2014 Hurston/Wright Awards Honor Giovanni, Buluwayo, Wilder, and Johnson

Nikki Giovanni received the 2014 Hurston/Wright North Star Award for her 45-year career as a social justice poet. - peoplewhowrite

Nikki Giovanni received the 2014 Hurston/Wright North Star Award for her 45-year career as a social justice poet.

Founded in 1990 by writer Marita Golden and historian Clyde McElvene, the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation celebrated their 24th year supporting African-Americans in literature at an annual awards gala at the Carnegie Library in Washington, DC.

For her 45-year career promoting social justice through her poetry, the Foundation honored Nikki Giovanni with the North Star Award.  “She has been a determined witness and eloquent advocate of cultural change in America,” the judges said of their decision to fete the poet.

Fiction judges Dana Johnson, Tina McElroy Ansa, and A.J. Verdelle selected NoViolet Buluwayo’s debut We Need New Names for the Foundation’s Legacy Award. “We see NoViolet’s great characters, their entrapments, their miseries, their hungers and we also see ourselves,” they said. “It felt like an imperative read,” added Marita Golden, co-founder of the Hurston/Wright Foundation.

Craig Steven Wilder’s Ebony & Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities won the non-fiction prize, with judges Amy Alexander, Sheryll Cashin, and Fredrick C. Harris specifically calling out Wilder’s exposure of “the blood-soaked ties between slavery and high education and higher education in America.”

Amaud Jamaul Johnson’s poetry collection Darktown Follies was recognized for “balanc[ing] the false and ugly with the beauty and truths” of Black Vaudeville and minstrel shows.

“I think it is a great time to be a black writer,” Golden said, according to The Washington Post. “If a publisher says no, you can say, ‘Yes,’ and self-publish…..As long as there are cultural organizations like Hurston/Wright, as far as I’m concerned, the glass is not half full, but it is overflowing for black writers.”

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The Myopia of Privilege

Jill Abramson and Dean Baquet, the publication's first African-American to hold the post. - peoplewhowrite

Jill Abramson, the New York Times‘ first female Executive Editor, was fired and replaced by Dean Baquet (r), the publication’s first African-American to hold the post.

Two weeks ago, Jill Abramson, former Executive Editor of the New York Times and the first female to hold the post, told a room of young women writers to have “some fucking respect” for Alessandra Stanley. Referring to the social media backlash her onetime Times colleague received for her “tone deaf” characterization of Shonda Rhimes as an “angry black woman” (not to mention Stanley’s agreement that actress Viola Davis is “less classically beautiful” than Kerry Washington and Halle Berry), Abramson offered Stanley’s 1990s coverage of the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill sexual harassment case as reason to give the writer a pass. Anita Hill is a black woman, you see, and Stanley stood up for her.

Ironically, Abramson made this oblivious comment at the inaugural BinderCon Symposium–a conference that grew out of the instantly viral Facebook group Binders Full of Women Writers, which itself was inspired by 2012 Presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s assertion, during a debate, that he had had to go to “a number of women’s groups” for help finding women to employ. “They brought us whole binders full of women,” Romney said.

That Abramson would even bring up Stanley, when the discussion had theretofore centered on her experiences as a woman at different prestigious publications and the circumstances surrounding her ousting from the Times, is evidence of the age old, but ever spry, tension between feminism and racial justice initiatives. In the ongoing battle for human rights in America, black women have often been forced to choose between civil rights and women’s rights, and in New York University’s Vanderbilt Hall where Abramson was speaking, the black women in the room were being given the same ridiculous, impossible ultimatum.

Abramson’s remarks were symptomatic of the myopia of privilege, and the narrow focus privilege politics can take by extension. In the effort to topple the privilege totem, we can often construct our own towers, effectively excluding those outside our membership or association circle–insensitive to (or compliant with) our own perpetuation of exclusion.

