The American poet John Ashbery has died at age ninety. “What more is there to do, except stay? And that we cannot do.”
Francesca Pellas talks to Jhumpa Lahiri about language learning, translation, and why it’s never a good idea to write with readers in mind. When Lahiri first started writing in Italian, she says other writers discouraged her from the project, saying that there would be no readers. But Lahiri said she was never worried about whether people needed her book or not. “I think that writing must also be a selfish act,” she said. “A book might reach out to someone else at some point, after years, or maybe never at all, but it is not up to me to write with this idea in mind. Writing is, above all, an internal dialogue.”
Jesmyn Ward tells the New York Times about her reading and writing habits. Ward says she has no interest in having anyone write her life story. “I did it in Men We Reaped,” she said, “and that was harrowing enough.”
Jessie Daniels looks at white supremacist websites and reflects on the 2003 Supreme Court decision that defined cross burning as unprotected speech, wondering “what constitutes a burning cross in the digital era?” Daniels focuses on Stormfront, which was recently shut down, and martinlutherking.org, a facade for a white supremacist forum created by Stormfront founder Don Black, that is still online. “The fact that Stormfront is offline but martinlutherking.org isn’t suggests that we aren’t very sophisticated yet in our thinking about what kinds of risks white supremacy poses,” he writes. “While Stormfront is an obvious, overt threat to people’s lives, the cloaked site is a more subtle and insidious threat to the underlying moral argument for civil rights. Both are dangers to democracy.”
At The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald writes that the New York Times’s decision to hire conservative columnist Bari Weiss as an op-ed contributor reveals the paper’s “understanding of ‘diversity,’ and the range of opinions it does, and does not, permit.” “For the contemporary NYT op-ed page,” he writes, “diversity spans the small gap from establishment centrist Democrats to establishment centrist Republicans, with the large groups of people outside of those factions essentially excluded.”
Ron Charles reflects on the recently announced all-female film remake of Lord of the Flies. David Siegel, who will be writing and directing the movie with Scott McGehee, said that the themes of “interpersonal conflicts and bullying” make the book “a timeless story.” “So, basically, ‘Mean Girls with pork,” writes Charles.
The Rumpus talks to Danzy Senna about 1990s Brooklyn, Jonestown, and why she gave up on another novel in favor of writing her latest book, New People. “There was something in it that wasn’t moving forward. I think I couldn’t quite find the story. Sometimes a character’s problem starts to bleed into the novel itself, the writing, and my character in the other novel didn’t want anything,” she said. “I also, on a practical level, had two children and they were young, demanding, and more interesting to me than my novel at the time.”
At Mother Jones, Shane Bauer explains what journalists got wrong by focusing on Antifa violence at protests in Berkeley last weekend. “By focusing on scattered violence, reporters glossed over the bigger story,” he writes. “The Bay Area has become the latest target of fascist and other far-right groups promoting disruptive rallies across America, often in cities where they know they are not welcome.”
Fantasy novelist Terry Pratchett’s unfinished works have been destroyed by a steamroller, per the late writer’s wishes. The Guardian reports that “Pratchett’s hard drive was crushed by a vintage John Fowler & Co steamroller named Lord Jericho at the Great Dorset Steam Fair, ahead of the opening of a new exhibition about the author’s life and work.”
Medium founder Ev Williams explains the site’s new subscription policy and claps system to Nieman Lab. With no advertising of any kind, the site will be driven by revenue from subscriptions, which will be paid to publishers who have signed up for Medium’s partnership program based on the number of “claps” each article receives from readers. But not all of Medium’s content will earn money for its writers. “We have a ton of writers on Medium, and the majority of them aren’t really our target for our partner program,” Williams said. “We don’t want to suggest that everybody who writes should get paid or try to get paid.”
In order to “get to know some of Trump’s satellites, both new and old, a little better,” Wired has gone through the Amazon wishlists of Anthony Scaramucci, Sebastian Gorka, and Felix Sater. Items desired by these men include velour sweatpants, Against the State: An Anarcho-Capitalist Manifesto, and Cesar Milan’s Be the Pack Leader: Use Cesar’s Way to Transform Your Dog . . . and Your Life. When reached for comment, the men refused to take ownership of the lists. “Are you are kidding me,” Sater asked. “Is Alan Funt from candid camera going to jump out of the bushes now?”
Sarah Palin’s lawsuit against the New York Times has been dismissed. Palin had sued the paper over an editorial that linked the 2011 shooting at a Tucson rally for Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords to an image from Palin’s PAC that showed crosshairs over certain congressional districts. No link between the shooter and the map had been proven, and the Times corrected the article. “Nowhere is political journalism so free, so robust, or perhaps so rowdy as in the United States,” Judge Jed Rakoff wrote in his dismissal. “In the exercise of that freedom, mistakes will be made, some of which will be hurtful to others.”
