Round-Up: NC Anti-Trans Bill, Who Reads the Most e-Books, and PEN’s Israeli Sponsorship


From authors who are taking a stand for human rights to a new study revealing who reads the most e-books, here’s all of last week’s literary news:  

  • Several authors have responded to North Carolina’s anti-trans bill by canceling scheduled appearances in the state on their book tours. However, these cancellations may be at the expense of indie bookstores. Two weeks ago Sherman Alexie canceled an appearance at Malaprop’s Bookstore in Asheville, NC, prompting the store’s owner to make a statement pleading to authors: “Please don’t abandon us; we need your support now more than ever.” Tom Campbell, co-owner of The Regulator Bookshop wrote to Publisher’s Weekly proposing that instead of canceling altogether, authors could use their platforms to help fight the bill. Publisher’s Weekly explained that “the store would donate a portion of the author’s and its proceeds to the North Carolina ACLU and the North Carolina Justice Center, which are fighting HB2.”
  • A new study has revealed that e-reader sales are driven most by women over the age of forty-five. According to this study about 77% of e-book sales are from women falling in this category. The numbers were compiled by Kobo, based on its own sales and a survey of sixteen thousand people who use Kobo or other competing e-book retailers. Kobo said these results make e-reading “the first technological revolution being driven by [those aged] forty-five and older, rather than younger generations.”
  • PEN American Center has been asked by several authors “to reject the Israeli Government’s sponsorship of its upcoming World Voices Festival because of the country’s alleged abuses of human rights.” Authors who have signed the petition letter include PEN members, PEN Award winners, and Pulitzer Prize winners–such as Junot Diaz, Alice Walker, and Richard Ford–along with a multitude of literary organizations. The letter states: “Given PEN American Center’s mission of supporting freedom of expression, it is deeply regrettable that the Festival has chosen to accept sponsorship from the Israeli government, even as it intensifies its decades-long denial of basic rights to the Palestinian people, including the frequent targeting of Palestinian writers and journalists.”

Indie Spotlight: Pressgang

pressgangBegun in 2012 by fiction writer Bryan Furuness, Pressgang is based at Butler University and is affiliated with Butler’s MFA program and the Vivian S. Delbrook Visiting Writer Series. Pressgang’s initial publications have come from its Pressgang Prize, which awards $1,500 and publication to a book-length fiction or memoir manuscript. Its initial two titles show a determination to publish wonderful range of styles, from the quirky and poignant collection of stories by Jacob Appel, Einstein’s Beach House, to Teresa Milbrodt’s delightful collection of vignettes Larissa Takes Flight.

Pressgang’s current Editor-in-Chief is writer Robert Stapleton, and he is the force behind Pressgang’s newest and most ambitious title, just published this month. Flashed: Sudden Stories in Comics and Prose is a fantastic collection of stories both written and illustrated. Editors Josh Neufeld and Sari Wilson recruited several trios of writers and cartoonists to “respond to one another’s work with original pieces of flash fiction,” producing a rich collection of collaborative riffs from an amazing range of writers and artists. Lynda Barry, Aimee Bender, Junot Díaz, Steve Almond, Sherrie Flick, and so many more not only created the stories and comics in the collection, they also discussed the collective creative venture they took part in.

For Ploughshares, Robert Stapleton discusses Pressgang’s latest publication and current status, and shares what the press has in store in the future.

KF: Your submission guidelines request work that blurs boundaries: “Think Lorrie Moore, think Laurie Anderson, think Lemony Snickett,” and your initial publications exhibit that refreshing eclectic flavor. How will Pressgang’s editorial choices evolve now that the press is under your leadership?

RS: Bryan and I have had neighboring offices at Butler since 2010. We share many similar aesthetic and publishing interests, and Booth and Pressgang have naturally risen from our daily conversations. Since Pressgang’s inception, I have been intimately involved with its editorial board and the decisions of what to publish, just like Bryan has always been, and still is, integral to Booth’s editorial curation. The primary distinction is that I tend to champion graphic design whenever possible.

KF: You’re also editor of the online and print journal Booth. Do you see a collaborative future between the journal and press? How do you manage both enterprises?Continue Reading

A Recommendation

bryan washington_RECOMMENDATION

Just west of Houston, before you reach Texas’ most remarkable stretch of nothing, there’s a crumbling Latin diner I take my kid brother on Fridays. It is refreshingly un-Yelpable. The family’s owned it forever. They’re almost native in their darkness, and when I order two beers, they’ve pitched us a third by the time we’re at the table.