Throughout her keynote conversation with journalist Emily Bell, Abramson spoke proudly of the nearly 50:50 (women: men) masthead she achieved during her tenure at the Times. She detailed how she aggressively fostered female growth at the Grey Lady, connecting with women staffers outside the office for standing bonding sessions. But when Abramson was subsequently asked about her efforts to racially diversify the New York Times newsroom, she answered much like Romney had: Hiding behind the lack of proportional racial representation across the entire industry, she claimed she had personally attended conferences and visited other venues seeking to recruit (binders full of?) people of color.

Whether we’re talking about writing for an outlet like the New York Times or writing a book, the industry of letters is notoriously exclusive and exclusionary. If you’re not weeded out because you can’t afford to take a low-paying editorial position and hang in there for the years/decades it could take to climb up the food and salary chain, or if you don’t have the luxury of taking advantage of a(n unpaid) month(s)long writers’ residency because you have to report to a job; you could be excluded because you’re self-published, as authors of so-called vanity books are often ineligible for the major prizes and literary awards that come with financial remuneration, publicity, and access to a powerful network. You could be ghettoized because of your identity as literary reviews disproportionately review books by male authors. Or you could be a victim of rolodex nepotism–cut out of the game because of who you don’t know, or where you didn’t go to college or graduate school.

Abramson probably had a myriad of personal and professional reasons for sticking up for Stanley despite the problems with her piece on Rhimes. But those reasons are probably not unlike the ones held by the white men that created a climate in which Abramson felt she had to be vigilant about cultivating women’s ascendancy at the Times in the first place.

When it comes to interrogating power and access, we have to ask ourselves: are we against privilege only when it excludes us, or because it excludes at all? Who deserves to be shown some “fucking respect”? Who doesn’t?

"Game of Thrones" Author's TV Writing Break Came After the Failure of His Fourth Book

Game of Thrones Author George RR Martin_peoplewhowriteGeorge R.R. Martin told the Wall Street Journal‘s Christopher John Farley, “The greatest setback I ever faced was the failure of my fourth novel The Armageddon Rag.”

“I was a hot young writer,” explains. “Each novel that I wrote got a bigger advance…and until I wrote  The Armageddon Rag that seemed par for the course. I got the biggest advance I’d gotten to date. It got great reviews. It was nominated for the World Fantasy Award. My publishers were certain it would be my first bestseller. And nobody bought it.”

The Game of Thrones creator says the book’s poor sales made it impossible to sell his fifth book, and forced him to consider selling his house, but, “Oddly enough, the very book that ended my career as a novelist opened my career in Hollywood.”

Watch the video to hear how it went down.

Simon and Schuster Cuts Multi-Year Deal With Amazon

Simon and Schuster Agreement with Amazon_peoplewhowrite

What does Simon and Schuster’s deal with Amazon mean for the e-tailer’s dispute over ebook pricing with Hachette?

The New York Times says: “Amazon told Hachette it wanted e-books to be cheaper while also reportedly seeking a greater share of the revenue from each sale. The negotiations were widely viewed by traditional publishers as an attempt to establish a new benchmark that would increasingly diminish their roles.

Perhaps Hachette’s refusal to commit helped inspire Amazon to make an agreement with Simon & Schuster. If so, a deal might inspire a settlement with Hachette. A Hachette spokeswoman declined to comment.”

Hugh Howey asserts: “There’s another advantage to this deal for Simon & Schuster. Pressure for higher ebook prices comes from print retailers, who don’t want to be undercut. Publishers aren’t stupid; they know they can sell more ebooks at a lower price and make money doing so, but they worry about harming existing partnerships. S&S can now price some ebooks high, knowing that Amazon has room to discount, and they can go to the buyers at their major accounts with the digital list price to show their support. That is, the blame for the eventual lower sale price will fall on Amazon, which brick and mortar outlets already loathe, and S&S gets to look like a champion. Meanwhile, they are giving up a percentage of margin to help Amazon discount. Everyone wins. Especially the customer.”

