The Mystery of the Muse

Where does inspiration come from? Elizabeth Gilbert shared her theory in her 2009 TED Talk:

“[C]enturies ago in the deserts of North Africa, people used to gather for these moonlight dances of sacred dance and music that would go on for hours and hours, until dawn. They were always magnificent, because the dancers were professionals and they were terrific, right? But every once in a while, very rarely, something would happen, and one of these performers would actually become transcendent. And I know you know what I’m talking about, because I know you’ve all seen, at some point in your life, a performance like this. It was like time would stop, and the dancer would sort of step through some kind of portal and he wasn’t doing anything different than he had ever done, 1,000 nights before, but everything would align. And all of a sudden, he would no longer appear to be merely human. He would be lit from within, and lit from below and all lit up on fire with divinity.

“And when this happened, back then, people knew it for what it was, you know, they called it by its name. They would put their hands together and they would start to chant, “Allah, Allah, Allah, God, God, God.” That’s God, you know. Curious historical footnote: when the Moors invaded southern Spain, they took this custom with them and the pronunciation changed over the centuries from “Allah, Allah, Allah,” to “Olé, olé, olé,” which you still hear in bullfights and in flamenco dances. In Spain, when a performer has done something impossible and magic, ‘Allah, olé, olé, Allah, magnificent, bravo,’ incomprehensible, there it is — a glimpse of God.”

Kwame Alexander Wins Newbery Medal and Coretta Scott King Honor

Author Kwame Alexander - peoplewhowrite

Poet and children’s book author Kwame Alexander has written 17 books

Children’s book author and poet Kwame Alexander has won the 2015 John Newbery Medal and a Coretta Scott King author honor for his book in verse The Crossover. Both accolades are given by the American Library Association which also announced Dan Santat’s The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend as the 2015 recipient of the Randolph Caldecott Medal, Marjorie Agosín’s I Lived on a Butterfly Hill the winner of the Pura Belpre Award, and National Book Award-winner Jacqueline Woodson whose book Brown Girl Dreaming earned multiple honors. Read the full list of winners and honorees here.

Rest in Peace, Jack Leggett

Jack Leggett, former director of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, has died. He was 97 - peoplewhowrite

Jack Leggett, author, one-time book publicist and editor, and former director of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, died at age 97, on January 25, 2015.

From the New York Times: “If it can be said that any one person was responsible for Iowa City being celebrated as the center of gravity for the workshop culture in the literary life of America, that person was Jack Leggett,” said Mr. [Bob] Shacochis, who won a National Book Award in 1985 for a collection of stories, Easy in the Islands, written at the Iowa Workshop, and whose novel The Woman Who Lost Her Soul was a Pulitzer Prize finalist last year. “I could never have been a writer without his support.”

Amazon Opens Brick and Mortar Location, Might Buy RadioShack Stores

Amazon's new physical college bookstore at Purdue University_peoplewhowriteAmazon has opened its first physical store, CNN reports. “Amazon has experimented with physical locations before, placing lockers in stores across the country,” the piece makes clear, but this “pickup and drop-off location on the campus of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana” seems to be part of a strategy to open physical retail locations around the country. (This Bloomberg report says Amazon “has discussed acquiring some RadioShack Corp. locations after the electronics chain files for bankruptcy…”)

The move puts Barnes and Noble’s college bookstore business on the defensive. Less than a year ago, the bookseller, which is reportedly the second largest operator of college bookstores, announced a plan to expand its presence on campuses. This after more than two years of challenges to Barnes and Noble’s core business.

In December 2014, the bookstore bought Microsoft out of its stake in the Nook amidst news the e-reader’s value to business had halved. In January 2013, Publishers Weekly reported that Barnes and Noble had chosen to reduce orders of Simon and Schuster titles in alleged retaliation for “not adequately supporting them”, presumably, in their standoff with Amazon which has steadily been eroding their market share to become the primary destination to buy books. Six months later, the company’s then CEO resigned. Throughout, the bookstore has announced store closings even as sales and foot traffic decline.

The bruising news notwithstanding, the embattled bookseller has had a few wins. They refused to carry print books published by Amazon, forcing the nation’s largest e-tailer to focus their print business in Europe. They have a new CEO, Michael Huseby, and they’re still standing. (Can’t say the same for Borders.)

New Snapchat Series Coming to Defy Your DVR

Emily Goldwyn and Sasha Spielberg are the creators and lead writers of a new Snapchat series - peoplewhowrite

Emily Goldwyn and Sasha Spielberg with Snapchat media production director Rylee Ebsen

Appointment television has largely become a thing of the past thanks to DVR, cable programmers’ commitment to marathoning and re-airing shows, and binge-watching enablers like Netflix and Amazon Prime, but the upcoming Snapchat series Literally Can’t Even is bucking the trend–and launching a new outlet for disappearing (disposable?) content. Co-created and written by Sasha Goldberg and Emily Goldwyn, the webisodes will be minutes’ long “snapshots” of the ladies’ lives. (They are Steven Spielberg’s and John Goldwyn’s daughters.) The shoes will disappear 24 hours after airing, and the network, Snap Channel, will not air reruns–kinda like how most of us used to watch TV before 2007. The Hollywood Reporter has the whole story.

Holder Makes It Harder to Subpoena Press As He Leaves Office

Attorney General Eric Holder makes it harder to subpoena the press as he leaves office - peoplewhowrite

Attorney General Eric Holder

Outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder is overseeing revisions to news media guidelines that make it “significantly harder, though not impossible, to demand phone records, notes or emails from news organizations,” according to a New York Times report. Specifically, “Mr. Holder prevented the F.B.I. from portraying a reporter as a co-conspirator as a way to get around a ban on getting search warrants for reporting materials. That rule would have prevented the subpoena in Mr. Rosen’s case. He also made it harder for prosecutors to seize records in secret, as he did in the A.P. case. And he expanded that protection beyond phone records to cover emails and reporting work product, protections that did not exist previously.”

During Holder’s tenure as Attorney General, the Department of Justice secretly seized two months of phone records for 20 phone lines of Associated Press editors and reporters to investigate a leak to the news service. According to, “unnamed officials” were sources in a May 7, 2012 story that reported the CIA had “thwarted an ambitious plot by al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen to destroy a U.S.-bound airliner using a bomb with a sophisticated new design around the one-year anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden.”

Holder defended the seizures in a tense back-and-forth with Congress in May 2013, but the aforementioned Times piece notes he has recently admitted the effort to clamp officials from speaking to the press without approval went too far at times.

Rest in Peace, Kenji Goto

Kenji Goto, a social justice reporter,  was reportedly beheaded by members of the militant group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) on January 31, 2015 - peoplewhowrite

Kenji Goto, a social justice reporter, was reportedly beheaded by members of the militant group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) on January 31, 2015

According to a CNN report, Goto wanted to go to Syria “to get the story of what ISIS wants to do,” explaining, “Syrian people (have been) suffering for three years and a half. It’s enough.” Goto, 47, is survived by his wife and two small daughters. Journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff were also beheaded by ISIS last year. The New Yorker‘s George Packer has a few theories as to why the group is carrying out these executions.