As the Chicago Reader reported in June, the long-form cultural criticism journal The Baffler is re-launching. However, there have been few updates about how and when until this week’s blog post, which prompted Baffler fans and lefties everywhere to celebrate the mag’s 15-year publishing deal with MIT Press.
Founded in 1988 by Thomas Frank - author of What’s the Matter with Kansas - The Baffler was Chicago-based and notorious for its goal to "blunt the cutting edge.” This included skewering everyone from bankers to politicians (both sides of the aisle), and stories like Steve Albini’s “The Problem with Music” about indie rock bands and major record labels.
Political and social goals aside,The Baffler has a rocky publication history; it was last published in the spring of 2007; prior to that, it had been on hiatus since 2003. This was partially due to a 2001 fire at their offices and partly to the Baffler’s gleefully anti-establishment bent; for instance, Summers told the Chronicle of Higher Education that the Baffler used to have a “negative subscriber list…It had people they didn’t like so they wouldn’t let them subscribe.”
The new Baffler is more business-savvy. The MIT deal guarantees $500,000 over five years, with three annual issues guaranteed for those years and the first scheduled for March 2012. In addition to journalism and criticism, poetry, short fiction, cartoons, and photographs will be published in print and online. Even better, unlike many contemporary publications, The Baffler will be able to pay their staff and writers. Chicago-based no longer, it will run out of Cambridge, MA, where the new publisher and chief editor (and author of Every Fury on Earth) John Summers lives. Other editors include Frank as founding editor; Chris Lehmann as senior editor, Edwin Frank as poetry editor, and Anna Summers (Summers’s wife) as fiction editor. There’s also a Chicago tie: The managing editor is Eugenia Williamson @eugenia_will, a Chicago native and current Boston Phoenix staff writer (in the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that Williamson and I co-founded the literary blog Literago).
The Baffler’s reputation precedes it. In Chicago, it has been a cultural and artistic touchstone. As Julie Shapiro, Artistic Director of the Chicago’s Third Coast International Audio Festival, remembers, “It was the first ‘smartypants with humor’ publication I really took to...I always considered The Baffler among the "triumvirate" of cultural forces that drew me to Chicago: This American Life, The Baffler, Drag City record label.”
For me personally, a good litmus test of meeting someone has been if the magazine was on their radar or not. The people I wanted to hang out with were usually Baffler readers.
Click here to secure your subscription.
In our digital age form can blur the bounds of work and life. Writers are producing much more than fiction. In a piece about the writer’s role written in 2002 Edward Said said, "Yet at the dawn of the twenty-first century the writer has taken on more and more of the intellectual’s adversarial attributes in such activities as speaking the truth to power, being a witness to persecution and suffering, and supplying a dissenting voice in conflicts with authority."
Identity seems to supersede all else even if many fiction writers are activists who serve a vital role in the community. Each writer must work to define what is life, what is work, what is identity, what is fun, and what of the admixture is for sale or common use.
In the same piece from 2002 Said references a book by Pascale Casanova and relates that “there seems to be a global system of literature now in place, complete with its own order of literariness (littérarité), tempo, canon, internationalism and market values. The efficiency of the system is that it seems to have generated the types of writers that she discusses as belonging to such different categories as assimilated, dissident and translated figures–all of them both individualized and classified in what she shows is a highly efficient, globalized, quasi-market system."
The Independent’s review of the same book stated the issue a bit differently. “But its core concerns the idea of literature, and the metropolitan institutions that define it, as a system of power: of gate-keeping, border controls, admissions and refusals.”
So what has the free-range digital domain done to all of that? What parts of that quasi-market system will provide structure for readers and writers online? Is it wise to allow for so much herd behavior, so many cults of personality?
Well, no. More than ten years after Casanova delineated a system of global literature there is reason to wonder that more powers of protection might not remain.
In a piece entitled It Knows related to all things Google Daniel Soar writes, “Since there are more ordinary people in the world than there are businesses, and since there’s nothing that ordinary people don’t want or need, or can’t be persuaded they want or need when it flashes up alluringly on their screens, the money to be made from them is virtually limitless.”
So the issue of admissions and refusals becomes less about a given piece of fiction getting published and more about what degree of commercialism writers are willing to tolerate. It’s not that readers are not critical thinkers who can’t make their own decisions about the value of a given story. It’s that a large hegemonic power in publishing might be nice to have if literature is contending with the ultra-commercialized powers of Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook.