The Wall Street Journal reports: “Douglas Preston, a Hachette author who heads Authors United, a group of more than 1,500 writers that has publicly pressured Amazon to reach a deal with Hachette, said he wants to know whether Amazon has offered Hachette the same terms as Simon & Schuster.”

CNN.com probes: “Could both sides have really come away feeling good about the result? Maybe so — it could be a compromise in the best sense of the word. But it won’t quiet the complaints about Amazon’s behavior, most recently from The New York Times columnist Paul Krugman in a Monday op-ed.

‘By putting the squeeze on publishers, Amazon is ultimately hurting authors and readers,’ Krugman wrote. He concluded that ‘what matters is whether it has too much power, and is abusing that power. Well, it does, and it is.'”

Ursula K. Le Guin Earns Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters

Ursula K. Le Guin - peoplewhowrite

Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula Kroeber Le Guin has joined an esteemed list of writers including Toni Morrison, Joan Didion, and Philip Roth to receive the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Harold Augenbraum, the Foundation’s Executive Director said of the writer whose career has spanned four decades, “She has shown how great writing will obliterate the antiquated – and never really valid – line between popular and literary art.”

Most recently, Le Guin has been in the news for her involvement with Authors United, a group of bestselling and high-profile authors pressuring Amazon to back down in its dispute with publisher Hachette and stop “refusing orders” of books published by Hachette. The New York Times‘ David Streitfeld wrote: “Referring to how Amazon is making Hachette books harder to buy on its site, [Le Guin] said, ‘We’re talking about censorship: deliberately making a book hard or impossible to get, ‘disappearing’ an author.'”

Richard Flanagan Has Won the 2014 Man Booker Prize

Richard Flanagan has won the 2015 Man Booker Prize - peoplewhowrite

Richard Flanagan

Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North beat out To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua FerrisWe Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy FowlerJ by Howard JacobsonThe Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee, and How to be Both by Ali Smith to win the 2014 Man Booker Prize, worth £50,000. According to BBC.com, the chair of judges AC Grayling said he and his fellow jurors debated for three hours before reaching a majority decision. “The two great themes from the origin of literature are love and war: this is a magnificent novel of love and war,” Grayling said.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Flanagan’s sixth novel, is inspired by Flanagan’s father. A Japanese prisoner of war in the 1940s, the elder Flanagan was forced to help build the Death Railway between Bangkok, Thailand and Rangoon, Burma in 1943 to support Japanese forces. Over 100,000 people died in construction of the railway.

“He trusted me, he never asked me what the story was,” Flanagan told the BBC. The book took him 12 years to finish. “But I did talk to him often about very small things. What the mud was like, what the smell of a rotting tropical ulcer that had eaten through to the shin bone exactly was. What a tiny ball of sour rice would taste like when you’re starving, what starvation felt like in your belly and your brain.”

The day he finished the novel, Flanagan’s father, 98, died.

This was the first year the Man Booker Prize was open to English Language writers outside the Commonwealth. The Tasmania-born author remarked “In Australia the Man Booker is sometimes seen as something of a chicken raffle. I just didn’t expect to end up the chicken.”

Journalism Tips from Wall Street Journal Columnist Teri Agins

Teri Agins, author of "Hijacking the Runway: How Celebrities Are Stealing the Spotlight from Fashion Designers" - peoplewhowrite

Teri Agins

Fashionista.com got some great intel from Teri Agins, author of the new book Hijacking the Runway: How Celebrities Are Stealing the Spotlight from Fashion Designers, for aspiring journalists. Leveraging her 25 years reporting on the fashion business, Agins shares the stories behind some of her biggest pieces to drop some serious gems. Take note of the main points below, and check out the full piece on Fashionista:
“…if you want to be a good journalist, you need to know how to use a courthouse, know how to read a docket sheet, know how to talk to judges and read through a lawsuit and see what you need to see.”

