• July 14, 2017

    Liu Xiaobo

    Literary critic and Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo has died at 61. At the New York Review of Books, Perry Link remembers Liu’s life and activism. Link attributes Liu’s independence his upbringing during China’s Cultural Revolution, when schools were closed. “With no teachers to tell him what the government wanted him to think about what he read, he began to think for himself—and he loved it.” Link compares Liu to Chinese President Xi Jinping, who grew up during the same time period but used his time away from the classroom “to begin building a resume that would allow him . . . to one day vie for supreme power.” “Two hundred years from now,” Link wonders, “who will recall the names of the tyrants who sent Mandela, Havel, and Suu Kyi to jail? Will the glint of Liu Xiaobo’s incisive intellect be remembered, or the cardboard mediocrity of Xi’s?”

    Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards is writing a memoir, which will be published by Touchstone next spring. The still-untitled book “will draw on Cecile Richards’ personal stories of fighting for social justice throughout her life, from growing up as the daughter of Ann Richards to her early experiences as a labor organizer,” as well as her work with Planned Parenthood.

    HuffPost is planning a bus tour of the country, in order to “listen and learn what it means to be American today.” Beginning in September, editor in chief Lydia Polgreen will lead a rotating team of HuffPost employees on a trip across the country, which Politico reports will avoid “the coasts for the likes of Fort Wayne, Indiana, Oxford, Mississippi and Odessa, Texas.” According to unnamed sources, the costs of the nation-wide trip could be around $1 million.

    George Andreou is taking over the role of director at the Harvard University Press. Andreou was most recently a vice president and senior editor at Knopf.

    Publishers Jamie Raab and Deb Futter, formerly of Grand Central, are starting a new imprint at Macmillan. Celadon will publish around twenty books of fiction and nonfiction per year.

    Publisher’s Weekly reports that Milo Yiannopoulos and his PR team are artificially inflating the number of copies sold of his new book Dangerous. Although a representative told PW that the book has sold 100,000 copies since it was released last week, the actual numbers from Amazon and BookScan show just under 20,000 have been purchased. In a statement, Yiannopoulos claimed that the higher figure includes books purchased by wholesalers, and that anyone saying otherwise is “fake news.”

  • July 13, 2017

    The Washington Post looks at the Trump administration’s plan to discredit journalists who report on Donald Trump Jr.’s emails. Sources say that the president’s operatives may take on “an extensive campaign” of combing through reporters’ previously published work “to exploit any mistakes or perceived biases.” The New York Times notes that Trump Jr.’s decision to release his emails ahead of the paper’s report may “have long-term implications for the Trumps’ ability to shape coverage.” At the New Yorker, Joshua Yaffa examines Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya’s relationship to the Kremlin, while Jeffrey Toobin looks at whether the emails contain evidence of Trump Jr. breaking the law. At the magazine’s copy desk, department head Andrew Boynton explains the reasoning behind the New Yorker’s decision to format Trump Jr.’s suffix as “Jr.,’s” in a headline, a choice that annoyed many Twitter users. “With ‘Jr.’ occuring in the middle of a line, where else is the possessive indicator supposed to go?” he asks. “Now it can comfortably stand alongside the diaeresis and ‘focussing.’”

    Former Democratic National Committee chair Donna Brazile is working on a book about the 2016 election. Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns that Put Donald Trump in the White House will be published by Hachette Books on November 7, one year after the election.

    Zadie Smith

    Zadie Smith has signed a two-book deal with Hamish Hamilton in the UK and Penguin Press in the US. The first book, a collection of Smith’s short stories, will be published in 2019. The second, a work of historical fiction titled The Fraud, will be published soon after.

    Journalist Dana Canedy has been appointed as the administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes. Canedy is a former editor and reporter at the New York Times, where she won her own Pulitzer in 2001 as the lead journalist on the series “How Race Is Lived in America.” Poynter notes that Canedy is both the first woman and first person of color to administer the prize.

