7/27/2011 11:19:24 AM
From the front cover to the closing essay, putting together an issue of Utne Reader takes about two months. The editors at Longshot magazine assemble theirs in two days. The next issue of Longshot is about to go into production, and they need your help.
The magazine will announce the next issue’s theme at noon on Friday, July 29 (Pacific time) here. Writers, designers, photographers, and other contributors have exactly one day to submit work. According to Longshot’s website:
We need writers, photographers, illustrators, videographers, information designers, editors, proof readers, fact checkers, baristas, chefs, bartenders, and carpenters. (Especially bartenders). We want submissions ranging from 140 characters to 4,000 words. Please send us your strongly reported narratives, design fictions, interviews, data visualizations, cartoons, family portraits, how-to guides, maps, obscure histories, recipes, war reporting, photo-essays, blueprints, ships’ logs, scientific papers, charticles, wood cuts, curio boxes, product reviews, and box scores.
Longshot is not only crowd-sourced, but also crowd-funded via Kickstarter. As some extra incentive, Longshot will award $2,000 to the writer whose article is chosen as the cover feature.
As project leader and writer for TheAtlantic Sarah Rich says in the promotional video: “Writers from the New Yorker and Wired shared pages with people who had never been published before or even submitted to a magazine.” Good luck, and get ready to write!
7/21/2011 2:29:40 PM
Many American novelists have tried their hand at what is now widely referred to as “9/11 fiction,” more often than not, to mixed reviews. Often novels by writers from other countries are cited as the most successful books on the matter. Netherland by Joseph O’Neill, who was born in Ireland and schooled in The Netherlands, is often said to be the best novel about September 11, 2001.
This, too, is the conclusion reached by Adam Kirsch in “In the shadow of the twin towers” (Prospect, June 2011). Naming the (in Krisch’s view) failed attempts by some of America’s heavy weights, like Don DeLillo’s Falling Man (“But style defeats itself in these cool, hypnotic sentences, precisely because DeLillo knows that he is wagering everything on style.”) and John Updike’s Terrorist (“Sex, not God, is Updike’s God, which is why he overdetermines Ahmad’s rage by giving him a clear Freudian grievance…”), Krisch is left to conclude that American writers may just be “ill-suited to a subject that, like the sun, does not bear looking at directly.” This conclusion seems a bit simplistic to me, as do others in this article, like when Krisch uses a description from a nonfiction book about one man’s descent from the south tower on September 11 to criticize a novelist’s decision to devote “the last ten pages of his novel to the thoughts of his protagonist, Kevin, while he plunges to his death from the 52nd story of a burning building.” In fact, as we learn from the nonfiction writer, nothing enters the mind, much less ten pages worth of thoughts: “My mind switched off. I didn’t start praying. I didn’t have visions of childhood. My life didn’t flash before my eyes. It was a puzzling feeling.” Putting aside the discussion of how the thoughts of someone falling to his death from a skyscraper might differ from those of someone trying to run for his life from one, no matter what appears on those last ten pages of a novel, it is unfair to compare them to a work of nonfiction. I am not one to claim that there is no imagination in nonfiction—that it’s a simple task of retelling—but surely there is a distinction between someone trying to relay their experience in a book and someone trying to possess “the imagination of disaster” (a term coined by Henry James and used by Kirsch) and fictively tell the story of a character falling through the sky. Now, if the thoughts of the falling character are unbelievable, that’s another story, but comparing them to a work of nonfiction seems arbitrary to me.
Kirsch’s argument also falls short for me when he addresses attempts by writers to focus on the perpetrators of the attacks:
There is something admirable about the dogged attempts of American writers to inhabit the minds of the hijackers. After all, the terrorist act involves a radical refusal to imagine the experience of the victim. By contrast, the novelist’s insistence on his obligation to inhabit the mind of the terrorist can be seen as an exemplary liberal response.
In practice, however, this kind of liberal imagination depends on a psychological and materialist understanding of character, which leaves the novelist ill-equipped to understand religious fanatics whose deepest motives are theological and absolute.
