Remembering Why We Write

Angela Flournoy on remembering-why-we-write - peoplewhowrite

Angela Flournoy’s debut novel The Turner House has been shortlisted for the Center for Fiction’s 2015 First Novel Prize and longlisted for the 2015 National Book Award. Most recently, Flournoy was named to the National Book Foundation’s annual 5 under 35 list.

Read Angela Flournoy’s full conversation with Tayari Jones on

Kirkus Prizes Announces Second Annual Awards Contenders

Valeria Luiselli is the author of The Story of My Teeth - peoplewhowrite

Valeria Luiselli is the author of The Story of My Teeth

Kirkus, the book review and editing service, has announced the finalists contending for $50,000 per category for its second annual prize. The winners will be announced on October 16, 2015 at a ceremony in Austin, Texas.

The Incarnations by Susan Barker
A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff (also longlisted for the 2015 National Book Award)
The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli; translated by Christina MacSweeney
The Book of Aron by Jim Shepard
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (also on the 2015 Man Booker Prize shortlist and the 2015 National Book Award longlist)

Between the World and Me: Notes on the First 150 Years in America by Ta-Nehisi Coates (also on the 2015 National Book Award longlist)
Whirlwind: The American Revolution and the War that Won It by John Ferling
H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931 by Adam Tooze
Pacific: Silicon Chips and Surfboards, Coral Reefs and Atom Bombs, Brutal Dictators, Fading Empires, and the Coming Collision of the World’s Superpowers by Simon Winchester
The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World by Andrea Wulf

Picture Book
The New Small Person by Lauren Child
Lillian’s Right to Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by Jonah Winter; illustrated by Shane W. Evans

Middle Grade
Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan
Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras by Duncan Tonatiuh

The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough
Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

Last year, Lily King’s Euphoria, Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, and Kate Samworth’s Aviary Wonders Inc.: Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual took the inaugural Kirkus Prizes for fiction, non-fiction, and young readers’ literature, respectively .

Four Writers Named to 2015 MacArthur 'Genius' Class

Ta-Nehisi Coates - peoplewhowrite

Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Ben Lerner, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Ellen Bryant Voigt have been inducted into the MacArthur Foundation’s 2015 Fellows Class, alongside 20 other ‘Geniuses’.

As National Correspondent at The Atlantic, Coates has written a number of illuminating articles about the impact of race and racism in American life including the 2013 National Magazine Award Winning “Fear of a Black President” and 2014’s “The Case for Reparations” which earned the 2015 Harriet Beecher Stowe Center Prize for Writing to Advance Social Justice. His most recent book Between the World and Me, released in July 2015 and shortlisted for a 2015 National Book Award, was an instant bestseller. Last week, Coates and comic book icon Marvel announced Coates will pen a new Black Panther series.

Ben Lerner is the author of the novels Leaving the Atocha Station and 10:04, and the poetry collections The Lichtenberg Figures, Angle of Yaw, and Mean Free Path, among other projects. Leaving the Atocha Station earned the runner-up honor for the 2013 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature and made the shortlist for the 2013 James Tait Black Prize10:04 was shortlisted for the 2nd Annual Folio Prize. 

The playwright behind 2007 Broadway hit In the Heights and the 2015 release Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda is also an actor, composer, and lyricist whose credits include Bring It On: The Musical, tick, tick…BOOM!Merrily We Roll Along, and “21 Chump Street,” for This American Life.

Ellen Bryant Voigt has authored eight poetry collections Claiming Kin, Forces of Plenty, KyrieThe Lotus Flowers, Two Trees, Shadow of Heaven, Messenger: New and Selected Poems 1976-2006, and Headwaters.

As E-Book Sales Slip, Publishers Invest in Print Over Mobile

Kindle users can switch between reading and listening without leaving the app - peoplewhowrite

Kindle users can switch between reading and listening to a book without leaving the app

Yesterday’s New York Times features a story that indicates publishers are no longer “seized by collective panic over the uncertain future of print.” In “The Plot Twist: E-Book Sales Slip, and Print is Far From Dead“, writer Alexandra Alter reports that publishers are, in fact, investing more in print:

Publishers, seeking to capitalize on the shift, are pouring money into their print infrastructures and distribution. Hachette added 218,000 square feet to its Indiana warehouse late last year, and Simon & Schuster is expanding its New Jersey distribution facility by 200,000 square feet.

Penguin Random House has invested nearly $100 million in expanding and updating its warehouses and speeding up distribution of its books. It added 365,000 square feet last year to its warehouse in Crawfordsville, Ind., more than doubling the size of the warehouse.

This outsize investment in shoring up print seems to ignore another finding in Alter’s piece—that “a growing number of people are reading e-books on their cellphones.” Shouldn’t publishers be investing in mobile; particularly in ways readers can seamlessly transition from print to mobile without losing their place in a book—same way they can with an e-reader and certain audio reading apps?