Mostly we just sit and watch the road; sometimes, we riff on whatever rapper’s trending our membranes; but, inevitably, I use these lunches as an excuse to throw books at him.

I do this to everyone, but even more so with him. He’s gotten all of Gabo and Homer and Anzaldúa. The obligatory Baldwin. Some Manuel Puig. The Cisneros novel that everyone forgets about, that Lorrie Moore book everyone lost their minds over, and all of Borges, because I think it is good for young black boys to read and perhaps want to be him.

But a little while ago, maybe a month or two back, he asked if I had anything a little more relevant. Something he could use.

When I asked what that meant, when I said he could use damn-near all of it, he gave me side-eye.

Yeah, he said. But something he could use every day. Like, something with someone like him in it. Continue Reading

Literary Enemies: Junot Díaz vs. Meg Wolitzer

Literary Enemies: Meg Wolitzer and Junot Díaz

wolitzer diaz

Disclaimer: I refuse to believe that Meg Wolitzer and Junot Díaz aren’t friends.

I’m going to try my best to keep this from getting all Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, and I promise I’m not going to make When Harry Met Sally references, but I do want to talk about gender. I want to talk about writing women.

I have often heard Junot Díaz called out for objectifying his female characters, and I want to start by saying I disagree. When I was sixteen and read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao for the first time, I found Oscar’s older sister Lola profoundly reassuring. Here was a girl my age, then a woman not much older, who found power where she could and used it, who saved herself from what she could, who turned herself into the book’s strongest character by sheer force of will but remained vulnerable enough to fall in love.

Yes, some of Lola’s power comes from her sexuality, even when she’s young. The same is true of her mother Belicia. I do not find this problematic. In fact, I find it the opposite. To me, it is just as bad for a male author to deprive his female characters of sexual agency as it is to reduce them to sex objects. Well, not just as bad. It’s two versions of the same crime, and it’s a crime Díaz never commits.

And yet I can see why a reader might question Díaz on gender. Yunior, his recurring protagonist (call him Díaz’s Frank Bascombe, his Nathan Zuckerman, his Rabbit Angstrom) is a serial cheater. In Oscar Wao, when he’s on-and-off dating Lola, he’s prone to locutions like, “Me, who was fucking with not one, not two, but three fine-ass bitches at the same time and that wasn’t even counting the side-sluts I scooped at the parties and the clubs.” When his girlfriend in the short story “Alma” reads his diary and calls him out for cheating, Yunior says, “Baby, this is part of my novel.” So what’s a girl to think?Continue Reading

The Family You Choose

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The Family You Choose

In college my housemates and I once drew a social map of our class. This is similar. A web, not a tree.

I’ve always been prone to intense friendships. Not best friendships, necessarily, or not in the one-and-only sense. I’m of the Mindy Kaling school on that point: “best friend” is a tier, and mine is a wide one. I get deeply emotionally invested in relationships with my friends, sometimes completely sucked in. I’m in such constant touch with one of my best friends (see above) that I’m convinced that if I were ever to disappear, he’d call the police before my mother or roommates or boss noticed I was missing. I recently read an interview with Hanya Yanagihara (see below) in which she occasionally answered the interviewer’s questions with a friend’s opinions as well as her own, and I couldn’t help laughing in recognition. I do that, too.

So it’s no surprise that I love the literature of friendship. I love reading about the ones that work and the ones that don’t, friendships that struggle and flounder. I have derived a huge amount of relief from Jenny Offill and Elissa Schappell’s collection of essays about female friend-breakups, The Friend Who Got Away, while suffering through one of my own. I will say, though, that the existence of that collection seems to confirm an idea that I hear often and believe not at all, which is that men don’t have real friends. That cannot be true, and for evidence I direct you to Hanya Yanagihara’s phenomenal new novel, A Little Life, which I read in under twenty-four hours even though it is over seven hundred pages long.Continue Reading

The Millennial-Gen X Rift Part II: the MFA System And A Digital Latina/o Literary Renaissance

are_you_seriousHector Tobar wouldn’t be the first to speculate about a contemporary Latina/o literary renaissance. That hype has been around for a long, long while. It surrounded the work of Gen X Latina/o writers beginning to publish in the mid to late 90’s and early 2000’s of which Junot Diaz is the most notable. The same can be said about the generation that produced Helena Maria Viramontes and Sandra Cisneros.