Couldn’t the same be said about any individual throughout time whose “deepest motives” were “absolute”? Isn’t this and the “radical refusal to imagine the experience of the victim” what make up any number of novels about murder?
While I disagree with much of Kirsch’s reasoning, I appreciate his attempt to address these books, writers , and topic with a level of respect. Kirsch reminds us that after a brief moment of a new national “sobriety and sternness of purpose,” most of the country went back to business as usual. The fact that so many American writers to this day are wrestling seriously with this subject matter shows Kirsch that at least that demographic has remained steadfast toward that sobriety and sternness. “American writers, to their credit,” Kirsch writes, “have taken the exhortation to seriousness quite seriously.” And who am I to say that his ultimate conclusion is not correct? Maybe “there is no need for the novelist to re-imagine 9/11 when, on some level, Americans have never stopped thinking about it.”
(Note: The online version of this article includes interesting responses from three American novelists, Siri Hustvedt, Stefan Merrill Block and Teddy Wayne.)
Image is in the public domain.
7/18/2011 1:32:04 PM
This post by Will Braun originally appeared at
The Bible Industry. From Geez magazine, Fall 2009. Credit: Darryl Brown and Aiden Enns.
Most people know now that Rupert Murdoch presides over the News Corp media empire, and that he is fighting for his reputation after being forced to sink his scandal-laiden British newspaper News of the World, the most widely read English tabloid in the world. But few people know that Murdoch also owns Zondervan, the world’s largest publisher of Bibles. For 23 years, the News Corp family has included the leading seller of the best-selling book in history.
I know many Christians see the Bible’s publishing stature as validation of their chosen faith, but a savvy entrepreneur could simply see it as a business opportunity. Or perhaps the 80-year-old Murdoch, like any shrewd businessman, wanted diverse investments – a diversity that in his case ranged from a cleavage-saturated tabloid that ran headlines like, “F1 Boss Has Sick Nazi Orgy With 5 Hookers” to a publisher that offers Little Lamb’s Storybook Bible.
Zondervan, which is based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, also sells Precious Princess Bible, Camo Bible (imagine “Holy Bible” on a camouflage cover), Soul Surfer Bible, Holy Bible: Stock Car Racing and 500 other styles of the holy book. The company owns exclusive North American print rights to the popular New International Version of the Bible which it says has sold over 300 million copies worldwide. Zondervan also publishes books by leading Christian authors like Rick Warren (over 30 million copies of his Purpose Driven Life have been sold), Tim LaHaye, Eugene Peterson, Brian McLaren and Shane Claiborne.
For those us of who care about the Christian scriptures, what are we to make of this mix of billionaire media tycoonery, allegations of phone hacking and bribery, and the Holy Word of God? What are we to make of the fact that every time we buy a Zondervan product we contribute to Murdoch’s mogul-dom, which includes a personal fortune that Forbes pegged at $6.3 billion last year.
I asked Shane Claiborne. His books, Jesus for President (co-written with Chris Haw) and The Irresistible Revolution, are number 3 and 4 on Zondervan’s list of its top sellers. He has long been aware of the Zondervan-Murdoch connection and has considered it carefully.
I admire Claiborne, partly because he cares about ethics – he makes his own clothes and off-sets his air travel – and partly because he lives out his faith in what he calls the “abandoned corners of empire.” His particular corner is the impoverished Kensington neighbourhood of Philadelphia where he lives as part of The Simple Way community. Given his relation to “empire,” I wanted to know why he chose a News Corp company as his publisher?
The Zondervan advantage
“I want to have the broadest readership possible,” Claiborne says by phone, “I don’t want to be someone who just speaks to the choir.” He says smaller publishers have their advantages but the books he has written for them cost “two or three times” more than what they would if Zondervan published them.
Claiborne, who has preached his message via Esquire, Fox News (also owned by News Corp), Al Jazeera and many others, says the key is to “protect the integrity of the message.” If he is convinced the medium won’t change the message, he will work with organizations despite not “[agreeing] with all of their approaches or decisions.”