Anything could change as far as our collective dependence on our mobile phones. Yet another study could come out that details how the diodes of light our cellphone screens emit are searing our optic nerves, followed by a campaign to #lookaway or #shutdown and #spendtimenotselfies. But right now, telecommunications companies are investing heavily in content that can be pushed from mobile devices. It’s no coincidence Nigerian internet and phone data company Etisalat sponsors an eponymous literature prize. This in mind, shouldn’t publishers be paying closer attention to these trends and figuring out how to get in on or ahead of them?

Simon and Schuster President and CEO Carolyn Reidy is quoted as asking: “Will the next generation want to read books on their smartphones, and will we see another burst come?” I hope publishers are actively seeking and leading the charge in arriving at the answer.

On Relatability

Mira Jacob is the author of The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing - peoplewhowrite

Mira Jacob

Mira Jacob wrote the critically applauded novel The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing which she says was thoughtfully and enthusiastically handled by her publishers. But as she went around the country and world promoting the 2014 release, she found certain members of the press, and some readers, unable to get past the fact that though she is Indian her story touches upon universal themes applicable to people of all backgrounds. Whether it was a radio show producer calling her characters’ East Indian names confusing or a donor at a book festival party remarking on her good English, Jacob writes on of a frustrating battle to alert people to the fact that white people, and white audiences, are not the only people or audience there is; and that she and her writing are not as “different” as some might assume. Even more demoralizing, as she tried to explain all of this to a room full of publishing industry professionals, she says many of her colleagues were not listening.

Here’s an excerpt of what Jacob had to say:
Mira Jacob on race and writing_peoplewhowrite

This producer feared his audience would not be able to relate to Jacob’s characters or story if they were not dumbed down, but as Jacob wrote, “American audiences are capable of so much more than some in your industry imagine.”

I’ve written here before that I willingly embrace being categorized as an African/etc writer. I am proud of who and what I am, and I do believe that the many things that make me who I am inform my writing to a large extent. I also believe that the reticence by some to be so labeled is because certain labels are more confining than others. An “American writer” or a “British writer”, for example, is not usually judged as being unable to tell a universal story or pigeonholed to write particular content, while writers of color or expressed sexual orientation or avowed religious affiliation have traditionally been charged with / expected to produce a particular kind of content. For my part, I aim to embrace my identity markers even as I break their expected molds, just by being myself. This ambition notwithstanding, it is not any less exhausting to be ignored, glazed over, or assumed to be a certain way because people only see or hear one thing when they meet you.

The point of a category or synopsis is to help you filter out the clutter of choice and get a snapshot to assist you in making a decision — it is not meant to enable you to stop at the superficial. Kind of like dating, you know what you tend to like physically or what your “type” tends to be, but soon after making contact, you have to determine if there is something more, underneath the surface, connecting you. This is why you might be surprised to find yourself dating or marrying someone who isn’t usually your type.

Relatability is not solely contingent on a shared background, race, gender, class, etc. While points of similarity are definitely powerful connectors, they are not the only ones and they are not always the most meaningful. As poet Sherman Alexie found out/Michael Derrick Hudson exploited, they can lead us astray if we don’t move past the surface. As Mira Jacob pointed out in her speech, refusing to delve deeper or resting in the instinct to make snap judgments about people who don’t look or sound like you is counter to “solid, actual business sense”. She adds, “White Americans can care about more than just themselves. They really can. And the rest of us? We are DYING to see ourselves anywhere. …There is a vast, untapped audience out there. You need to get to us.”

The 2015 International Press Freedom Award Winners Announced

AP reporter Kathy Gannon to receive lifetime achievement award at 2015 International Press Freedom Awards - peoplewhowrite

Kathy Gannon, The Associated Press’s Special Regional Correspondent for Pakistan and Afghanistan to receive lifetime achievement honor at 2015 International Press Freedom Awards

The Committee to Protect Journalists has announced the recipients of their 2015 International Press Freedom Awards via a press release distributed on Tuesday September 15th. The winners are:

  • Zone 9 bloggers of Ethiopia, a group of bloggers of which six were arrested, imprisoned, and charged with terrorism in retaliation for critical reporting;
  • Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, “Zunar,” of Malaysia, CPJ’s first cartoonist awardee, who is charged with sedition and faces a potential 43-year jail term for drawings lampooning high-level abuse in the Malaysian government;
  • Cándido Figueredo Ruíz, a Paraguayan journalist who faces death threats and has lived under 24-hour police protection for the past decade because of his reporting on drug smuggling on the Brazil-Paraguay border; and
  • Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, a Syrian citizen journalist collective and one of the few independent news sources that continues to report from inside the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed capital.
  • The Associated Press’s special regional correspondent for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Kathy Gannon, will receive the Burton Benjamin Memorial Award for lifetime achievement in the cause of press freedom.

ABC World News Tonight anchor David Muir will host the award and benefit dinner honoring the winners in New York on November 24, 2015.  Steven R. Swartz, President and CEO of Hearst, is the dinner chairman.

The People Who Write Questionnaire: Carla Drysdale

Carla Drysdale, award-winning poet and author of Inheritance - peoplewhowrite

Award-winning poet Carla Drysdale is the author of Inheritance

If your life (so far) were a book, what would the title be?
Now that’s a hard one. Let’s see: The Writing Cure, The Unimportance of Being Earnest, Stayin’ Alive

What is the greatest story ever told?
The one that saves you and helps you see things as they really are.

