• August 2, 2017

    Sam Shepard. Photo: Brigitte Lacombe

    Patti Smith remembers friend and collaborator Sam Shepard, who died last week from complications of ALS. “He liked packing up and leaving just like that, going west,” she writes. “He liked getting a role that would take him somewhere he really didn’t want to be, but where he would wind up taking in its strangeness; lonely fodder for future work.”

    At New York magazine, Christian Lorentzen reflects on the current demand for dystopian fiction. From Jeff VanderMeer’s Borne, to Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Book of Joan, Lorentzen explains how “the present moment, with its dismal politics and cries from both sides of impending catastrophe,” has made dystopian novels more appealing to readers. “When things are bad, we want to hear how much worse they can get,” he writes. “There’s something paradoxically comforting about watching characters live through terrifying alternate realities and collapsing near futures.”

    Macmillan Publishers is moving from the Flatiron Building in Chelsea to new offices in downtown Manhattan. Publisher’s Weekly notes that as the building’s only tenant, “Macmillan has become associated with the skyscraper to the point where Bob Miller chose to call his new imprint Flatiron Books when he joined Macmillan in 2013.” The move will be completed in 2019.

    After numerous scoops by pro-Trump on White House staff shake-ups were confirmed, Axios writes that this access is making right-wing news organizations seem more trustworthy. “The fake stories make it hard to spot the true news, but for others, the true news gives credibility to the misinformation.”

    Fox News contributor Rod Wheeler has filed a lawsuit against the network over a now-retracted story about the murder of Democratic National Committee aide Seth Rich. Wheeler claims that Fox News “intended to deflect public attention from growing concern about the administration’s ties to the Russian government,” and that a reporter “created quotations out of thin air and attributed them to him to propel her story.”

    Columbia Journalism Review talks to former NBC reporter Anthony Ponce about quitting his job, becoming a Lyft driver, and creating the Backseat Rider podcast, which is based on conversations he has with his passengers. Ponce says that the new job has changed his life in many ways, especially financially. “I moved my family back in with my parents. My wife and I are renting out our house, and I also took a job part-time on-air stuff with a company called Dose for a morning show on the CW. The podcast hasn’t grown audience-wise where it could be my full-time gig … yet,” he said. “On the fulfillment side, on a scale from 1 to 10, I’m at a 10.”

  • August 1, 2017

    Mic examines MSNBC’s thwarted evolution into a centrist news channel. Chairman Andrew Lack had been planning to reorganize the network and increase its ratings by cancelling opinion-based programming in favor of more balanced news coverage. “But the election of Donald Trump has complicated that evolution,” Kelsey Sutton writes, “raising the profile and popularity of MSNBC’s liberal hosts just as Lack sought to dial back the network’s liberal identity.”

    Although the White House claims that Anthony Scaramucci’s departure was meant to give the new chief of staff a “clean slate,” that may be an impossible task for the Trump administration. From lies about crowd size at the inauguration, to the resignation of Michael Flynn and claims of surveillance by Barack Obama, Erik Wemple writes that “in light of all that, there’ll be no clean slates at this White House, no matter how many people are pushed out the door.”

    Actor, playwright, and author Sam Shepard died last week at 73. The New York Times remembers him through their reviews of his plays, books, and movies.

    Gwendolyn Brooks

    At the Times, Claudia Rankine reflects on the legacy of Gwendolyn Brooks, as found in two new anthologies honoring the poet. Referring to a reader’s report on Brooks from the 1940s, in which novelist Richard Wright wrote that “America needs a voice like hers,” Rankine writes that Wright’s claim is confirmed by “the hundreds of artists represented in these two new anthologies, poets who have used her work as a prompt or a point of engagement.”

    Poynter talks to Dodai Stewart, the editor in chief of Splinter, the website formerly known as Fusion. Although Splinter has hired a number of former Gawker and Gizmodo Media Group staff, Stewart maintains that the site is not trying to replace Gawker. “Splinter is the new Splinter. Splinter is not the new Gawker,” she said. “I’m looking forward and not back.”

