The 2015 Caine Prize Shortlist is Here!

Namwali Serpell shortlisted for 2015 Caine Prize for African Writing - peoplewhowrite

Namwali Serpell

The shortlist for the Sixteenth Caine Prize for African Writing has recognized 2005 Caine Prize Winner Segun Afolabi’s “The Folded Leaf”, 2013 shortlistee Elnathan John’s “Flying”, 2010 shortlistee Namwali Serpell’s “The Sack” and F. T. Kola’s “A Party for the Colonel”, and Masande Ntshanga’s “Space”. Of the five stories in contention for the £10,000 prize, Chair of Judges Zoë Wicomb said: “For all the variety of themes and approaches, the shortlist has in common a rootedness in socio-economic worlds that are pervaded with affect, as well as keen awareness of the ways in which the ethical is bound up with aesthetics.”

The winner will be announced at a ceremony at the Weston Library in Oxford, England Monday July 6, 2015. Last year, Okwiri Oduor earned the prize for her short story “My Father’s Head”.

Everything You've Been Dying to Ask an Editor

Editor, Malaika Adero

Malaika Adero

Malaika Adero has worked in pretty much every aspect of the book/publishing business. She started her career as a librarian, was a member of the Howard University Book Publishing Institute’s first graduating class, and worked as a college textbook sales rep before transitioning to editorial. As an editor, Adero spent three decades (at Simon and Schuster, then Amistad Press, then S&S again) publishing books by everyone from Maryse Condé to Prince (to me!). Oh, and she wrote a book called UpSouth: Stories, Studies, and Letters of African American Migrations, and produced the UpSouth International Book Festival. Most recently, she founded the online magazine Home Slice, a destination where readers find thoughtful curation of new reads, cultural events, and other inspirations.

In advance of her May 7th appearance at the 2015 PEN World Voices Festival in New York, she answered a few of the burning questions many writers have about the selection and publishing process.

In addition to good writing that connects with the acquiring editor, what factors determine whether a publisher will acquire a writer’s manuscript for publication?
You’re right to consider that there are factors beside the good quality of the work. Publishers have to consider whether the project is marketable, e.g. Is the author well-known? Is there something about the work and/or the author that is media-sexy? Does the publisher have the influence with the author’s readership and the ability to make the author attractive to media and to retailers? The publisher has to consider whether they can afford the sign the author. The author might command a higher advance than they can pay. They also need to consider their existing commitments: do they have the time and resources to properly support the author and their project?

How does the editor/publisher decide how much of an advance to give a writer? (How much do social media following, and, where applicable, past sales, literary awards, etc factor into this decision?)
Acquiring editors in most publishing companies must create a profit and loss statement, a P&L, which includes their educated guess of how well the book might perform in the marketplace. They base these educated guesses on the sales track record of similar titles.

What should writers beware of in the boilerplate contracts publishers give them to close a deal?
Writers and authors need to pay attention to every clause in a contract. Make sure you keep a copy of your contract. I’m shocked by how often authors don’t have a copy of or haven’t read their contracts.

With self-publishing gaining more respect, and some authors finding success by selling their books via digital platforms/retailers, do you think writers still need agents, editors, and traditional publishers?
Writers need agents 1) to give them access to potential editors and publishers, and 2) to explain publishing practices and culture. They can help you sort out what is common contractual practice and what is not, for example.

You need editorial support to help you refine and polish the work. There are developmental and line-by-line editors to help you shape content, copyeditors to help you correct grammatical and punctuation errors and flag problems, and proof readers. You need other eyes to be sure the work you’ve done is presented in the best light.

How do you see the role of agents, editors, and traditional publishers evolving in the next few years?
In this time of transition, the role of publishing professionals will vary more and more from organization to organization. Writers will want to seek professional support that is tailored to their individual needs.

The current publishing landscape is requiring writers to be as focused on the business of writing as they are on creatively honing their craft. What resources would you recommend authors seek out?
The business of writing and culture has always been important for creatives to keep in mind. The difference now is that enough creatives have suffered that we should know better than to depend on someone else to take care of our business.

2015 Commonwealth Short Story Prize Winners Announced

Commonwealth Writers Short Story Prize Winners 2015_Lesley Nneka Arimah, Jonathan Tel, Mary Rokonadravu, Siddhartha Gigoo, and Kevin Jared Hosein - peoplewhowrite

Clockwise from top left: Lesley Nneka Arimah, Jonathan Tel, Mary Rokonadravu, Siddhartha Gigoo, and Kevin Jared Hosein

Close to 4,000 entries were in contention for the Commonwealth Foundation’s 2015 Short Story Prize, but after a winnowing to a shortlist of 22 at the end of March, the five regional winners were announced today: Lesley Nneka Arimah (Africa), Jonathan Tel (Canada and Europe), Mary Rokonadravu (Pacific), Siddhartha Gigoo (Asia), and Kevin Jared Hosein (Caribbean). Read statements about each winner from judges Leila Aboulela, Fred D’Aguiar, Marina Endicott, Witi Ihimaera, and Bina Shah and listen to the winning stories here. Each winner receives £2,500. The 2015 judges’ Chair was Romesh Gunesekera.

Six Writers Tell PEN, They Are Not Charlie

UPDATE: Junot Díaz, Francine Prose, and Joyce Carol Oates are among a total 35 writers who have expressed the “wish to disassociate ourselves from PEN America’s decision to give the 2015 Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award to Charlie Hebdo.”