But even if the message is protected, his work helps enrich a rather well-maintained corner of empire. He feels “conflicted” about this. “I don’t think that the world exists in 100 percent pure and 100 percent impure options,” he says.
To judge, or not to judge
The ongoing News Corp scandal concerns him. “The current issues . . . in England raise all kinds of ethical questions,” he tells me, “and I would hope that a company whose mission is explicitly Christian, as Zondervan’s is, would take the opportunity to bear witness and to speak into the culture which is so terribly fallen.”
Claiborne is not sure if he will write for Zondervan again. He doesn’t rule it out.
There’s good and bad in each of us, he says, “we are called to work on the log in our own eye, and I’m sure as heck trying to work on the compromises that I make so that those are minimal when it comes to integrity.”
Point taken. This is not about demonizing Rupert Murdoch or Zondervan. No rendition of the Bible would condone that. Nonetheless, I’m not ready to say, like former Zondervan CEO Maureen Girkin did in a 2008 Christianity Today article, that “News Corp is a wonderful media giant.”
Preferential option for the lucrative
The allegations that sank News of the World, and have now spread to other News Corp papers in the U.K., demonstrate something about News Corp. They do not demonstrate that ethical integrity trumps the drive for profit at News Corp. News Corp is an aggressive business; it’s motive is to accumulate and concentrate massive amounts of wealth. Presumably it acquired Zondervan because it saw profit potential.
But is the Bible a business opportunity? Does it belong in the News Corp fold? Can we not read about “the least of these” without paying our dues to the greatest?
Or perhaps Murdoch is just an entrepreneur who enables the distribution of important materials (after all, he was awarded a papal knighthood by Pope John Paul II in 1998). Perhaps the world is just too gray to worry about the ethics of Bible publishing. Perhaps writers like Claiborne are subverting or redeeming something in need of redemption. Perhaps I overstate the link between News of the World and Zondervan. It’s just that I believe there should be absolutely no link at all. Bald greed has no place in Bible publishing.
Does God need News Corp?
We do not need to accept this arrangement. Christianity does not need to be about the best and biggest deal, and we can trust that the Good News does not require the help of an unscrupulous empire. Part of me would love to see some readers, writers and retailers engage in some respectful, humble, Gandhian non-participation with respect to the big Bible business. But it seems unbecoming to advocate a boycott of a company that publishes the books of a respected friend. It seems unbecoming to boycott the Bible in any way at all. Alas, I too feel conflicted.
Geez magazine editor Aiden Enns – who once cut the Zondervan label out of the spine of his Bible in protest – suggests a self-imposed tax or tithe on Zondervan purchases. If you buy a $20 Claiborne book, give an additional $2 to a good cause (maybe the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility). Call it the “ethical compromise tax,” or the “sin tax” as Enns puts it. You could also look into whether your denomination has any News Corp investments. The Church of England is now publicly threatening to pull its $6 million share in News Corp.
As for non-participation, all I know for sure is that I don’t want a penny of my money going to fuel the News Corp empire, regardless of the path it takes from my wallet to Murdoch’s. Fortunately for me, the last time I crossed paths with Shane Claiborne he gave me a copy of the most recent Zondervan publication he collaborated on, Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. I offered him warm thanks – it’s a great book – then said with a smirk, “this way none of my money needs to go to Zondervan.”
Will Braun is a former editor with Geez magazine, where this post originally appeared. Will Braun can be reached at wbraun [ at ] inbox [ dot ] com.
Image courtesy of Darryl Brown, Aiden Enn, and Geez.
7/14/2011 6:07:52 PM
The epistolary genre bursts with warmth. From love letters to modern e-epistles, personal correspondence may contain little complaints, funny stories, and big successes piled together with equal weight and candor. The reader of such a letter, after all, is generally a sympathetic listener, a person predisposed to find the complaints valid, the anecdotes amusing, and the triumphs worth applauding.