    The Center for Fiction has announced the longlist for the 2017 First Novel Prize. Nominees include George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo and Julie Buntin’s Marlena.

    Translator Anna Summers reflects on her relationship with Russian author Ludmilla Petrushevskaya. Summers recalls a fundraiser that she attended with Petrushevskaya, where “one by one, women sat down on the chair next to her like pilgrims” and told the author their own stories of “mental and emotional turmoil.” Sitting with Petrushevskaya afterwards, Summers found herself doing the same thing. “I suddenly understood why the women pilgrims had flocked to her. Almost without meaning to, I found myself telling her my own tale of marital crisis,” she remembers. “Petrushevskaya transformed: storytelling is her trade, and here was a woman with a story that she had encountered in every possible version and put to paper dozens of times. Plays and small talk were forgotten. An exhausted old woman was replaced by a goddess of wisdom.”  

  • July 12, 2017

    Mika Brzezinski. Photo: Steve Jozefczyk

    Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski has signed a three-book contract with Weinstein Books. The deal includes an updated version of her 2011 book, Know Your Value: Women, Money, and Getting What You’re Worth, which will be published in the fall of 2018. The other two books, Comeback Careers and an untitled guide for job-searching millennials, will be published around the same time. According to Page Six, the deal was already in the works before Trump’s recent tweets, but “it is hoped that Brzezinski could tackle her clash with the president in a new chapter for Knowing Your Value.”

    First Look Media, parent company of The Intercept, is offering financial support to Reality Winner, who was arrested for allegedly providing the website with classified NSA documents. Though the website denies any knowledge of who leaked the information, they feel it is their duty to defend Winner. “We at The Intercept have always opposed the use of the Espionage Act against government whistleblowers,” editor in chief Betsy Reed writes. “Our stand is unwavering and we would object to the prosecution of Winner under the act even if we had no connection to the materials she is accused of disclosing.” The website also conducted a review of their publishing process for the document, and while the full results cannot be released due to the case against Winner, Reed admits that the site’s editorial procedures “fell short of the standards to which we hold ourselves.”

    White House photographer Amanda Lucidon is publishing a book of photographs of Michelle Obama. Chasing Light will be published by Ten Speed Press next October.

    At the New Yorker, Amanda Petrusich writes in defense of negative reviews. After Spin revealed that MTV News removed articles at the request of artists and their management, Petrusich writes that “the relationship between a critic and her subject should be thought of as symbiotic, generative, important,” rather than adversarial. “What a weird and tedious trajectory it would be for an artist never to have someone consider her work seriously enough to question its motives and its successes.”

    Tonight at the Strand, Joshua Cohen discusses his new book, Moving Kings.

  • July 11, 2017

    Moonlight director Barry Jenkins is working on a film based on James Baldwin’s novel If Beale Street Could Talk. Jenkins wrote the screenplay in 2013, and spent the intervening years getting permission from the Baldwin Estate. Gloria Karefa-Smart, Baldwin’s sister, called Jenkins “a sublimely conscious and gifted filmmaker” and said that his “medicine for melancholy impressed us so greatly that we had to work with him.” The film is expected to start production next fall.

    Denis Johnson

    The Library of Congress has announced that late novelist Denis Johnson will win this year’s Prize for American Fiction. The award will be accepted by his wife, Cindy Johnson, at the National Book Festival in September.

    The Washington Post profiles CNN’s Jim Acosta, who has become a vocal critic of the Trump administration’s attitude toward the press. Press Secretary Sean Spicer has criticized Acosta’s reporting for being too opinionated. “If I were a mainstream, veteran reporter, I’d be advocating for him to knock it off,” Spicer said. “It’s hurting the profession.” Acosta has decided not to let the administration’s criticisms or his press-room colleagues’ lack of support get him down. “I’m having the time of my life right now. This is the biggest story of my life,” he told the Post. “I’m like a kid in a candy store.”