“The first big story I did was in 1990 about this designer named Gordon Henderson, who was fighting with his financial backer, this guy named Ricky Sasaki. …I won an award for this story, because I found out his salary, I got some really inside stuff on them, and that story kind of put me on the map. It wasn’t like he was a big time designer, but it was a nice kind of inside look. So I always tell young journalists, when you’re trying to do a story, go for a story that’s doable. Yeah, it would have been nice to do that story on Karl Lagerfeld, or Oscar [de la Renta], or Calvin Klein and Barry Schwartz. But you know that story’s unbeatable.”

“I always try to establish with a source that I am not here to sell your clothes, I am here to tell a story. …I also feel like, in the course of reporting sometimes, you’ll find something incendiary about somebody. At the Journal we had something called the no surprise rule. A subject or a source is not supposed to read a story and be surprised by it. If they wouldn’t come to the phone, we would fax them questions, if they wouldn’t take questions, we’d send them to their attorney. We would give them a chance. A lot of times, they’re going to be mad at it, and it’s just too bad.”

“Go to a lot of B and C events. The A events, you might not get invited anyways. But the B and C events, there might be more time to stand around and talk to people. …You want to get the story that everybody else doesn’t have. If you’re staring at the same fashion show at the same time, you’ll have the same story that everybody else has. You want to find the counterintuitive story that is going to resonate with people.”

Publishers Weekly: In 2013, Industry Salaries a Little Higher, Diversity Sorely Lacking

Last month, Publishers Weekly published results of their annual survey of publishing industry salaries. The survey included questions related to job security, and, for the first time, questions about racial diversity. A few of the findings below: Screen Shot 2014-10-11 at 11.33.22 PM Editors' salaries in 2013 via Publishers Weekly - peoplewhowrite Racial Diversity in the Publishing Industry_peoplewhowrite More survey results here.

Young People Say They'll Pay More For Print than E-Books

Millennials prefer print books to digital reads_peoplewhowrite

Part of the results Adweek yielded from a straw poll of 18-34 year olds in New York City.

Last week, Adweek.com posted results from a millennial-on-the-street poll that contradict the cliché of the “smartphone-addicted twentysomething who spends her free time posting selfies on Instagram, sharing BuzzFeed lists on Facebook and creating socially conscious hashtags on Twitter”. Nearly two weeks earlier, The Bookseller announced findings from their own poll. Both showed that young people (in the US and the UK) prefer reading print books to digital. Perhaps more telling for the future economics of book writing and publishing though, is that the millennials surveyed said they are not willing to pay print book prices for e-books.

“In our research,” explained Luke Mitchell, Director of Voxburner, the company that conducted the survey for The Bookseller, “70% said that £6.99 was a reasonable price to pay for a paperback but only 10% were prepared to pay the same for an e-book.” Mitchell added, “Online retailer Amazon was the most popular sales channel, used by 75% of respondents, but high street bookshops were also in favour, with 73% of young people choosing to buy their books through this channel. Some 37% purchase titles at supermarkets, 37% go to charity shops, 34% use independent bookshops, and 13% use online retailers other than Amazon.”

In their ongoing dispute with publisher Hachette over e-book prices, Amazon has said selling e-books to readers at lower prices than print books could actually be a boon to writers and publishers.

In an open letter to the industry via their website ReadersUnited.com, the Amazon Books Team explains:

For every copy an e-book would sell at $14.99, it would sell 1.74 copies if priced at $9.99. So, for example, if customers would buy 100,000 copies of a particular e-book at $14.99, then customers would buy 174,000 copies of that same e-book at $9.99. Total revenue at $14.99 would be $1,499,000. Total revenue at $9.99 is $1,738,000. The important thing to note here is that the lower price is good for all parties involved: the customer is paying 33% less and the author is getting a royalty check 16% larger and being read by an audience that’s 74% larger. The pie is simply bigger.