There are charming epistolary fiction books that make me want to write letters, like Anne of Windy Poplars (1936) and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society (2009), but occasionally we are granted the voyeuristic pleasure of reading a real letter between friends, as in Joan McClure’s wonderful 1969 letter to her college friend Aliceann, reprinted in The Brooklyn Rail (May 2011). A mother and graduate student, McClure writes about passing her linguistics exams, grouses about ironing her children’s clothing, and gossips about her neighbors with equal fervor and dry wit.
“I agree with you that housework is a total bore, and the only thing that has kept me going these past few years is my studies,” writes McClure to her friend, clearly a kindred spirit. The letter provides an honest, ungutted glimpse into the late 1960s, when an aspiring linguist felt the pressure to also be a perfect housekeeper and mother:
One day this week it was 90 degrees and [my neighbor] Maria got up at 3:30 a.m. and cleaned, and did three loads of wash and some ironing. By the time the kids got up, she was ready to go shopping. First she gave them baths and washed their hair. Then they went shopping all morning. After lunch she took an hour’s nap, which restored her for the evening’s activity: painting one wall in the playroom, cleaning the paneling, cooking a big meal for her husband…, putting the sprinkler out and watching her kids and mine because I had to teach that evening, and after the kids were in bed, washing the entire living room wall. You can imagine how much she does on a cool day.
Like tiny brushstrokes, the details of McClure’s letter reveal the portrait of her life now, distanced from her college days. It’s a privilege to read such a correspondence, to be privy to the unguarded intimacy between friends. “I’m going to have another party for my students this summer,” writes McClure toward the end of her long, tender missive. “How I wish you could come.”
Source: Brooklyn Rail
Image by Muffet,
licensed under Creative Commons.
7/12/2011 11:38:25 AM
The art of cursive handwriting is at a crossroads. Touch-typing on a computer keyboard has replaced hand-writing on a sheet of paper so fully that the Indiana Department of Education, in a memo to the state’s elementary school principals (April 25, 2011), has officially canceled cursive writing from the state curriculum, replacing it with keyboarding.
Some educators have been calling for the end of handwriting for years. But handwriting is not an antediluvian method of communication to be tossed aside in favor of e-learning, reports the Los Angeles Times (June 15, 2011). The motion of writing out letters and words and sentences by hand stimulates the brain in a way that keyboarding does not. Perhaps it is not so different than the way reading a book activates the brain differently than hearing the same information or watching it on a television screen. None of this is to say that computers and TV can’t be educational, but the tactile, memory-creating relationship between you and your language lessens once the re-creation of the letters by your own hand is taken out of the equation.
Like math class, the brain-taxing work of penmanship is not simply about its practical application in daily life, Jason Wire reminds us (Matador, July 8, 2011):
I get it. We type more often than we write nowadays. But I also use calculators more often than I long-divide, and I’ve never once used the slope formula in my everyday life. In high school I loathed calculus, seeing it as pointless and irrelevant, until I realized math class is more about exercising the brain than ensuring life-long memories of equations. Why is cursive handwriting not seen the same way?
It bears mentioning that a child who never learns to write cursive will also never learn to read cursive. The neglected art has already created a generation of schoolchildren, from third graders on up through high schoolers, to whom cursive is a foreign alphabet. Claudette Sandecki met the written language barrier head-on (Terrace Standard, July 6, 2011):
Replying to my posted letter written in the cursive style I was taught 70 years ago, a teenager told me bluntly, “I can’t read your handwriting. Type.”
...[A] teen said she leafed through her grandmother’s journal shortly after she died, but could barely read her cursive handwriting. “It was kind of cryptic, like code.”
Is it flimsy nostalgia that makes me want the next generation to be able to read a historic text or a card from their grandpa? I think not. I think, rather, that it’s wildly practical to maintain cursive in the classroom and not turn handwritten documents into indecipherable codes.