    MTV president Chris McCarthy talks about his plans to revive the network, which include bringing back Total Request Live and abandoning MTV News’s longform project. “MTV at its best—whether it’s news, whether it’s a show, whether it’s a docu-series—is about amplifying young people’s voices,” he said. “We put young people on the screen, and we let the world hear their voices. We shouldn’t be writing 6,000-word articles on telling people how to feel.”

  • July 31, 2017

    Choire Sicha

    Choire Sicha—the onetime Gawker writer, cofounder and former editor of the Awl, and the author of Very Recent History: An Entirely Factual Account of a Year (c. 2009 A.D.) in a Large City—has been named the new editor of the New York Times’s Style section.

    Alexandra Schwartz considers the career and legacy of Times book critic Michiko Kakutani: “A good review brought on elation,” Schwartz writes.  “A bad one incited rage, sometimes despair. Nicholson Baker compared getting a negative Kakutani review to undergoing surgery without anesthesia; Jonathan Franzen called her ‘the stupidest person in New York.’ (She had deemed his memoir ‘an odious self-portrait of the artist as a young jackass.’)”

    Atlantic Media has announced that it will sell a majority stake in The Atlantic magazine to the Emerson Collective, an organization led by philanthropist and investor Laurene Powell Jobs, who is the widow of Steve Jobs.

    Harper has announced that it will publish What Does This Button Do?—the memoir by Iron Maiden lead singer (and motivational speaker and novelist) Bruce Dickinson—this fall.

    Dan Piepenbring looks at writing style through the lense of Ben Blatt’s new book Nabokov’s Favorite Word Is Mauve: What the Numbers Reveal About the Classics, Bestsellers, and Our Own Writing, which approaches canonical works through the use of statistics. “In ‘literary experiments’ on diction, punctuation, cliffhangers, clichés, and other aspects of style and usage, Blatt uses data to probe the body of conventional wisdom that surrounds creative writing. What if those who allegedly loathe adverbs are actually completely, totally addicted to them? What if it’s quite O.K. to use intensifiers very often, because Jane Austen is rather fond of them? What if I like exclamation points!”

    Happy birthday, John Ashbery.

     

  • July 28, 2017

    After nearly forty years with the paper, the New York Times’s chief book critic Michiko Kakutani is stepping down. The Times has a round up of the best of Kakutani’s thirty-year years of reviewing. Vanity Fair’s Joe Pompeo reports that Kakutani accepted a buyout offer, and plans to “branch out and write more essays about culture and politics in Trump’s America.” Known for launching the career of writers like David Foster Wallace and Zadie Smith, “Kakutani’s departure will instantly change the shape of the publishing world,” Pompeo writes. “She wielded the paper’s power with remarkable confidence and abandon.”

    Parul Sehgal. Photo: David Surowiecki

    New York Times Book Review senior editor and columnist Parul Sehgal has been named book critic at the Times.

    Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad has won the Arthur C. Clarke award. The announcement comes one day after Whitehead’s book was included on the Man Booker Prize longlist.

    Novelist Jane Green tells the New York Times’s “By the Book” that Cat Marnell’s How to Murder Your Life taught her a valuable lesson. In the book, Marnell wrote that in rehab she was taught to ignore negative thoughts by imagining “her brain was coated in Teflon,” a technique that stuck with Green after reading the book. “It is utterly brilliant, works like a charm and, given that I have been employing it since I read the book, may have changed my life,” she said.

    Despite a renewed interest in O.J. Simpson, as well as his release on parole, TMZ reports that “major publishers will NOT be scrambling to offer him a book deal after he gets out of prison.” In addition to the fact that his last planned book If I Did It led to a HarperCollins publisher losing her job, Javelin president Keith Urbahn says that “consumers won’t spend 20 bucks on a self-aggrandizing book about how he’s turned his life around.”