    At Vanity Fair, Sarah Ellison talks to the authors of Politico’s Playbook newsletter, who are working on a book about “backroom deals and dramas on Capitol Hill.” Very tentatively titled A Hill to Die On, the book will be published by Crown in March 2019, after the 2018 midterm elections.

    Roxane Gay, Alexander Chee, Celeste Ng, and Adam Grant discuss what it’s like to be a writer active on social media. While some, like Gay, were early adopters of Twitter, others were more reticent to join. “The Viking team and Whitney Peeling dragged me, kicking and screaming,” remembered Grant. The group also debated whether social media “is a force for good.” “This is a little like asking if a hammer is a force for good or not good,” Ng noted. “It all depends on what you’re doing with it.”

  • July 10, 2017

    Colson Whitehead

    While he was at Fox News, Bill O’Reilly was an unflagging promoter of his own books. Since his unceremonious departure from the network on April 11, his book sales have dipped significantly, the Washington Post reports. O’Reilly’s Old School, which he cowrote with Bruce Feirstein, opened at number one on the New York Times Bestseller list when it was released in March, and more than 67,000 copies were sold in April. But in June, the book’s sales plummeted to around 2,400.

    Novelist Margaret Atwood has proclaimed on Twitter that she would like Drake to make a cameo in the second season of the TV series based on Atwood’s dystopian classic The Handmaid’s Tale.

    The controversial right-wing writer Milo Yiannopoulos has filed a $10 million lawsuit against Simon & Schuster, which planned to publish the former Breibart News writer’s memoir Dangerous, but dropped it after Yiannopoulos made public comments that seemed to defend sexual relationships between men and boys. The author says that the publisher caved under political pressure, and that “they have to pay.” Simon & Schuster lawyers say that the publisher will “vigorously defend itself against any such action, and fully expects to prevail in court.”

    The Los Angeles Review of Books has joined forces with USC to offer a summer program to help people break into the publishing industry. Although most publishing jobs are currently in New York, LARB editor in chief Tom Lutz says that many of those in the program are hoping to work on the West Coast. The five-week workshop, says Lutz, encourages “entrepreneurial possibilities and innovation,” and most of the students are hoping “to join an entrepreneurial venture here or start their own.”

    “Why not treat writers more generously? In a society growing mingier by the day, writers seem to rank low on the list of those with claims to assistance. Yet entire societies are degraded and destroyed when hacks and liars are rewarded: Kellyanne Conway recently bought an $8 million house.” Benjamin Moser devotes a short essay to the question: “Do grants, professorships and other forms of institutional support help writers but hurt writing?”

    Colson Whitehead explains why he had to wait to write his Pulitzer-winning book The Underground Railroad, a novel he first started thinking about in 2000: “It was daunting in terms of its structure, and to do the research as deep as it needed to be done, and to deal with the subject with the gravity it deserved, was scary. And then, a couple of years ago, I thought maybe the scary book is the one you’re supposed to be doing.”

  • July 7, 2017

    In the New York Times’s new “Reader Center,” executive editor Dean Baquet addresses questions about changes to the copy editing system at the paper. Noting that the decision is not based on financial concerns, Baquet points out that the previous editing system at the paper was not designed with the internet in mind. “We have to streamline that system and move faster in the digital age,” Baquet explains. “If the Supreme Court issues a major ruling at 10 a.m., our readers expect to hear about it within minutes. And they’d like an analysis not too long afterward. And maybe a video on the history of the case that led to the ruling. Or a multimedia analysis of what the ruling says about the court’s leanings so far.”

    After receiving an unprecedented amount of donations during the 2016 election, Mother Jones has hired seven new employees, including The Nation’s Ari Berman.

    The Upshot graphs and analyzes Jane Austen’s use of language in an attempt to explain the author’s “endurance in the Darwinian struggle for literary immortality.”

