sought creative ways to keep customers incentivized to return because there are so many options for shopping around. Publishers are no different. Harlequin, the famed romance novel imprint of Harper, is turning to a new reader rewards program as a way to keep readers loyal in the ever-growing book marketplace.

Unlike a lot of rewards programs out there (I’m looking at you, American Express), consumers will not have to wait a long period of time before their points are redeemable. Rather, readers will earn two-thousand points simply for creating an account during this trial period, presumably while Harlequin collects data and perfects the model. Participants will also have the option to grow their accounts by participating in surveys wherein readers get to share their preferences and ideas related to romance novels. Right now, the rewards range from free books (print or electronic), gift baskets, and, the real high-ticket item—a Skype interview with a favorite author.

At first blush, it sounds like a wonderful idea. Who doesn’t want to be rewarded for reading (even if–especially if– it is for steamy romance novels with a preponderance of “quivering” and “ocean pool eyes” metaphors)? Who wouldn’t want to be more involved with authors and publishers than a fan?Continue Reading