    The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza recalls a ranting phone call from the new White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci,  in response to a tweet that Lizza had sent earlier in the evening about Scaramucci having dinner with the president, first lady, Sean Hannity, and former Fox News co-president Bill Shine. After Lizza refused to reveal his source for the information, Scaramucci became convinced that the leak came from Reince Priebus. Referring to Priebus as a “paranoiac,” Scaramucci imitated the chief of staff as he explained a possible motive for the leak: “‘Oh, Bill Shine is coming in. Let me leak the fucking thing and see if I can cock-block these people the way I cock-blocked Scaramucci for six months.”

  • July 27, 2017

    Arundhati Roy

    The Man Booker judging panel has announced the longlist for the 2017 prize. Nominees include Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West, Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Zadie Smith’s Swing Time, and Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. The shortlist will be announced in September, and the prize will be awarded in October.

    Hillary Clinton has released more details about her upcoming book. Originally planned as a book of essays, it has now become a “full memoir.” What Happened, will “give readers an idea of what it’s really like to run for president, especially if you’re a woman,” Clinton said in a statement. “Ultimately it’s about resilience, how to get back up after a loss.” The book will be published by Simon & Schuster in September.

    Republican Senator Jeff Flake is working on “an ideological manifesto for his own version of conservatism.” Flake was a critic of Trump during the 2016 election, and his book explains the differences between his ideas about governing and those of the president, which he “describes as nationalist and populist in nature.” Flake is working on the book “largely without the knowledge of political advisers,” and anonymous sources say that it is “likely to inflame debate about the direction of the Republican Party.”

    James Patterson and Bill Clinton are in Hollywood this week to sell the film rights to their upcoming book, The President is Missing. Although the novel won’t be released until June 2018, directors and producers, including J.J. Abrams, Steven Spielberg, and George Clooney, have scheduled meetings with the authors.

    Advisers for the bankruptcy estate of Gawker Media are looking into selling the company’s remaining website, Gawker.com. Although the Univision sale of other Gawker Media properties stipulated that the flagship site could not be used until March of 2018, the advisers hope “to give any interested buyers time to come up with a plan for Gawker” before that date.

    The New York Times talks to Max Brooks, the author of the first officially-sanctioned novel based on the video game Minecraft. An avid player, Brooks went to great lengths to make sure that everything in his novel matched the rules of the Minecraft world. “I war-gamed out everything,” he said. “My biggest fear was that somebody tries to play out my book and finds out it won’t work.”

  • July 26, 2017

    Recently appointed communications director Anthony Scaramucci is offering “amnesty” to any staff members who have leaked information to the press, but reserves the right to “fire everybody” if necessary. “I’m committed to taking the comms shop down to Sarah [Huckabee Sanders] and me, if I can’t get the leaks to stop,” he told Politico. The Washington Post reports that after only a few days on the job, Scaramucci is “almost family to the president—in contrast to his predecessor, outgoing press secretary Sean Spicer, who was described more like the help.” According to the same Politico article, “Spicer was in the White House on Monday but spent most of the day alone in his office.”

    Media reporter Gabriel Sherman is moving to Vanity Fair. Sherman was most recently at New York magazine, where he broke the news of Roger Ailes’s sexual harassment scandal last summer.

    Clarice Lispector

    At Literary Hub, Scott Esposito reflects on “the witchcraft of Clarice Lispector.” While working an office job “in one of the most deadening environments that I had ever known,” Lispector’s The Passion of G.H. helped to keep Esposito sane. “Lispector’s mysticism has often been celebrated, and she is indeed a mystic writer,” he notes, “but there is something ironic in the fact that it takes a mystic to put us in touch with the ‘real world.’”

    Vanity Fair’s Joe Pompeo looks at the mood in the New York Times’s newsroom, where buyouts and a reorganization of the paper’s editing process is “making an entire class of employees feel obsolete.” Though the paper has kept ten more copy editors on staff than originally planned, Pompeo writes that there is “a deep feeling of bitterness” among those who have already left. “I thought we had something special, but it turns out she never really loved me at all,” wrote one editor in a goodbye email. “[S]he’s trying out a new lipstick each week. . . . Today she’s doing a Facebook Live from the Fidget Spinners Convention. . . . And the latest desperate move to run with a younger crowd: She’s having a few layers removed.” The editor also offered some parting advice: “Watch your back—she’s not as loyal as she used to be. Now excuse me while I go cease to exist.”