    Rebecca Entel. Photo: Elizabeth McQuern

    At the LA Review of Books, Maxine Case talks to Rebecca Entel about her new book, Fingerprints of Previous Owners, and the difficulties of writing from different perspectives. Entel said that she avoided connecting her own life and struggles to those of her characters. “Maybe something that leads us to write fiction in the first place is an inclination to imagine others’ pain or to find personal connections to it,” she said. “But I’m also weary of when seeing someone else’s life only through the lens of your own isn’t quite appropriate—or is even pretty disturbing if it’s the only way you can come to care.”

    Science fiction author Daniel Price reflects on how listening to critics of his first book made his second book better. After receiving an email from a reader that detailed the sexism found in Price’s descriptions of his female characters, he decided to rewrite the sequel. “At the end of the day, this isn’t about appeasing critics. It’s about becoming a better writer,” Price explains. “In a story with flying cars and forcefields, it’s vital to have three-dimensional characters who act realistically and relatably. And in a literary genre that’s been historically wrought with misrepresentations and underrepresentations, it’s not too much to ask an author like me to think a little bit harder about the readers who aren’t.”

  • July 6, 2017

    The Moscow Times is releasing its final print issue today. The paper will continue to publish on the web, and many employees have been let go. The paper “has played a unique role in covering Russian affairs and politics from the inside,” editor Mikhail Fishman said. “I hope it will continue to stick to these principles throughout the future.”

    Abby Ohlheiser attempts to explain the alt-right backlash against CNN after the network supposedly blackmailed an anonymous Reddit user into apologizing for a GIF he created of Donald Trump wrestling CNN to the ground. Although the user apologized before CNN wrote the article, other Reddit users are threatening to “track down” the family and friends of CNN employees. “It’s a particularly threatening version of an inversion that is common on the Internet today: keep reporting on the Trump Internet, and the Trump Internet will decide it’s ‘reporting’ on you,” Ohlheiser concludes. “And many mainstream outlets are still struggling to contend with it.”

    The New York Times looks at a recently-publicized stipulation in playwright Edward Albee’s will that requires his executors to destroy any unfinished works. It is unclear whether any manuscripts have been destroyed already, and some wonder if the rule applies to early versions of plays that were later completed. “Am I disappointed? Yes, because every tiny bit of everything that a writer has written provides insight into that writer’s creative process,” said Edward Albee Society president David A. Crespy. “But am I surprised? No. He maintained very strict control over the materials that were available to the public.”

    Teju Cole

    Angela Chen talks to Elif Batuman about success, growing up, and her novel, The Idiot. Batuman had originally been working on another autobiographical novel set in 2010, but felt that she needed to write The Idiot in order to better understand the character’s background. “The book that I was trying to write, that I didn’t, is about an older person in her thirties, so her ideals have taken various hits in the course of her professional and personal life,” she said. “And something about going back to The Idiot, which I hadn’t looked at in all that time, and seeing the moment before she had taken those hits and seeing that this was the same person that she would become—I saw how this would be a person who would end up making a lot of compromises despite being idealistic and kind of uncompromising in a way that doesn’t really jibe with the world.”

    At The Millions, Steve Paulson talks to Teju Cole about photography, writing, and his new book, Blind Spot. Cole reflected on how a bout of temporary blindness changed his work. “I was already looking intently, but I started to look more intently, more patiently. My photography got a bit more meditative and mysterious. I began to pay attention to the ordinary in a more focused way,” he remembered. “Having eye trouble made the ordinary glorious.”

  • July 5, 2017

    The final installment of Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall” trilogy will likely be delayed, according to the novelist. The Mirror and the Light was originally scheduled for 2018, but Mantel told an audience at her most recent BBC lecture that it was “increasingly unlikely” that the book would be published by then. But Mantel says that the delay has nothing to do with the end of the series. “People ask me if I’m having trouble killing off Thomas Cromwell,” she said. “No, why would I?”

    The Wall Street Journal has closed eight of their website’s verticals, including China Real Time and Speakeasy.