Northwestern University’s Poetry and Poetics Colloquium proudly announces a partnership with Northwestern University Press for the inaugural Drinking Gourd chapbook poetry prize, a first-book award for poets of color. This will be an annual award combining the efforts of Northwestern’s Poetry and Poetics Colloquium and Northwestern University Press in celebrating and publishing works of lasting cultural value and literary excellence.
Seeking to showcase the work of emerging poets of color, volumes in the Drinking Gourd series will be selected by a panel of distinguished minority poets and scholars and will feature a short introduction by a senior minority writer. Our first prize chapbook will be introduced by the renowned poet, Ed Roberson, who will also publish an accompanying chapbook of new work to launch the series.
Drinking Gourd Chapbook Prize Guidelines:
Winner receives $350 prize money, publication by Northwestern University Press in Fall 2012, 15 copies of the book, and a featured reading. Results announced in March 2012.
Judging will be conducted by a panel of senior minority poets and scholars assembled by the Northwestern University Poetry and Poetics Colloquium.
Poets of color who have not previously published a book-length volume of poetry. Simultaneous submissions to other contests should be noted. Immediate notification upon winning another award is required.
Reading period begins January 15, 2012. Manuscripts must be received by January 15, 2012. To be notified that your manuscript has been received, please enclose a self-addressed, stamped postcard. The winner will be announced on March 15, 2012.
- Send two copies of a single manuscript. One manuscript per poet allowed.
- Enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope to receive notification of results.
- Author’s name should not appear on any pages within the manuscript. Copy One must include a title page with the author’s brief bio (200 words, maximum) and contact information: author’s name, postal address, e-mail address and telephone number. Copy Two must include a cover sheet with the title only.
- Manuscript must be typed single-sided with a minimum font size of 11, paginated and 25-35 pages in length.
- Manuscript must include a table of contents and list of acknowledgments of previously published poems.
- Manuscript must be unbound. Use a binder clip—do not staple or fold. Do not include illustrations or images of any kind.
- Manuscripts not adhering to submission guidelines will be discarded without notice to sender.
- Due to the volume of submissions, manuscripts will not be returned.
- Post-submission revisions or corrections are not permitted.
$10. Enclose check with submission, made payable to Northwestern University.
Direct Packet to:
Northwestern University Poetry and Poetics Colloquium and Workshop
Drinkg Gourd Prize Chapbook Series
Univeristy Hall 215
1897 Sheridan Rd.
Evanston, IL 60208
Attn: Susannah Young-ah Gottlieb
Illegal downloading has wreaked havoc on the music industry, DVD sales have suffered - are ebooks the next? And wouldn't you know it, my alma mater, the University of Michigan, leads the charge of copyright infringement - they tried to give their students and professors access to a digital version of the works of J. R. Salamanca. Wait, you've never heard of him? Well, he did have a bestseller - fifty years ago. Luckily, the Authors Guild was there to sue and set those Wolverines right, the lawless scoundrels.
Now, I don't want to diminish the works of Mr. Salamanca, I would be lucky to sell as many books as he has. But Kevin Smith, Duke's Scholarly Communications Officer (sweet title), notes that the last transaction in their libraries for Salamanca's work from the list was 2004 - when it was sent to "high-density storage." There had been no transactions for the decade prior. Smith points out that Salamanca is far more likely to find new readers via HathiTrust than any alternative the Authors Guild presents.
The Authors Guild is picking battles that are easy to find when the real threats are elsewhere. Michigan, and the other research library members in HathiTrust , aim to preserve books by digitizing them with the help of Google Books. On the side, they sought to provide digital copies of books in the public domain or whose copyright owners could not be found, so called "orphan works." Apparently some of the orphans weren't quite so orphaned. But the real threat to authors and the industry is peer-to-peer file sharing, far more likely with current bestsellers than with anything that could approach orphan status. It's like the music industry going nuts over a copyright dispute regarding Elgar's Sanguine Fan while millions of Rihannadownloads are what they're really worried about. Of course, the peer-to-peer sharing is harder to stop or even identify and makes for poor headlines - hey, we sued Bill from Kankakee for downloading Harry Potter! But what the Authors Guild is doing now is of questionable value, despite the gloating.
