Rest in Peace, J. California Cooper

Author J. California Cooper has died. She was 82 - peoplewhowrite

Author and playwright Joan California Cooper died on Saturday September 20th. She was 82.

“…I have found out that life is sure full of lessons. I have seen most people just skip through their life and don’t pay no attention to what they are missing in life: the lessons! The lessons that tell you it’s better to be right, and do right instead of wrong. That will save you from a whole lot of troubles as you go along your way. God runs my life so I don’t have to worry about it.” — from Life is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper.

Authors Take Their Case to Amazon's Board

Authors United Letter to the Amazon Board_peoplewhowriteAuthors United, a group of now 1,078 American writers that has banded together to pressure Amazon to stop “refusing orders” of books published by Hachette, is elevating their complaint. In a letter posted on the group’s website, the listed writers ask the etailer’s Board of Directors: “Do you as an Amazon director approve of this policy of sanctioning books?” Elsewhere in the letter, they admit, “No group of authors as diverse or prominent as this has ever come together before in support of a single cause.”

The (my) hope is that after this dispute is finally resolved, Authors United will express similar outrage at the systems in place that enable one retailer to control the retail distribution of their books in the first place. Writers need to take more ownership of what happens after the publishing deal is signed. We can’t afford to look at our work as solely “the unique, quirky creation of a lonely, intense, and often expensive struggle”. The businesses of book publishing and book selling are built on the creators of books, and we can no longer afford to be handled as “the talent”.

We should have first signatory power of our advances. Agents should provide receipts for all postage and handling and other expenses generated to sell our books to receive reimbursement. Publishers should deliver similar transparency enabling writers to be clear about how their royalty checks are calculated. We should be in the meetings sharing thoughts about how our work should be marketed, and to whom. We should also have more understanding and ownership of the retail deals and outlets associated with our work.

According to the Authors United letter:

“[Amazon’s] sanctions have driven down Hachette authors’ sales at by at least 50 percent and in some cases as much as 90 percent. These sales drops are occurring across the board: in hardcovers, paperbacks, and e-books. Because of Amazon’s immense market share and its proprietary Kindle platform, other retailers have not made up the difference. Several thousand Hachette authors have watched their readership decline, or, in the case of new authors, have seen their books sink out of sight without finding an adequate readership.”

Writers need to work with publishers and booksellers to ensure no one retailer can wield this much power over the livelihood of the business ever again.

Of course, writing is enough work, but the present paradigm is unacceptable.

MacArthur Foundation Grants Four Writers 'Genius' Award

MacArthur Foundation Recipients_Alison Bechdel, Terrance Hayes, Samuel D Hunter, Khaled Mattawa_peoplewhowrite

From top left: Alison Bechdel, Terrance Hayes, Samuel D. Hunter, and Khaled Mattawa.

The MacArthur Foundation has honored “21 Extraordinarily Creative People Who Inspire Us All” with their 2014 “genius grant”, four of whom are writers. Terrance Hayes, Professor of Writing at the University of Pittsburgh, and New York playwright Samuel D. Hunter were recognized for “refreshing traditional templates to create distinctive and innovative work.” Poet and translator Khaled Mattawa earned the honor for “deepening our understanding of contemporary Arabic poetry”. Graphic memoirist and cartoonist Alison Bechdel was esteemed for “redefining paradigms in memoir”. According to the MacArthur Foundation, the honor comes with “a no-strings-attached stipend of $625,000, paid out over five years.” Additionally, “The Fellowship comes with no stipulations or reporting requirements, and allows recipients maximum freedom to follow their own creative visions.