    Joan Didion

    At The Guardian, Rafia Zakaria looks at which writers are termed “Didion-esque” by the publishing industry, and how the category ultimately represents the book world’s lack of diversity. “The writers praised as being Didion-esque are all white and all female—and so somehow all Didion,” she writes. “It could all be brushed off as slightly annoying marketing, were it not for the requirements of being Didion-esque: the truth is that it is far harder for a writer to ‘sell someone out’ if they don’t belong to that large white swathe.”

    The New York Times profiles Emma Allen, the new cartoon editor at the New Yorker. Editor David Remnick said that Allen first caught his eye as the editor of Daily Shouts. “She was bringing in people and things that I hadn’t heard before,” he remembered, “and sometimes you need to reinvigorate parts of the magazine.” Allen explained what she looks for in order to keep cartoons feeling fresh. “I like things that are witty. I also like dumb fart jokes,” she said. “The high-low spread is much more interesting than trying to mummify a thing and keep presenting it all over and over again.”

  • July 3, 2017

    Gregory Pardlo

    The progressive online news organization ThinkProgress has plans to expand its staff and to start publishing its content on WordPress, the site it used before moving to Medium in 2016. ThinkProgress is one of many publishers that have left Medium this year. Poynter explains the exodus: “At issue for most publishers was the decision made by Medium to discontinue its ‘promoted stories’ native advertising program. That program was a lynchpin for agreements between Medium and publishers that guaranteed them revenue based on the amount of readership they were able to draw. Without promoted stories—and an ad sales staff on Medium’s side—there was no basis to keep the money flowing.”

    The Virginia Quarterly Review has hired Gregory Pardlo to be its new poetry editor. Pardlo is the author of Digest, which won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for poetry, and the forthcoming Air Traffic, a collection of personal essays.

    Although his first six months in office have been marked by turmoil and lack of clarity, Trump has remained consistent on one topic: what he calls the “fake news” media.

    Junot Diaz talks with Margaret Atwood about The Handmaid’s Tale—both her 1985 dystopian novel and the new TV series based on it.

    Melissa H. Pierson revisits the novels of Mary McCarthy, once derisively described by Norman Mailer as “lady books.”

  • June 30, 2017

    MTV News has announced that it will be shifting its focus away from reporting and longform essays and toward video. The company laid off several writers and editors—many of whom had been hired from Grantland when that site folded in 2015. At New York magazine, Brian Feldman explains why media brands “pivot to video” and what that trend means for the future of writing online: “The lesson of MTV News and its similarly pivoted peers may simply be that profit-seeking start-ups and enormous publicly traded conglomerates like Viacom, which owns MTV, are poor patrons of ambitious, sophisticated, politically driven journalism.”

    New York Times staff members staged a protest against cuts to the copy-editing department yesterday afternoon. Carrying signs that read “Copy Editors Save Our Buts” and “Without Us, It’s the New Yrok Times,” writers and editors gathered outside the Times building chanting, “They say cutbacks, we say fight back!” The protest follows an open letter decrying plans to cut the department from more than one hundred employees to about fifty: “We only ask that you not treat us like a diseased population that must be rounded up en masse, inspected and expelled.”

    Liu Xiaobo

    Liu Xiaobo, the human-rights activist and Nobel laureate, is being denied permission to leave China to receive cancer treatment.

    Authors including Margaret Atwood, Jacqueline Wilson, and Philip Pullman have raised more than £150,000 for the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire in London. Pullman auctioned off the chance to have a character in his next book named after the winner and raised more than £30,000 for the cause. The winning bid was a collective one, made up of contributors who wanted the character named after a student, Nur Huda el-Wahabi, who died in the fire.

    The New York Times looks at famous writers’ fashions, considering Terry Newman’s new book, Legendary Authors and the Clothes They Wore. Newman examines what Virginia Woolf called “frock consciousness” in fifty writers, including Woolf, Joan Didion, John Updike, George Sand, and Zadie Smith.

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