    At Books Are Magic in Brooklyn, Janelle Brown talks to Jessica Grose about her new novel, Watch Me Disappear.

  • July 25, 2017

    A number of former Village Voice writers have signed an open letter to the paper’s owner, criticizing his attempts to weaken the Voice’s union. Signatories include Hilton Als, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Vivian Gornick, among others. “As writers and journalists, we understand all too well the challenges that face print media today,” they write. “That said, we wish to see this beloved paper continue to produce the highest caliber of work — work that deserves and demands your fullest support.”

    The New York Times talks to the new owners of the Chicago Sun-Times, a group that includes a former city alderman and a labor leader. “The deal not only saved The Sun-Times from possible extinction, but also created a highly unusual arrangement,” the Times writes. “Labor unions now share ownership of a news organization that covers them closely, in what is still one of the nation’s strongest union towns.”

    Hilary Mantel

    Penguin Random House has pulled a book about Nelson Mandela’s final days due to concerns over patient confidentiality and threats of legal action from his widow. Written by Mandela’s doctor, the book “revealed several undignified episodes at the end of Mandela’s life as well as bitter family squabbles over his care and legacy.”

    The Frick Collection will publish the first book of its Diptychs series next April. The short books will “feature one work of art, an essay by a curator and another written piece by an artist or writer.” Authors include novelist Hilary Mantel, filmmaker James Ivory, and author Edmund de Waal.

    Fact-checking website Snopes is seeking reader donations to avoid closing during a lawsuit with a former advertising contractor. Since terminating their contract with Proper Media last spring, Snopes has been unable to place revenue-generating ads on their website. “As misinformation has increasingly threatened democracies around the world (including our own), Snopes.com has stood in the forefront of fighting for truth and dispelling misinformation online,” the Snopes team wrote in a letter to readers. “It is vital that these efforts continue, so we are asking the Snopes.com community to donate what they can.”

    New York magazine profiles Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, MSNBC hosts who were once family friends with Trump and have lately become the target of his aggressive tweets. “At six-foot-three, or eight-foot-nine including the hair, Scarborough looks like Jimmy Neutron in his Lizard King phase or Tucker Carlson after someone put him through a taffy-pulling machine,” while “Brzezinski is five-foot-six and the unusually even color of a vizsla puppy, her blinding hair a cross between Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy’s and Polly Pocket’s,” writes New York’s Olivia Nuzzi. “Together, they achieve a kind of strange aesthetic perfection—the decorative figurines topping the bunny cake that is political media in Trump’s America.”

  • July 24, 2017

    George R.R. Martin

    Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin has given an update on the sixth book of his Winds of Winter series. Some have said that the book is finished; others have claimed that Martin has yet to write a single word. The author says that neither rumor is true (“I’ve seen some truly weird reports about WOW on the internet of late, by ‘journalists’ who make their stories up out of whole cloth,” Martin writes). He’s hard at work on the book, and it should be published sometime in 2018.

    The Library of America has announced that its president, Cheryl Hurley, and its editor-in-chief, Geoffrey O’Brien, will leave their positions at the end of the year. Hurley will be replaced by LoA publisher Max Rudin. A replacement for O’Brien, also a critic and a poet, is still being sought.

    The New York Times has requested that Fox News offer an apology for a segment that aired on Saturday, on which host Clayton Morris said the paper ran a story in 2015 that helped an Islamic State leader escape US capture.

    Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich talks to the Guardian: “After communism we thought everything would be fine. But people don’t understand freedom.”

    Clancy Sigal, a screenwriter who was blacklisted in Hollywood and went on to write the road-trip memoir Going Away and numerous novels, has died.  

  • July 21, 2017

    Tony Kushner. Photo: Ed Ritger

    Angels in America playwright Tony Kushner is working on a production about Donald Trump. Rather than a symbolic character, the play will focus directly on Trump during the two years leading up to the 2016 election. “He’s the kind of person, as a writer, I tend to avoid as I think he is borderline psychotic,” Kushner said about the difficulties of writing the play. “I definitely think that incoherence lends itself well to drama, but he really is very boring.”