So many latina/o writers I know have heard that word so often they scoff at it. Renaissance. A close friend, an old prof, said to me in jest once that Latina/o writing goes through a “renaissance” every twenty years or so. People bestow upon our literature that label. But who knows why? There’s probably a lot of wishful thinking in aligning Latina/o letter with the trajectory of something like the Harlem Renaissance, but probably twice as much marketing can be gleaned from that word alone: clean, prestigious, professionalized. It signals the arrival of something, the coming-of-age of something. Who doesn’t want that? More than anything, who doesn’t want to buy into that? Writer or reader. Continue Reading

The Millenial-Gen X Rift And The Trouble With Latina/o Letters

 Tilde“Hector Tobar is our new hero,” a close friend of mine, a well known Chicano writer, proclaimed to me last week. I was back home in Austin. We were at the Whitehorse. He said it as if it were up for discussion in the first place. “I’m totally with him,” he said. This conversation in reaction to a quote Tobar gave to the Latin Post in an interview earlier this month:

“I really believe we are living through the beginning of a Latino Renaissance that will one day be compared to the Harlem Renaissance. Having said that, every literary culture produces mediocrity. Our mediocrity is populated by Isabel Allende imitators and lots of magical realism rehash written by authors who sell a vision of Latinos as colorful people of simple (and predictable) pleasures, a kind of shallow exoticism. I think our readers are way ahead of the game in their tastes, which explains the popularity of novelists like Roberto Bolaño, who a decade ago would have been seen as a fringe writer.”

The quote not only hit on the third rail of contemporary Latina/o literature. It struck it with an iron sledgehammer.

“The problem with latino letters after 2000,” my friend said, “is that it’s all written with so much heart. So much heart; so little substance.”

“Where is the virtuosity?” he asked. “The hard-mined narrative grit? The incredible research? The complex latina/o characters that aren’t cardboard victims? And this is really gonna hurt,” he said. “Where is the editing?”

It was as if he’d sliced the air in two. Or shattered crystal glass on tile. Or asked my mom out on a date. And then said he was going to be my dad.

“Are you simple or something?,” I said to him.Continue Reading

The Ploughshares Round Down: Short Stories as a Path to Literary Success

Throes of Creation by Leonid PasternakI’m going to let you in on a little secret about the submissions in my slush pile. When one comes in, the first thing I do–before I have even read the first sentence of the letter–is skim it for the name of a publication I recognize. If I don’t see one, I go back and start reading the pitch, looking for a reason to reject it.

The main thing I’m looking for in new clients is an existing following clamoring for a book from this writer. If the writer has a great idea, however, and understands what it means to be a professional writer, I might still be interested. That’s why I’m looking for the names of publications I like in the author’s bio. If you had twenty-five submissions to read, which one would you start with? I’ll be you’d start with the guy who’s written for Ploughshares and then move on to the staff writer from the Boston Globe, too.Continue Reading

WWTMD? (What Would Toni Morrison Do?)

Image courtesy of the Nobel Prize Foundation.

Toni Morrison. Image courtesy of the Nobel Prize Foundation.

Lately, during the sad, unproductive stretches of writing my first novel, I stare at an empty page and whisper, “What Would Toni Morrison Do?”

This is the closest I come to prayer. Please show me the way, I say to my favorite writers. Please give me the vision to see what I cannot. Unlike most deities, however, the motivations of my favorite writers are knowable. On YouTube, in magazine interviews, and in essays, my favorite writers relate their inspirations and their all-too-human faults. Sure, they hurl lightning bolts of excellence, but they also reveal the failures of the spark.

So, who better to guide me than Toni Morrison, Nobel Laureate, Pulitzer Prize winner, and author of ten novels—including Beloved, one of the most acclaimed books of U.S. literature?

It doesn’t matter that all I have in common with Toni Morrison is my Ohio childhood; I’m not trying to be Toni Morrison. Instead, after teaching a “Major Authors: Toni Morrison” course, I’m trying to apply the lessons I’ve learned from her work, about narrative structure, knowledge, empathy, and community. Here’s how Toni Morrison guides me.Continue Reading

POC vs PLOT: The MFA, Chipotle Cups, and Narratives We Crave

la-ar-weigh-in-on-your-favorite-cosby-sweater--002By now it seems everyone’s read Junot Diaz’s MFA vs POC blog on the New Yorker website. Even my freshmen at Cornell these days say to me, “Dan, was it really like that?” Usually I just shrug in response. I was a notorious recluse in my MFA. I had a girlfriend—now fiancé—in New York City who I visited every other weekend, and during that time I was watching a lot of films and HBO GO, desperately trying to figure out how narrative worked.

Continue Reading