Lydia Polgreen is the new Huffington Post Editor-in-Chief

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Lydia Polgreen

Lydia Polgreen, a former New York Times associate masthead editor and editorial director of NYT Global, is succeeding founding editor Arianna Huffington at the Huffington Post. In an interview she gave the news and opinion site, Polgreen indicated how she plans to steer the content focus in the wake of the media echo chamber the 2016 election exposed and exacerbated. She said HuffPo has the “potential and the possibility of really meeting this populist moment that we’re living in and meeting people where they actually are.”

Polgreen added, “just as there were moments when the Washington Post or The New York Times or the Times of London during World War II had a huge mission, we, too, have a huge mission. And that is to listen, to report, to tell stories, to seek out the stories and voices that aren’t being heard, even ones that might feel uncomfortable to us.”
lydia-polgreen-is-the-new-huffington-post-editor-in-chief In a 2014 report commissioned by A.G. Sulzberger, son of Polgreen’s former employer New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger, the Times’ Newsroom Innovation Team acknowledged that HuffPo “in just a few years has eclipsed The Times in total readership.” The report cited advice from “a former leader of The Huffington Post… [who] told us that if we want to improve our reach, we must think differently about what it means to publish a story: ‘At The New York Times, far too often for writers and editors the story is done when you hit publish. At Huffington Post, the article begins its life when you hit publish.'”

2016 Miles Morland Shortlist Announced

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Julie Iromuanya, author of Mr. and Mrs Doctor, is shortlisted for a 2016 Miles Morland Scholarship

The fourth annual Miles Morland Scholarship for African writers has announced an impressive shortlist:

*Abdul Adan – Somalia (Shortlisted for the 2016 Caine Prize; Founding member of the Jalada collective)

*Jekwu Anyaegbuna – Nigeria (Shortlisted for the 2012 Commonwealth Short Story Prize: Africa; Shortlisted by novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for the Farafina Trust International Creative Writers’ Programme)

*Ayesha Harruna Attah – Ghana (Shortlisted for the 2010 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize; author of two novels including Harmattan Rain and Saturday’s Shadows)

*Rotimi Babatunde – Nigeria (Winner of the 2012 Caine Prize; Longlisted for the 2015 Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award; included in the Africa39 Anthology)

*Dayo Forster – Gambia (Author of Reading the Ceiling)

*Amy Heydenrych – South Africa (Author of the short story “The Money Shot“)

*Abubakar Ibrahim – Nigeria (Author of The Season of Crimson Blossoms, The Whispering Trees, Daughters of Bappa Avenue, and The Quest for Nina;  winner of the 2016 Nigeria Prize for Literature; included in the Africa39 Anthology)

*Nneoma Ike-Njoku – Nigeria (Author of the short story “Daddy Lagos;” Recipient of a Writing for Peace Young Writers Prize)

*Julie Iromuanya – Nigeria (Author of Mr and Mrs. Doctor; Shortlisted for the 2016 PEN/Faulkner Award and PEN/Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction; Longlisted for the 2016 National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Prize for Debut Fiction and the Etisalat Prize for Literature)

*Hamse Ismail – Somalia (Author of the short story “Mediterranean Bird: A Quest for Love in Paradise,” a Mandela Washington Fellow at the University of Delaware in Newark)
William Ifeanyi Moore – Nigeria (Author of Lonely Roads and 30/30: Short stories on love, life and other such nonsense)

*Lidudumalingani Mqombothi – South Africa (Winner of the 2016 Caine Prize)

*Nick Mulgrew – South Africa (Author of Stations, The Myth of This is that We’re All in this Together; Co-Editor of Water: New Short Fiction from AfricaFounder of the poetry press, uHlanga)

*Otosirieze Obi-Young – Nigeria (Author of “The Lion in Harmattan;” 2015 Pushcart Prize Nominee)