I assume you’re up to speed on Occupy Wall Street, but have you heard about Occupy Writers? It’s a website with a fast-growing list of over 1,200 writers (Salman Rushdie, Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, Noam Chomsky, Ursula Le Guin, Michael Cunningham and Northwestern faculty Gina Frangello and Stuart Dybek) who have publicly declared support for the Occupy movement.
Created by author Jeff Sharlet and journalist Kiera Feldman, the site now hosts “occupy writings.” Lemony Snicket’s piece, “Thirteen Observations made by Lemony Snicket while watching Occupy Wall Street from a Discreet Distance” has been tweeted wildly; my favorite parts are numbers ten and eleven:
10. It is not always the job of people shouting outside impressive buildings to solve problems. It is often the job of the people inside, who have paper, pens, desks, and an impressive view.
11. Historically, a story about people inside impressive buildings ignoring or even taunting people standing outside shouting at them turns out to be a story with an unhappy ending.
Alice Walker’s piece praises Princeton professor and activist Cornell West—one of OWS’s most vocal supporters—who was arrested last Sunday:
what a joy it is
to hear this news of you.
that you have not forgotten
what our best people taught us
as they rose to meet their day:
not to be silent
To anyone who believes that writers should also be public intellectuals, this site is bound to feel important. As Francine Prose said in a recent Guardian story: "Since this movement started, I've been waking up in the morning without the dread (or at least without the total dread) with which I've woken every morning for so long, the vertiginous sense that we're all falling off a cliff and no one (or almost no one) is saying anything about it."
I find the list is refreshingly diverse. New York Magazine might have sniffed that it “tends toward the small-press published, lefty magazine editors, and generally highbrow types,” but at least it admits that “It's not without big, big names (Elizabeth Wurtzel, Sasha Frere-Jones of The New Yorker, James Wolcott of Vanity Fair, Ann Patchett, Pulitzer Prize winner Jennifer Egan).
Personally, whenever I see the names Dorothy Allison, Barbara Ehrenreich, Rick Moody, Elissa Schappell, Jonathan Lethem, Barbara Kingsolver, Gloria Steinem, Ayelet Waldman, and Chicagoans Dan Sinker, Zoe Zolbrod, and Sara Paretsky on a list, it’s one I want to be part of. In fact, I may start looking askance at favorite writers not on the list. (I’m looking at you, Michael Chabon, Jeffrey Eugenides, and Pam Houston.)
If you support OWS and have published a book or are a magazine editor, you can add your name. There’s a backlog (because they verify identities), but new names are constantly being added. Follow news at @occupywriters on Twitter.
Digital revolution or not, the transformative powers of fiction give me hope: that lives are not meaningless; that great worlds can be built; that disbelief can be suspended—even if one is full of disbelief; that individual experience is a blessing not a curse; that Maslow and Tony Robbins might have a point but such sentiments are best offered without analysis or sensationalist appeals; that acknowledgments of triumph, adversity, courage, pith, and romance help us beat back whatever beleaguering monotony exists in our diverse realities; that perspective cannot be confused with truth; that poignant aspects of privacy can be shared when we feel as though we’ve tripped on a sidewalk alone; and that while some stories may only be palliative there are many that cure our cultures of the disconcerting plagues that can hardly be identified to great effect any other way than by means of a big, beautiful book.
My faith in fiction is like an eternal flame that shines as a small true light in the darkness of this despairing life.
But form? Jesus. I have absolutely no faith in form right now. None. I don’t want to upset you but you might as well know sooner rather than later. I want you to have some chance of recovering from the blow. Did you know that advertisements are likely going in e-books? Seriously. No joke. Commercials will be in your book. There’s no more meditative sanctum. No private reprieve from incessant marketing efforts by piggy-backing enterprises that cater to personal data sets.
Even if there are those among us who enjoy an advertisement that holds redeeming aesthetic appeal, I don’t think many people relish the thought of brazen intrusions upon a reader’s world. But deal with it as best you can. Any sacred sense you have about the culturally-refined experience a reader and writer share across time by way of the pages of a book is pretty much going the way of all things.
It all sounds fairly ridiculous, but I have to lend a wee bit of sympathy to the poets and their spontaneous protest, though, to be sure, I’m not of the mind that PDA and stripping are brilliant, original, or even interesting manners of protesting the obscene amount of cash the Poetry Foundation received and spent on the slick new Apple Store—I mean, Poetry Center.