The novelists Peter Carey, Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner, Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose, and Taiye Selasi have declined to attend PEN American Center‘s annual Gala because the organization committed to free expression has decided to laurel the controversial French publication Charlie Hebdo with its 2015 PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award. In response, a statement on PEN’s blog reads: “We will be sorry not to see those who have opted out of the gala, but we respect them for their convictions. We feel very privileged to live in an environment where strong and diverse views on complex issues such as these can take place both respectfully and safely.”

In January 2015, 12 people were murdered by a team of terrorists at Charlie Hebdo‘s Paris offices, some speculating the attack was invited because the paper’s staff was preparing a “Charia Hebdo” issue to mock Shariah Law. The tragic assassinations sparked a free speech vigil in which thousands brandished signs that read “Je Suis Charlie”.

But even as virtual supporters made #JeSuisCharlie and its English translation #IAmCharlie a viral rallying cry for absolute respect of free speech, dissenters cautioned that “hate speech” — what they believed Charlie Hebdo had engaged in with routine spoofs mostly aimed at Islam — did not deserve such protection.

In an op-ed entitled, “I Am Not Charlie Hebdo“, New York Times columnist David Brooks pointed out that “If [the journalists at Charlie Hebdo] had tried to publish their satirical newspaper on any American university campus over the last two decades it wouldn’t have lasted 30 seconds. Student and faculty groups would have accused them of hate speech. The administration would have cut financing and shut them down.” Brooks added, “it is inaccurate for most of us to claim, Je Suis Charlie Hebdo, or I Am Charlie Hebdo. Most of us don’t actually engage in the sort of deliberately offensive humor that that newspaper specializes in.”

On the matter, Clarence Page opined in the Chicago Tribune, “even as I defend the heroism of Charlie Hebdo, I would be remiss if I failed to condemn its racism — as well as its sexism, its anti-theism and other attacks against targets that were in much less privileged positions to defend themselves.”

For the New Yorker, Teju Cole inveighed against irresponsible insensitivity, writing, “It is not always easy to see the difference between a certain witty dissent from religion and a bullyingly racist agenda, but it is necessary to try.” Cole continued by calling out the hypocrisy in standing with Charlie Hebdo, when dissenters like John Kiriakou and Chelsea Manning suffered prison sentences for exercising their free speech rights, and Edward Snowden remains on the lam for exposing the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance program of U.S. citizens.

All of these points are well taken, and, as PEN blogged, could not be made publicly in an environment that threatens free — even offensive — speech.

The thing about expression, beliefs, and ideas is that they are always evolving (as they should be). Experiences inform them, even as exchange refines them. Lessons imparted by authority/respected figures in our lives join conversations, debates, and the media we choose to consume to strengthen our position, elevate it, or cause us to reconsider it. If we are not free to speak our minds, even when we may offend, we lose the opportunity to be confronted by our utter wrongness and to get right.

The terrorists’ strategy is to curtail the expression and celebration of anything other than what the terrorists believe, ostensibly to create a world in which everyone believes what they believe, but the reality is even when people believe in the same thing, they do not express or adhere to their belief in the same exact way. Where some struggle, others excel. The point of community, voluntary (religious, civic) and by default (work, school), is to grow through interaction, receiving and giving encouragement, strength, and support where necessary, and trusting that what is right and good and best for the group will prevail in the end. If we cut off communication — or kill the communicators — because we disagree, how can we ever hope to convert them?

As PEN American proceeds with its plans to honor Charlie Hebdo, the organization risks violent retaliation from the same extremists who firebombed the French paper’s offices in 2011 and massacred 12 staffers in January of this year. PEN International runs similar risk when they support writers at risk around the world. And we as writers risk our own safety if we dare to write about things or people that may offend others (as if choosing to enter this financially insolvent business weren’t risk enough). Perhaps this is the only commonality we need to share to be Charlie. That and $1,250 if you want to attend the gala to be held on May 5th, 6:30p at Manhattan’s American Museum of Natural History.

Yiyun Li is First Woman to Win Sunday Times Short Story Prize

Yiyun Li wins Sunday Times Short Story Prize - peoplewhowrite

Yiyun Li

Yesterday evening at London’s Stationer’s Hall, Yiyun Li accepted the Sunday Times Award for her short story “A Sheltered Woman”. She is the first woman to receive the £30,000 prize.

Judge Andrew Holgate tried to explain the inaugural recognition, saying: “I’ve been a judge for all six awards and it is fitting, after seeing so many outstanding female authors on the shortlist each year, to see a woman writer picking up this award. The entrants are read anonymously in the early stages and we have discovered some really fresh new talent over the years, including this year the newcomer Rebecca F John.”

The Bookseller points out that Li has been shortlisted for the prize before. In 2011, her story “The Science of Flight” earned the Sunday Times’ notice. She has also been laureled with the MacArthur Foundation Award in 2010, and the 2005 Guardian First Book Award for her first short story collection A Thousand Years of Good Prayers which was adapted into a film. Also a PEN/Hemingway Award winner, Li was named to Granta‘s list of the 21 Best Young American Novelists under 35 and the New Yorker’s ’20 under 40’ names to watch. She was a Man Booker International Prize judge in 2013.

Now Authors Can Self-Publish via Books-a-Million

Books-a-Million's DIY site for self-published authors_peoplewhowriteBooks-a-Million, America’s second largest bookstore chain, has entered the self-publishing business. Via the company’s new site diy.bampublish.com, authors can choose from publication packages starting at $59 to write, edit, and sell their work in ebook and/or print format on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Ingram and more. Writers can also track sales performance on the site. There’s more info on Publishers Weekly.