*Okwiri Oduor – Kenya (Winner of the 2014 Caine Prize; included in the Africa39 Anthology and One World Two: A Second Anthology of Global Short Stories)

*Adeola Opeyemi – Nigeria (Editor at WriteHouse Collective)
Olawale Olayemi – Nigeria (Freelance Writer)

*Troy Onyango – Kenya (Winner of the 2016 Inaugural Nyanza Literary Prize)

*Mary Ononokpono – Nigeria (Winner of the 2014 Golden Baobab Prize for Early Chapter Books; Shortlisted for the 2015 Miles Morland Foundation Scholarship; included in the anthology of Water: New Short Fiction from Africa)

*Koye Oyedeji – Nigeria (Writer; Critic; Literature Professor)

*Bryony Rheam – Zimbabwe (Author of This September SunWinner of the Best First Book prize at the 2010 Zimbabwe Book Publishers’ Association Awards)

*Sandisile Tshuma – Zimbabwe (Honourable Mention in the 2010 Thomas Pringle Awards for the best short story published in a newspaper or journal in southern Africa in the preceding two years)

 

The Miles Morland Foundation will award one Fiction grant of £18,000 to be paid monthly over the course of 12 months, and one Non-Fiction scholarship at the discretion of the Foundation of up to £27,000, paid over an 18 month period.

Election Post-Mortem

It’s been almost a month since candidate Donald Trump became President-Elect Donald Trump, and among the many other things his win has exposed, it has revealed how easy it is to exploit our balkanized news media to selfish ends. In principle, journalism is about enlightening the public with “information that is accurate, fair and thorough,” but, many news articles today amount to extended Facebook posts or Tweets–heavy on opinion and personality, with less concern for fact.

Opinion columns (by unpaid contributors) are arguably integral to the business model of news outlets like The Huffington Post, and opinion sections take up more and more real estate on sites like TheGuardian.com. Cable news shows are populated by hosts and pundits unabashedly affiliated with right- or left-wing agendas, and cable news stations are either run by outspoken supporters of the right or left, or billing themselves as stations that will deliver news stories in a way that appeals to supporters of the right or left.

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Fox News Host Sean Hannity appeared in a pro-Trump political video, a conflict of interest considering he was reporting on the election for the network. In response, a network spokesperson told POLITICO.com: “We were not aware of Sean Hannity participating in a promotional video and he will not be doing anything along these lines for the remainder of the election season.”

Then there’s Facebook and Twitter. With most Americans consuming or learning of breaking news via social media, and these outlets serving up only the content their mysterious and ever changing algorithms believe we want to see based on who and what we most interact with, engaging with the news has become a masturbatory exercise.

We are only exposed to the ideas and stories we either already agree with or want other people to know about. But if we are reading or watching only the outlets that reflect our persuasion or only following people we agree with online, we block the opportunity to broaden and inform our perspectives with legitimate points of opposition, and we lose basic human empathy for one another.

People who don’t agree with us are dismissed as “liberal elites” or “wing nuts”–us vs. them. We calcify in our respective corners, not speaking to or hearing each other, which makes us easy pawns for interests and individuals that don’t care about us or them. The truth becomes less important than “message,” and whosever message is most seductive wins.

Watching many of the political analysts on both Fox and CNN at points during the campaign cycle, it seemed clear their sole concern was delivering their candidate’s message. Period. Message for the sake of message, even when their message was inconsistent.

For example, in one breath, a Trump supporter would leverage a scathing critique of Bill Clinton’s treatment of women, championing their candidate’s trotting out of Clinton’s female accusers–then, in the next breath, dismiss Donald Trump’s bevy of accusers as pawns of the liberal media. Likewise, a Hillary Clinton supporter would rail about Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns, but ardently defend her refusal to release transcripts of her speeches to Wall Street firms or her infamous deletion of multiple emails. Ironically, far right outlets seemed to express little alarm at the fact that the Russian government was alleged to be behind the leaks of DNC and Hillary Clinton campaign emails–but cited her handling of classified emails and their potential exposure as criminal.