The full list of honorees is below:

Designing new strategies to address persistent social challenges such as securing fair and affordable housing (John Henneberger), protecting civil rights (Mary L. Bonauto), and ensuring equal access to justice for both the victims of crime (Sarah Deer) and the accused (Jonathan Rapping);

Redefining paradigms in algebraic geometry (Jacob Lurie), documentary film (Joshua Oppenheimer), memoir (Alison Bechdel), labor organizing (Ai-jen Poo), and public art (Rick Lowe);

Refreshing traditional templates to create distinctive and innovative work in theatre (Samuel D. Hunter), jazz (Steve Coleman), and poetry (Terrance Hayes);

Probing with original insights into number theory (Yitang Zhang), brain connectivity (Danielle Bassett), and racial bias (Jennifer L. Eberhardt);

Bridging the gap between theory and application in black carbon emissions (Tami Bond), nanomaterials (Mark Hersam), and cryptography (Craig Gentry);

Deepening our understanding of contemporary Arabic poetry (Khaled Mattawa), and the historical roots of empirical science (Pamela O. Long) and national identities in Europe (Tara Zahra).

The People Who Write Questionnaire: Janet Fitch

Janet Fitch, author of PAINT IT BLACK and Oprah Book Club Pick WHITE OLEANDER - peoplewhowrite

Janet Fitch is the author of bestselling novels Paint It Black and White Oleander. She currently teaches a graduate fiction seminar at the University of Southern California.

If your life (so far) were a book, what would the title be?
Go Your Own Way

What is the greatest story ever told?
That God kicked us out of the Garden because Eve ate the apple of the Tree of Knowledge.

Who is the greatest literary character ever created?
Captain Ahab

Which living or dead writer would you most like to share a meal with?

What is your favorite word right now?

What word has always looked or sounded strange to you?
Yellow. Say it: yellow yellow yellow yellow.

How many words have you written today?
500. But it’s still early.

Where have you had your most exhilarating writing experience?
In my office in my desk chair.

What is the thing about writing that you most deplore?

What is the thing about writing that you most love?
When the angels sing.

What stereotype about writers have you found to be true?
Mournful and self-absorbed, irritable and depressive.

What’s the biggest misconception about writers/writing?
That it comes out beautifully, full blown.

What’s the one thing no one would ever guess about you from reading your writing?
What a cheerful person I really am.

Janet Fitch was born and raised in Los Angeles, a third generation Angelino.

She attended Reed College in Portland Oregon, graduating with a degree in history, and attributes much of her storytelling ability to her training as an historian. Since then, she has worked as a proofreader, typesetter, graphic artist, newspaper editor, magazine editor, freelance journalist and teacher of creative writing–not to mention Manpower Temp and worst waitress in Los Angeles. If she spilled coffee on you, she apologizes.

Her second novel, Paint It Black, has just appeared in paperback and in Dutch, Italian, Swedish, German, Hebrew and Polish. Jennifer Jason Leigh performs the audiobook. Fitch’s first novel, White Oleander was an Oprah Book Club selection, and was translated into 24 languages, including Mandarin, Turkish and Finnish. It served as the basis of a motion picture starring Michelle Pfeiffer, and the audiobook is read by Oprah Winfrey. Her early young adult novel, Kicks, sometimes surfaces. The anthology Los Angeles Noir (Akashic Noir) and Black Clock 7 both carry recent short stories.


Bridgett M. Davis: "It takes the time it takes."

Bridgett M. Davis - peoplewhowrite

Bridgett M. Davis

It took Bridgett Davis nine years to write her sophomore novel Into the Go-Slow, and in the process she’s learned some things. Perhaps most poignant (to me, anyway) is her submission to the fact that writing a book “takes the time it takes.” Forget bragging rights (of what a genius you are for writing the book in only X months or years). Keep the pressure of self-imposed deadlines in perspective. Respect your pace and process. 

Davis elaborates in a piece for “A novel takes as long as it needs to take to say the things you need to say in the way you need to say them. Worrying about arbitrary deadlines does not influence the creative process. Nor should you be concerned about “timeliness” or literary trends, which are completely unpredictable elements. My novel is set in Detroit and Lagos, Nigeria — both are places in the news now. Who could’ve planned for that?”

Check out the other insights she gained on the way to publishing her second novel.