    Bloomberg looks at the Sinclair Broadcast Group, the country’s largest network of TV stations, which requires their affiliated stations to include “must-run” clips of conservative political commentary that promote the Trump administration’s agenda in their broadcasts. “The segments look like something you might see on Fox News,” Felix Gillette writes, “but only if you stripped away Fox’s high-end graphics, state-of-the-art studios, tailored wardrobes, perfect dental hygiene, and polished scripts.” Sinclair is currently in the process of purchasing Tribune Media Co., which will add forty-two stations to the company’s portfolio.

    Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s upcoming book will be published by Viking in 2018. The untitled work will detail Clapper’s life and career, as well as “the growing threat of cyberattacks, his relationships with presidents and Congress, and the truth about Russia’s role in the presidential election.” Wondering if “everyone in politics is writing a tell-all?” The New York Times says yes.

    The Rumpus talks to Barbara Browning about ukuleles, writing fiction about real-life friends, and how politics can affect the writing process.

    The 92nd Street Y has announced its literary events for the 2017-18 season. Highlights include Jennifer Egan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Zadie Smith.

    BuzzFeed examines MTV’s struggle to stay relevant as cable subscriptions decline. Facing stiff competition from the internet—which Scaachi Koul notes offers free, on-demand entertainment “created by the very young people the network is trying to court—the channel has resorted to short-form video and reboots of old shows like My Super Sweet 16 instead of creating new content. “MTV used to be closely in tune with what youth culture wanted, and they were adept at leading the conversation around it,” Koul writes. “Now, it looks like they’re just trying to catch up.”

  • July 20, 2017

    Eimear McBride

    The Brooklyn Public Library announced the longlist for its fiction and nonfiction Literary Prize yesterday. Nominees include Pankaj Mishra’s Age of Anger and David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon, and Eimear McBride’s The Lesser Bohemians and Lidija Yuknavitch’s The Book of Joan for fiction. A shortlist will be released in September, and winners will be announced in October.

    Novelist Junot Díaz is writing a children’s book. The New York Times writes that Islandborn “grew out of a promise he made to his goddaughters two decades ago, when they asked him to write a book that featured characters like them, Dominican girls living in the Bronx.” The book will be published by Dial Books for Young Readers next spring.

    Keanu Reeves is now an art book publisher. The Los Angeles Times talks to the actor and his co-founders, Alexandra Grant and Jessica Fleischmann, about their independent press, X Artists’ Books. Grant said that the books published by the press all contain “a strong sense of politics and social interest.” Reeves said that though the books are beautiful, “they ain’t all bedtime stories. . . . They’re complicated.”

    At The Guardian, Ross Barkan points out that while declining revenues and the closure of local newspapers are more of a threat to the journalism industry than Trump, the lack of day-to-day contact with reporters and editors makes the administration’s war on the media more believable. “We can hate most what we don’t know. If a newspaper doesn’t operate near you for a hundred miles and you only see a live journalist if one swoops in during a presidential election – or one never shows up at all – you only know what you read about on Facebook or watch on Fox News,” he writes. “There are only the images and the hate, symbols and distortion.”

    The Village Voice profiles Alexandra Bell, a Brooklyn-based artist who works with newspaper text to highlight the racial disparities in mainstream journalism coverage. The first piece in her Counternarratives series addresses a New York Times front page article about the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri; the second highlights the Times’s choice to use a photo of Jamaican Olympian Usain Bolt under a headline about American swimmer Ryan Lochte’s fabricated robbery claims at the Rio Olympics. “I want people to have a clear sense of the history of journalism. When you do, you understand what the implications are behind what you’re writing,” Bell said. “You need to think more critically about how, historically, people have been framed in newspapers, what decisions you’re making that may be contributing to that even if that’s not your intention.”

    Tonight at Greenlight Bookstore, Margo Jefferson talks to Zinzi Clemmons about her debut novel, What We Lose.

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