This faction impulse is understandable. As Ann Friedman wrote in a pre-election post for New York Magazine entitled “Supporting Hillary While Reckoning With Bill’s Sexual Past”:

With an openly racist accused rapist running as the other party’s nominee, it doesn’t seem like the right time to voice any of my concerns with Hillary as a candidate. Certainly not now, in the final weeks of a campaign that offers no room for nuance. And certainly not when it’s apparent that most of Trump’s defenders care more about defeating Hillary than about ensuring survivors’ voices are heard.

But faction mentality is easily duped by exaggeration and outright fiction.

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“I don’t like fooling people,” said Yaman A., creator of three fake news sites including Hot Global News. His motivation? “It’s really just the money.” 

This summer, Buzzfeed posted an interview with a teenage creator of three fake news sites who admitted that many of the stories he creates mislead and incite fear, and influence political perception, but says he actually has no political affiliation. “It’s really just the money,” he admits, that motivates him.

We need Google to adjust their algorithm to clearly identify fake news sites. We need our news sources, including Facebook and Twitter, to segregate actual news from fake news and opinion/editorial pages, as they (still try to) do with news and advertising/sponsored posts.

If there aren’t already, we need laws in place to ensure that unbought, unaffiliated journalists are delivering the news, not people with financial or career interests tied to specific individuals or corporations. We need our newsrooms to keep pushing to reflect diversity of backgrounds and perspectives so the news is balanced and corrected for implicit biases.

Additionally, we need to talk about money.

The internet has created a bottomless desire for content, but since there is no bottomless source of money, online news outlets are paying far less than they pay print journalists, and, as a result, less experienced, sometimes untrained writers are taking more of these jobs. Additionally, since internet journalism is even more dependent on nabbing a scoop before a competitor to increase their Google search rank and, ultimately, the amount of revenue they can charge advertisers, fact checking is de-prioritized, added to the writer’s plate rather than a professional’s, or non-existent.

We need publications with healthy fact-checking teams to ensure the news we get is accurate. We need some sort of protective provision for news gathering publications so they don’t have to be profitable or account to shareholders, and, thus, be beholden to clicks and shares in the same way as a blog or retail site.

If we believe our news media is rigged or biased, we need to hold them accountable. We need to burst our own bubbles.

Bob Dylan Won the Nobel Prize in Literature!

bob-dylan-wins-nobel-prize-in-literature_via-nobel_peoplewhowriteOur cultural definition of literature has officially been blown wide open with the Swedish Academy’s award of the Nobel Prize in Literature to songwriter Bob Dylan. Past prizes have recognized essayists, playwrights, poets, novelists, and writers of various genres of non-fiction prose, but this is the first time the Nobel has been awarded to an artist primarily known for writing songs.

The Swedish Academy awards lifetime achievement in six categories–Physics, Chemistry, Literature, Medicine, Peace, and Economic Sciences–evidently using “Literature” as a catchall for all arts and letters genres, while approaching the sciences with a bit more nuance. This reading of Literature in the broadest sense has sparked confusion, derision, and appreciation at the inclusion of an artist most people have heard of.

@n_martinsson tweeted: “Probably the first time I have works of this years Nobel Prize winner in my Bookshelf.” @chrispbone added: “Bob Dylan, imma let you finish, but Geri Halliwell wrote some of the best songs of all time.” @sabrinajeria wrote: “Nothing against Dylan but it’s a shame so many incredibly deserving novelists were overlooked.” The Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami, Kenyan writer Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, and British Indian author Salman Rushdie had been among a shortlist of rumored frontrunners for the prize.