HBO Presents New York Review of Books Documentary

“Magazines don’t change the world, but they shape a certain climate of ideas.” – from the forthcoming HBO Doc The 50 Year Argument about the New York Review of Books which suggests discussion of the climate in which editors Robert Silvers and Barbara Epstein founded it (during the publishing strike of 1963). The publication’s “About” page explains its raison d’être as a place where “the most important issues are discussed by writers who are themselves a major force in world literature and thought.” They elaborate:

It is the journal where Mary McCarthy reported on the Vietnam War from Saigon and Hanoi; Edmund Wilson challenged Vladimir Nabokov’s translations; Hannah Arendt published her reflections on violence; Ralph Nader published his “manifesto” for consumer justice; I.F. Stone investigated the lies of Watergate; Susan Sontag challenged the claims of modern photography; Jean-Paul Sartre, at 70, described his writing and politics, and how he felt about his blindness; Elizabeth Hardwick addressed the issues of women and writing; Gore Vidal hilariously lampooned bestsellers, Howard Hughes, Teddy Roosevelt, and the Reagans; Felix Rohatyn made the case for a national industrial policy in an influential series of articles; Peter G. Peterson showed why the present Social Security program can’t last; Joan Didion described, in a firsthand account, the situation in El Salvador; McGeorge Bundy, George Kennan, and Lewis Thomas outlined the nuclear threat; Nadine Gordimer and Bishop Desmond Tutu wrote from South Africa on the conflict over apartheid; Vaclav Havel published his reflections from the Czech underground; Timothy Garton Ash reported on the new Eastern Europe; Mark Danner reported on torture from the CIA black sites; Ronald Dworkin wrote of how George W. Bush’s two Supreme Court appointees have created an unbreakable phalanx bent on remaking constitutional law; Freeman Dyson described the scientist as rebel; David Cole revealed how the Bush Justice Department allowed America to become a nation that disappeared and tortured suspects; articles by Paul Krugman, George Soros, Joseph Stiglitz, and Jeff Madrick explained America’s failing economy; Tom Powers described the George W. Bush administration’s fundamental shift from diplomacy to military action; Martin Filler wrote on the many makers of modern architecture; and where Bill Moyers described the threat to the environment presented by Evangelical Christians.

Probably unrelated to / not mentioned in the documentary, which airs September 29th, but as an FYI, found that in 2012, the periodical disproportionately reviewed male authors (only 22% of female authors were reviewed), only 16% of their reviewers were female, and less than 23% of the bylines were female. They’re not alone in this distinction, hence, #Binders.

Margaret Atwood is Working on a Book that Won't Be Released till 2114

Margaret Atwood - peoplewhowrite

Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood is the first author to sign on for the The Future Library project. Created by artist Kate Paterson, The Guardian writes, “Each year, the Future Library trust, made up of literary experts–and Paterson, while she’s alive–will name another ‘outstanding’ writer who will be contributing to the artwork.”

The trust is banking on readers of the next century consuming these stories in print. 1,000 trees were planted in Nordmarka, Norway to be used for the paper on which each book will be printed. “A printing press will be placed in the library to make sure those in charge in 2114 have the capability of printing books on paper,” the article explains.

As part of the contract, invited writers cannot reveal what they will be writing for their 2114 readers. Atwood said of the project, “I think it goes right back to that phase of our childhood when we used to bury little things in the backyard, hoping that someone would dig them up, long in the future, and say, ‘How interesting, this rusty old piece of tin, this little sack of marbles is. I wonder who put it there?'”

Eleanor Catton, Eimear McBride on Dylan Thomas Prize Shortlist

Eleanor Catton, author of The Luminaries, has been shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize - peoplewhowrite

Eleanor Catton

The 2014 Dylan Thomas Prize Shortlist boasts an emergent literati. Contender Eleanor Catton’s much lauded novel The Luminaries won the 2013 Man Booker Prize. Eimear McBride’s A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing took the 2014 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. Kseniya Melnik‘s debut Snow in May earned a longlist nod for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. Kei Miller‘s The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion was recently shortlisted for the 2014 Forward Prize for Best Collection. Owen Sheers’ Mametz has inspired an exhibit at the National Theatre of Wales. Naomi Wood‘s Mrs Hemingway nabbed the 2014 Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize. Joshua Ferris’ To Rise Again at a Decent Hour was just named to the 2014 Man Booker Shortlist.