Who is the greatest literary character ever created?
The Little Mermaid

Which living or dead writer would you most like to share a meal with?
Very hard to narrow down, but definitely Alice Munro or Margaret Atwood.

What is your favorite word right now?

What word has always looked or sounded strange to you?

How many words have you written today?
Between my morning pages, journal, emails, poetry and the novel, probably a couple thousand. If I’m lucky, a phrase or two will make it into print.

Where have you had your most exhilarating writing experience?
Sitting at my desk with pen and notebook in the corn crib studio at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.

What is the thing about writing that you most deplore?

What is the thing about writing that you most love?
The possibility of transformation by putting the right words in the right order.

What stereotype about writers have you found to be true?
Self-absorbed and self-critical

What’s the biggest misconception about writers/writing?
That answering a question like this would be easy for writers. Writers, like all humans, are caught in a tangle of misconceptions about their fellow humans on a minute to minute basis, which makes great material for writers. A moment of clarity is worth everything.

What’s the one thing no one would ever guess about you from reading your writing?
That I love listening to deep house and electro music while cleaning the kitchen after my family’s evening meal.

Inheritance, poems by Carla Drysdale (Finishing Line Press) - peoplewhowriteCarla Drysdale’s first full-length collection of poems, Little Venus, was published in 2010 by Tightrope Books in Toronto. Her first chapbook of poems, Inheritance, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press in October 2015. Her poems have appeared in PRISM, The Same, LIT, the Literary Review of Canada, Canadian Literature, The Fiddlehead, Global City ReviewLiterary Mama and in the anthology, Entering the Real World: VCCA Poets on Mt. San Angelo. In May, 2014 she was awarded PRISM’s annual Earle Birney poetry prize for her poem, “Inheritance.” She received an MFA in Poetry from Sarah Lawrence College. Born in London, Ontario, she lives with her husband and two sons in Ornex, France.

Who Should Take Home 2015 National Book Awards?

Lauren Groff's Fates and Furies is in contention for the 2015 National Book Award for Fiction. - peoplewhowrite

Lauren Groff’s novel Fates and Furies is in contention for the 2015 National Book Award for Fiction

UPDATE: The winners are Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman (Young People’s Literature), Voyage of the Sable Venus by Robin Coste Lewis (Poetry), Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Non-Fiction), and Fortune Smiles: Stories by Adam Johnson (Fiction).

The 2015 National Book Award longlists for Young People’s Literature, Poetry, Non-Fiction, and Fiction were announced this morning. Which have you read? Who do you think should / will win?


Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M.T. Anderson

The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson

This Side of Wild: Mutts, Mares, and Laughing Dinosaurs by Gary Paulsen

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

X: A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz, with Kekla Magian

Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson


Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude by Ross Gay

Scattered at Sea by Amy Gerstler

A Stranger’s Mirror by Marilyn Hacker (Hacker was longlisted for a 2015 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation)

How to Be Drawn by Terrance Hayes (recipient of a 2014 MacArthur “Genius” Grant)

The Beauty by Jane Hirshfield

Voyage of the Sable Venus by Robin Coste Lewis

Bright Dead Things by Ada Limón

Elegy for a Broken Machine by Patrick Phillips 

Heaven by Rowan Ricardo Phillips (Phillips is a 2015 Guggenheim Fellow)

Mistaking Each Other for Ghosts by Lawrence Raab


Rain by Cynthia Barnett

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Mourning Lincoln by Martha Hodes

Hold Still by Sally Mann

The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery

Paradise of the Pacific by Susanna Moore

Love and Other Ways of Dying: Essays by Michael Paterniti

If the Oceans Were Ink: An Unlikely Friendship and a Journey to the Heart of the Quran by Carla Power

Ordinary Light by Tracy K. Smith (Winner of the 2012 Pulitzer for Poetry and the recipient of the 2014 Academy of American Poets Fellowship)

Travels in Vermeer: A Memoir by Michael White 


A Cure for Suicide by Jesse Ball

Refund: Stories by Karen E. Bender

Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg (also longlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize)

The Turner House by Angela Flournoy (also shortlisted for the Center for Fiction’s 2015 First Novel Prize)

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Fortune Smiles: Stories by Adam Johnson (Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son won the 2013 Pulitzer for Fiction

Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson  

Honeydew by Edith Pearlman

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (also shortlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize)

Mislaid by Nell Zink

A Word of Encouragement: No, You Shouldn't "Just Give Up" on Your Writing

Been toiling for years without “breaking through” and feeling mighty mediocre? The writer behind New York Magazine‘s “Ask Polly” column has some thoughts on that. Here’s a snippet of the response she gave a writer struggling to decide if she should just give up on her writing:

Don't give up on your writing because Oprah hasn't come calling. Be grateful for your gift and use it with honesty, responsibility, and integrity, while you have breath and sound mind_peoplewhowrite

In other words, don’t give up on your writing because Oprah, or anyone, hasn’t come calling. Be grateful for your gift and use it with honesty, responsibility, and integrity while you have breath and sound mind.