We’ll have to wait and see how the Academy’s honor of a non-traditional literary life will impact the tastes of acquiring editors at the publishing houses, but with venues for consuming literature changing by the minute–see Wally Lamb’s plans to release his upcoming sixth novel via an app, Beyonce’s collaboration with Warsan Shire on her album Lemonade which led to a sales spike and widespread recognition for the Somali poet, and Aziah King‘s viral twitter tale of a stripper’s wild weekend in Florida–our collective understanding of what literature is will continue to expand. Not to mention the fact that telecommunications companies are expressing interest in adding literature to the content they serve up to subscribers.

These developments open up the possibilities for how literature can be experienced and expand what readers will expect from their literary content. This expansion will eventually reflect in the work editors publish.

It’s already evident in the literary prize landscape. The Goldsmiths Prize was founded in 2013 specifically to “encourage more risk-taking among novelists, editors and agents alike,” with Goldsmiths creative writing professor Blake Morrison observing, “There’s an idea that innovative and genre-busting books are bound to be inaccessible. We don’t believe that’s the case.”

Writers like Eleanor CattonTeju Cole , and Zadie Smith have also been interrogating traditional forms and experimenting with new ways to tell compelling stories for some time now. Catton won the 2013 Man Booker Prize for her novel The Luminaries which was in excess of 800 pages and chronologically structured around zodiac signs. Likewise, Cole has been lauded for his literary use of Twitter (I love his seven short stories about drones), as well as the stream of consciousness style of his 2011 novel Open City.

The Guardian‘s review of Smith’s 2012 novel NW noted “The whole of the first section is defined by its resistance to genre…” The Washington Post review further explained:

Each of the four sections of “NW” demonstrates a different form. There’s no second-person narrator or anything as weird as a PowerPoint presentation, but the longest part of “NW” is divided into 185 short, numbered sections, ranging from straightforward narrative to menu items, quiz answers, IM chats and even stage directions. I sympathize if you have no patience for this sort of experimentation, which can seem so graspingly avant-garde, but Smith uses the swirl of these disparate elements to illustrate the complexity of modern life.

Additionally, though “alt lit” has been declared “dead,” the genre also signals a hunger among writers and readers for alternative narrative expressions.

As writers, whether we choose to be more experimental with our work or double down in our obeisance to more classically literary forms, the box-breaking genre defiance that’s happening in and around literature doesn’t have to be scary if we are prepared for it. But prepare we must. Like it or not, “the times, they are a’ changin’.” (I had to.)

National Book Awards 2016

UPDATE: The 2016 National Book Award Winners are:

FICTION
Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad

NON-FICTION
Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America

POETRY
Daniel Borzutzky’s The Performance of Becoming Human

YOUNG PEOPLE’S LITERATURE
John Lewis, Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell’s March: Book Three

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Arlie Russell Hochschild

The National Book Awards, set for November 16th, has named the 20 authors who earned a spot on their 2016 shortlist. Among them, 2002 MacArthur Fellow Colson Whitehead, former Guggenheim, Fulbright, and Mellon Fellow Arlie Russell Hochschild, and Jacqueline Woodson whose book Brown Girl Dreaming earned the 2014 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.

FICTION
Chris Bachelder’s The Throwback Special
Paulette Jiles’ News of the World
Karan Mahajan’s The Association of Small Bombs
Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad
Jacqueline Woodson’s Another Brooklyn

NON-FICTION
Arlie Russell Hochschild’s Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right
Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America
Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War
Andrés Reséndez’s The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America
Heather Ann Thompson’s Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy

POETRY
Daniel Borzutzky’s The Performance of Becoming Human
Rita Dove’s Collected Poems 1974 – 2004
Peter Gizzi’s Archeophonics
Jay Hopler’s The Abridged History of Rainfall
Solmaz Sharif’s Look

YOUNG PEOPLE’S LITERATURE
Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightingale
John Lewis, Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell’s March: Book Three
Grace Lin’s When the Sea Turned to Silver
Jason Reynolds’ Ghost
Nicola Yoon’s The Sun Is Also a Star

On Validation

0849772fdfc614ba5b0fd66d5b9ef808_400x400I co-lead a monthly writers group as part of the Center for Faith and Work, and before we break off into small groups to workshop our pieces, one of the members leads us in a discussion on a topic centered around the writing life. Last month, Brooke Obie, author of Book of Addis: Cradled Embers (Vol 1), led a talk on validation, a subject that has been coming up for me from a few different directions as I wait for word from my agent on a new manuscript, my birthday approaches, and I take a procrastination break from a new piece I’m working on to write this post.