Peter Stead, founder and President of the International Dylan Thomas Prize, said the celebrated writers on the list “indicates the extent to which the International Dylan Thomas Prize has earned its place at the forefront of world literature.”

The Dylan Thomas Prize is run by Swansea University and awarded to the best published or produced literary work in the English language, written by an author aged 39 or under. Swansea was Dylan Thomas’ hometown. The prize’s eponymous poet would have been 100 this year.

The winner will be announced in November 2014 at a gala in Swansea in Wales.

The 2014 Man Booker Shortlist is Here

The six titles shortlisted for the 2014 Man Booker PrizeThe 2014 Man Booker longlist has been whittled down from 13 to the six titles on the shortlist. 2014 is the first year authors of any title written in English are eligible–a change that was received with fear that Commonwealth writers would be edged out. Three Brits, two Americans, and one Australian made the cut under the new rules:

Eleanor Catton, author of The Luminaries, won the £50,000 prize last year. Last week, she announced she would be launching a grant that rewards writers not with time to write, but time to read.

The People Who Write Questionnaire: Tope Folarin

Tope Folarin, winner of the 2013 Caine Prize for African Writing

Tope Folarin, won the 2013 Caine Prize for African Writing for his short story “Miracle“.

If your life (so far) were a book, what would the title be?

What is the greatest story ever told?
What a great question. I’m not sure if I can decide on one. Can I cheat and mention an entire category of stories? If so, I would say creation stories. They are usually the first stories we hear, and they help us make sense of the world and our place in it. They provide wonderfully simple and precise explanations for complex phenomena. These stories invite us to become storytellers as well, by prompting us to utilize our earth-bound senses and perspectives to describe things that would otherwise remain inexplicable.

Who is the greatest literary character ever created?
I’m not sure if this counts, but when I was growing up in Utah I was really enamored with the story of John Henry. I found it somewhat unbelievable that an American folktale featured a black character as its main protagonist.

Also, I spent way too much time reading Star Trek: The Next Generation novels as a kid, and so I’ll include Jean-Luc Picard here as well, even though he is technically a television character.

Which living or dead writer would you most like to share a meal with?
James Baldwin. Toni Morrison. Deborah Eisenberg. Tomas Transtromer. Countless others.

What is your favorite word right now?
Logorrhea. It’s a word that sounds like its definition.

What word has always looked or sounded strange to you?
Skullduggery. Never knew what to make of that one. And ‘mischievous’. So many ways to say it.

How many words have you written today?
About a thousand, give or take. Par for the course.

Where have you had your most exhilarating writing experience?
I can’t think of one place in particular. Probably anywhere the ideas are flowing, where it seems as if my fingers are moving on their own volition. This often happens late at night, in my small dining room.

What is the thing about writing that you most deplore?
I like everything about writing. Sometimes – oftentimes – it is difficult. But I enjoy the struggle.

What is the thing about writing that you most love?
Writing offers me an ability to create something. I cherish this immensely.

What stereotype about writers have you found to be true?
For the most part we’re obsessive loners. While we are generally great with fictional people, we can be weirdos around real ones.

What’s the biggest misconception about writers/writing?
That anyone with talent can do it. Talent is just the first step.

What’s the one thing no one would ever guess about you from reading your writing?
That I probably watch more trashy reality TV than I should. Then again, perhaps this interest of mine is apparent in my writing.

Tope Folarin is the recipient of fellowships from the Institute for Policy Studies and Callaloo, and he serves on the board of the Hurston/Wright Foundation. Tope was educated at Morehouse College, and the University of Oxford, where he earned two Master’s degrees as a Rhodes Scholar. He won the 2013 Caine Prize for African Writing for his short story “Miracle”.