And we needn’t fear that classroom time on penmanship will have a luddite effect on our children. The Zaner-Bloser Company, venerable publisher of handwriting lesson plans, has revitalized its handwriting curriculum for the modern era, including interactive whiteboard-ready digital resources that allow students to handwrite letters on a touch screen.
Source: Los Angeles Times, Matador, Terrace Standard
Image by EraPhernalia Vintage,
licensed under Creative Commons.
7/8/2011 10:21:33 AM
Ernest Hemingway’s suicide in 1961—fifty years ago on July 2—“remains one of the iconic American deaths,” writes Robert Roper for Obit Magazine. “He has come close to being remembered as much for his death as for his work, a terrible fate for a writer.”
Not only was Hemingway a rock star author in his time, but he also transformed himself into an icon of some his day’s biggest socio-cultural changes. Which is, of course, why American readers are perpetually interested in Hemingway’s suicide. Barrel-chested, he personally stood for liberty and against Fascism before it was fashionable. Paranoid depression crippled him at the beginning of a new era of neuroscience and psychological therapy. And Hemingway’s problematic, overblown masculinity drew near-universal ire from a burgeoning, radicalizing feminist movement.
Summarizing a few of Hemingway’s biographers, Roper notes that suicide was often close to the author’s thoughts:
The times just after finishing a book were some of the worst for him. Even in his robust roaring ‘20s, world-famous as an author already, he talked often about having night terrors, about feeling “contemptible,” about being afraid he was losing control—“you lie all night half funny in the head and pray and pray and pray you won’t go crazy.” In a love letter to the woman who would become his second wife, he wrote, “I think all the time I want to die.” A love letter! The inner Hemingway was agonized, was ever on the cross.
Further, the British journal The Independent argues that Hemingway’s bravura was a misread cry for help, that “when you inspect the image of Hemingway-as-hero, you uncover an extraordinary sub-stratum of self-harming. You discover that, for just over half of his life, Hemingway seemed hell-bent on destroying himself.”
But in a recent op-ed column for the New York Times, his friend and biographer A.E. Hochner posits a new theory: He was harassed to despair by the FBI. Hemingway often speculated that his phones were bugged, that he was under surveillance, that he was in danger. Only after a Freedom of Information Act released Hemingway’s FBI dossier did Hochner discover the truth:
Decades later, in response to a Freedom of Information petition, the F.B.I. released its Hemingway file. It revealed that beginning in the 1940s J. Edgar Hoover had placed Ernest under surveillance because he was suspicious of Ernest’s activities in Cuba. Over the following years, agents filed reports on him and tapped his phones. The surveillance continued all through his confinement at St. Mary’s Hospital.
Not only did the American way of life come to destroy Hemingway, but Hemingway’s suicide came to traumatize generations of male American writers. “In a dialogue published in the June 1986 edition of Esquire,” remembers the Los Angeles Times’ Reed Johnson, “the writers Ken Kesey and Robert Stone cited Hemingway’s suicide as a critical blow to the American male psyche, which led some men to embrace an alternative ideal of masculinity. ‘He tricked us into following his mode, and then he conked out and shot himself,’ Kesey says of Hemingway.”
Ernest Hemingway’s career, personality, and legacy are controversial—and will ever remain so. Closing the profile in Obit Magazine, Roper asks us all to take a step back from our political agendas and literary preferences. He concludes, “That so large and memorable a personage was so entirely without hope so much of the time awakens compassion.”
Sources: The Independent, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Obit Magazine
Image by tonynetone, licensed under Creative Commons.
7/5/2011 1:55:36 PM
How much would you pay for the latest book from your favorite author? Would you shell out the full ticket price at the local independent bookseller, or would you jump on Amazon and get the e-book or a discounted copy shipped from some centralized distribution warehouse? And how much would you pay to hear the author read a fraction of the book? Fifty dollars? Ten dollars? Nothing?