A few weeks ago, during a Saturday cable watching marathon I stumbled on the movie 5 to 7. The film, about a young writer’s affair with a married French woman nine years his senior, ended with a comment I’ve been pondering since: “Your favorite story, whatever it might be, was written for one reader.” The writer’s reader was his now former lover, and the point he was making was that whoever the writer’s reader is, it is her or his validation that matters most.

As I noted in a previous post about this quote, my reader often changes. Sometimes it’s a client, a boss, an editor, an agent, social media followers. Sometimes my reader is me. And for the purposes of the piece I am pushing out into the world for this reader, their validation is everything.

Brooke directed us to unpack validation itself and how it shapes what and why we write. Here are the questions she invited us to ask ourselves:

  • What role does validation play in your writing?
  • Who are you seeking validation from?
  • How has/does rejection impact(ed) your feelings of validity as a writer?
  • How do you determine which criticism is valid?
  • What are your goals as a writer? (What and who shaped these goals?)
  • When do you feel most validated as a writer?
  • Have you ever felt the presence of God when you’re writing, or felt that you’re “in the zone” when you’re writing? Does this feeling validate your writing/make you feel valid as a writer?
  • What fears do you have that undermine your feelings of validation? How do you deal with these fears?
  • What are your intentions for your writing? What do you hope to achieve? If you achieved it would you feel validated as a writer?

Is it possible to ever feel validated as a writer? Is validation-seeking in and of itself a trap–an indication of a hole that can’t be filled with the expected markers?

Both J.K. Rowling and Elizabeth Gilbert have remarked that validation in the form of bestselling status doesn’t quell the desire to write, or the hope for validation that’s stripped from the expectations, jealousy, and effusive praise that can come with success. And recently, the author of In Her Shoes and other bestselling books Jennifer Weiner bared her heart and admitted her jealousy in a now deleted Facebook post when another writer’s book  was chosen over hers for Oprah’s Book Club–a validation that has eluded her for now.

Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, also a bestselling author, has written about finding validation in the work itself. In a poignant post on her blog, she expressed the importance of maintaining perspective on the accomplishment that completing a piece of writing is: “…I’d internalized so much shame about how my books had performed, that I’d completely forgotten to be proud of the fact that I’d written and published two books in the first place.”

Validation is such a personal quest, determined by ever-shifting internal and external factors, that even trying to unpack it feels bottomless. I think that’s why I appreciate having the above-noted questions handy–a way to spot-check when the insecurities rise, and a reminder to focus on why I write in the first place. I hope the questions are helpful to you too.

6 Writers Earn 2016 MacArthur ‘Genius’ Grants

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Gene Luen Yang

Today, graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang, journalist Sarah Stillman, artist and writer Lauren Redniss, poet Claudia Rankine, writer Maggie Nelson, and playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins were named among 23 artists and scientists receiving 2016 MacArthur Fellowships. Nominated by a committee of “external, invited nominators,” MacArthur Fellows are ultimately selected by 12 jurists to receive a stipend of $625,000, paid in quarterly installments over five years. The FAQs section of the MacArthur Foundation website details: “The fellowship is designed to provide recipients with the flexibility to pursue their own artistic, intellectual, and professional activities in the absence of specific obligations or reporting requirements.”  Last year’s class included Ta-Nehisi CoatesBen LernerLin-Manuel Miranda, and Ellen Bryant Voigt.