To me, the Poetry Foundation calling the cops and pressing charges makes me leery of visiting the place. I was supposed to go to the Zurita reading, and I'm thinking of going to another next week, though now I am not sure I want to (what if I accidentally disrupt the reading Will I get manhandled by goons?). It’s not that I totally sympathize with the protesters, but I do think their actions were harmless enough to be ignored. Pressing charges seems a bit draconian. Let it go, Poetry Foundation, while you still have a shred of credibility.
I'm no expert on the digital revolution's effect on fiction; you'll have to read more of Nath's entries for that. I do, however, have some experience in negotiating and drafting contracts. A recent New York Times article details Amazon's recent forays into publishing and cutting out traditional publishers and sneaks in the elimination of the agent, too. The agent is charged with, among other matters, helping the author find a publisher and negotiating on the author's behalf. The outlook was not all rosy.
The first author the story discusses, Kiana Davenport, signed with a division of Penguin books and received a $20,000 advance. Hey, not bad. Before she finished that novel, she published an e-book of short stories on Amazon. She refused a demand to remove the e-book, so Penguin canceled her contract for the novel and has threatened to sue unless Davenport returns the advance. It is not clear if Davenport had an agent (although she likely did for the novel). It is clear that defending a lawsuit is expensive, even if you win. In summary: author makes good with contract from big publishing house, tries to e-publish on the side, loses contract and faces lawsuit and loss of advance. Perhaps Davenport's tale will have a happy ending, but so far so bad. I wonder if an agent gave advice about the e-book, and what it was.
The second author, Laurel Saville, is presented as the success story. She self-published a memoir, paid Publisher's Weekly to be included in a list of self-published authors, got a postiive review from the magazine, and received an offer from Amazon to re-publish the work, with a different title, with no advance and otherwise undisclosed terms. Strangely, the Times states that the lack of advance means that "[i]n essence, Amazon has become her partner." Seville, who didn't use an agent, adds that "I assume they want to make a lot of money off the book, which is encouraging to me." But all publishers want to sell lots of the their books and make a lot of money doing it. Authors generally get royalties when their books sell, and traditional publishers sometimes pick up self-published works. What makes Amazon more of a partner than a regular publishing house? Without knowing the terms of Saville's agreement, it is impossible to know whether she will be getting more royalties than traditional publishers agree to. What she may gain is Amazon's desire to give the book more publicity than it otherwise would. In summary: author self-publishes book, pays for advertising, gets picked up by Amazon with terms that are impossible to compare but worse up front than traditional houses give, and appears to misunderstand the business model.
This is not to say that Amazon is bad, that publishers are good, or that agents either would have helped in these cases or are in general jolly, generous folk. Agents might be gate-keepers who miss good writing and make money off books they didn't write. However, as President Obama - and now everybody else - likes to say, let us be clear. Amazon is out to make money, just like traditional publishers. Amazon has hired experienced negotiators who know the ins and outs of book contracts. Most authors will be far outmatched in any negotation. Moreover, like Davenport, most authors are not prepared to anticipate and address legal ramifications that may arise with untraditional modes of publication.
In summary: e-publishing might be a wonderful opportunity for authors to "get their work out," and Amazon might step in where other publishers won't, but beware the possible pitfalls. And don't assume that dispensing with an agent is just an easy way to save money.
The perfect bookstore is not perfect because it meets every expectation of what a bookstore should be, as if it conformed to some platonic notion of completeness. Nor is it perfect for exceeding any and all reasonable expectations thrust upon it. Rather, perfection derives from the expectations a bookstore places upon itself, expectations that supplant any preconceptions of what a bookstore ought to be. All that the book lover sees, in this case, is the store in front of him, and he’s so overwhelmed by what it has to offer that he can’t quite remember what it was he expected to begin with.
I feel this way every time I visit the Seminary Co-Op Bookstore on the University of Chicago’s campus. The Co-Op’s selection is wide, deep, and, most significantly, 100 percent garbage-free. It’s in a basement, and color-coded paths taped to the stone floor map its sections. The enthralled browser is sure to bump his head on one of the many exposed pipes. It is what one might expect from a bookstore found inside the business end of a wardrobe: ultimately indescribable in any way other than magical.