Partially out of survival, some authors and independent booksellers have begun charging admission for literary readings. The causes are numerous, and mostly digital: cheap e-tailing, social marketing, the popularization of e-books, among others. “It’s ironic, of course, that as writers become more available online, face-to-face interactions may be put behind a paywall,” laments Alizah Salario at The Millions. “And if open access to readings diminishes, will readers grow more familiar with an author’s brand than with the real person behind a text?”
Salario argues that an admission mutates author readings into “artistic commodities” and predicts that economic transactions will change the nature of book readings so that patrons will expect to get (and authors expect to provide) much more than a simple recitation. “Will authors feel compelled to offer something tangible in addition to words intoned?” she writes. “Will they pass out cookies and break into song?” Whether this cheapens or enhances the reading probably depends on the author and the venue. A few years back, Minneapolis’ punk rock concert venue the Triple Rock Social Club hosted Anthony Bourdain to read from his book No Reservations and field audience questions. The gritty atmosphere of the Triple Rock perfectly complemented Bourdain’s off-the-cuff, vulgar personality. With some creative presentation and unconventional venue choices, admissions may expand the realm of what a literary event can be, where it can be held, and who is likely to listen in.
This trend has spurred a lot of conversation and provoked a number of competing viewpoints. Vol. 1 Brooklyn finds nothing wrong with charging admission:
The answer is that (hopefully) you aren’t paying to hear them read. (Hopefully) you are paying to help keep your local indie bookstore afloat . . . Be excited you’re doing this, because you know what else you could be doing? Hanging out in a bar you don’t like, among people you don’t know, who are talking about things you don’t care about, and then, all of a sudden, two hours have passed and you’ve spent double the amount you would have spent had you gone and paid to see Ms. Fancypants 20 Under 40 read from her work of historical fiction.
On the other side, Ellen at Wormbook thinks that free author events are crucial. “They offer a literary culture that is priceless, not priced,” she writes. Literary agent Miriam Goderich of Dystel & Goderich remembers all the literature she’s purchased on a lark after a free reading: “How many times did I walk out of a book store with a title I had no intention of buying when I went in after stumbling upon an author reading from his/her book?” What’s more, charging an admission (even a paltry $5 ticket) may further alienate the literati from the lay readership.
The work that independent publishers and undiscovered authors do is important and always in danger, but it’s still hard to tell whether monetizing author events and making them more exclusive will be benefit the literary community or beleaguer it.
Sources: Dystel & Goderich, The Millions, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Wormbook
Image by BEYOND BAROQUE, licensed under Creative Commons.
7/1/2011 3:29:40 PM
Here is a collection of poems to take with you as you head off into the long 4th of July weekend, courtesy of Poets.org. Bring one of each color to your family bbq and give your family a real treat. Or, just take William Carlos Williams’ “The Red Wheelbarrow.” With the wheelbarrow, the (blue) water, and the white chickens, you’re pretty much covered.
The Red Wheelbarrow
by William Carlos Williams
A Red Palm
by Gary Soto
A Red, Red Rose
by Robert Burns
by Barbara Guest
by Amy Lowell
The Red Poppy
by Louise Glück
by Tess Gallagher
will the red hand throw me?
by Matthew Rohrer
by Jean Valentine
Red Quiet, Section 3
by Mei-mei Berssenbrugge
Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
by Anne Sexton
The White Fires of Venus
by Denis Johnson
The White Room
by Charles Simic
by J. Michael Martinez
White Box (Notes)
by Laura Mullen
by Marvin Bell
my dream about being white
by Lucille Clifton
The White Horse
by D.H. Lawrence
by Lisa Olstein
by Donald Hall
by Elizabeth Alexander
Waking in the Blue
by Robert Lowell
by Li-Young Lee
At the Blue Note
by Pablo Medina
The Weary Blues
by Langston Hughes
The Blue Terrance
by Terrance Hayes
The Blue Stairs
by Barbara Guest
The Blue Anchor
by Jane Cooper
by David Baker
Vision from the Blue Plane-Window
by Ernesto Cardenal
translated by Jonathan Cohen
Image by buggolo, licensed under Creative Commons.
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