I recently read Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn, a novel whose plot and cast of characters call to mind a most complimentary adjective: Dickensian. With Dickens on my mind, and influenced by the wonder of the Seminary Co-Op, I picked up a copy of Robert Douglas-Fairhurst’s Becoming Dickens: The Invention of a Novelist, supposedly an account of Dickens’s early career that ignores the inherited wisdom of Dickens lore. As an aspiring novelist, I’ll take any stitch of Dickens I can get my hands on; it is likely enough to teach by osmosis to be well worth the price.
I would like to say that I had been yearning for more Russian literature in my wanderings, but that would be the sort of lie worth telling only as a punch line. Instead, meandering through the stacks at Seminary Co-Op, I stumbled upon a copy of Turgenev’s Virgin Soil. I was fond of Fathers and Sons as an undergraduate and am still waiting to be convinced that Russian novelists don’t hold the key to the universe.
To round out my purchases, I picked up a copy of Stuart Dybek’s Childhood and Other Neighborhoods. I long ago loaned a copy of Childhood to a friend, and only slightly less long ago gave up on the hope of seeing it returned. Besides, one needs no excuse to walk out of a Chicago bookstore with a Dybek collection in hand.
Like so many other bookstores, the Seminary Co-Op lines its checkout counter with potential impulse buys. The cynic would expect to find here the flavor of the week memoirist or a variety of recycled self-help information. Not so at Seminary. The book that caught my eye and stimulated my impulse was Irish Writers on Writing edited by Eavan Boland. Walking out of the Seminary Co-Op, I was convinced once again of the bookstore’s perfection. With an armful of only four books, I held strong to the conviction that only a perfect bookstore can leave you feeling simultaneously satisfied and invigorated, eager to consume monuments of unageing intellect.
 N.B. The Seminary Co-Op will be moving a block east of its current location in the very near future. It is this author’s opinion that, if you are at all able, you should make a pilgrimage to the current location before that move happens. However, it is also this writer’s opinion that cultural eulogies are as obnoxious as they are useless. Consider this a love letter to the only version of the Co-Op any of us has ever known. The writer of this love letter understands that, as is true of any love worth expressing, adoration of The Way Things Were without an eager eye on the way they will be is no love at all.
After the past week of Indian-summer weather, fall has officially arrived in Chicago. Since I’m a fiction writer and also a sucker for organizational tools, autumn usually means book release events, and registering for the AWP conference. But this year, I’m also trying to apply my organizational zeal to my reading and writing life.
To that end, I set up a “literary” list in my Twitter stream, downloaded several new, free e-books, and am taking stock of my literary magazine-submissions (or, if I’m being honest, the lack thereof).
There are two schools of thought about submitting creative work for publication; one is that publication should not be your ultimate goal—that you should only submit a piece when it’s been through dozens of drafts, and feels “ready” beyond a shadow of doubt; (if a piece of writing is ever really done is another story). The other says after giving a piece due rewriting, it’s best to get the thing out the door while it’s still a living/breathing document, and not strangled by revision. The best approach likely depends on the writer’s personality. Since I tend towards obsessive editing and shyness with my work, for now I’m taking the “get it out the door” approach.
Which brings us to submission logs. Do you other writers keep one? I have an Excel spreadsheet that lists titles of works to submit, magazines to submit to, dates submitted, and the responses. If you haven’t yet created this terribly useful tool, this blog post explains how, noting: “The key to getting published–besides having tight stories and cultivating good networks of relationships with editors and publishers–is simply to have lots of pieces going out all the time.” And Nanci Panuccio, founder of NYC’s Emerging Writers Studio, provides detailed advice (per local writer Joe Meno) here.
The most helpful provide context and depth, like this site, which ranks magazines according to how many Pushcart Prizes were awarded to each over the previous year.
Poets and Writers also maintains a large, alphabetical list of mags that specify genre, the reading period dates, and if simultaneous submissions are allowed. Choose your favorites, organize them by tier, (you might not be quite ready to hit up the New Yorker) and you’re off and running. Well, almost. You still have to actually write.
Which reminds me—the danger with “organization” is that it sounds a lot like “procrastination.” And if I'm going to come clean, here I must admit: my own organizing sessions cluster oddly around deadlines.