At The Hill, Brian Klaas argues that the heroic work of reporters covering Tropical Storm Harvey in Houston shows that “President Trump owes journalists and apology.” From local stations that stayed on air as studios flooded, to major national publications that unlocked paywalls on articles about the storm, as well as the journalists who relayed pleas for help found on social media to rescue teams, Klass writes that “it is blatantly obvious that the press saved countless lives this week.”
Joe Pompeo details the steps that investigative reporters are taking to keep sources safe and receive sensitive information without running afoul of Trump’s campaign against leakers. “The president has toyed publicly with the idea of putting reporters in jail,” Pompeo notes, “so it’s no surprise that journalists and sources are on edge.”
Actress Vivien Leigh’s library will be up for auction next month in London. The lot, which includes a handwritten poem by Gone With the Wind author Margaret Mitchell and a signed copy of Evelyn Waugh’s The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold, is expected to sell for over £500,000.
In the New York Times, Thomas Mallon and Liesl Schillinger debate the function of critics, and whether they should be “open-minded” or “pass judgement.” Mallon writes that both aspects are important to a good essay. “Today’s literary reviews too often turn into participation trophies, quiet tour-guide appreciations,” he writes. “Few things, of course, are duller than self-indulgent put-downs; but informed and spirited dismissals are another matter, and they remain in too-short supply.” Schillinger remembers the negative reviews she wrote at the beginning of her career. “A pan is the fledgling critic’s calling card,” she writes, “and the second review I published remains the most negative I’ve ever written.” After receiving a voicemail from the author’s boyfriend defending the book, Schillinger writes that while she didn’t feel bad about what she had written—”the book was truly vile”—the message “strengthened my resolve to never censure without compelling reason—even if it meant that each of my nay votes would earn me a foe.”
Paul Farhi explores press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s tendency to deflect questions with a promise to “get back to” reporters with an answer later—and her habit of breaking that promise. In one briefing last week, Sanders’s used the deflection ten times, on issues ranging from the ban on transgender soldiers to “the White House’s reaction to federal approval of Amazon.com’s acquisition of Whole Foods Market.” Farhi asked Sanders directly about her rate of reply, to which she responded that she gets back to reporters whenever possible. “Asked in a subsequent email if she avoids inconvenient questions by declining to follow up,” Farhi notes, “Sanders didn’t follow up with an answer.”
After investigations by The Stranger and the Los Angeles Times, PEN has rescinded John Smelcer’s nomination for the 2017 Literary Award.
The Washington Post details five itineraries for the National Book Festival next weekend.
Miranda July talks to the New Yorker about short stories, marriage, and why everyone assumes that her narrators are autobiographical. “Women writers are often conflated with their narrators—as if we can’t consciously construct fictional worlds from the ground up and can only write diary entries,” she said. “So I think this would be happening anyway, but, from all reports, the fact that I appeared in my first two feature films compounds the problem.”
Neil Brown, Editor and vice president of the Tampa Bay Times, has been named president of the Poynter Institute. During Brown’s eight years at the paper, the Tampa Bay Times has won six Pulitzer Prizes for reporting.
At Electric Literature, Emily O’Neill looks at the resurgence of acrostics in resignation letters from members of the Trump administration. “Elucidating where you stand in relation to Trump, with his shall we say singularly lyric way of regurgitating his own rhetoric, is probably a poetic form unto itself at this point,” she explains. “The resignation letters engage in his game of coded buzzwords, reinforcing and re-contextualizing their own content via their employment of the acrostic.”
At The Atlantic, Rosie Gray examines what Steve Bannon’s return to Breitbart might mean for the Trump administration.
Yashar Ali profiles Kathy Griffin. Since posing with a fake blood–covered Donald Trump mask, Griffin has lost her job hosting the CNN New Year’s Eve broadcast and had numerous US tour dates canceled due to threats. But Ali writes that “moving on doesn’t seem to be on Griffin’s mind,” as evidenced by the poster for her international Laugh Your Head Off tour, in which Griffin wears the same clothing as she did in the Trump photo, but holds a globe instead. “President Trump just pardoned Joe Arpaio, who was essentially running a concentration camp in the Arizona desert,” she told Ali. “He said there are some good Nazis, and he’s kicking out young adults who were brought here as kids by their parents, and I’m the one who has to continue to apologize?”
Hilary Mantel explains why, two decades after her death, people are still talking about Princess Diana “as if she had just left the room.” “Royal people exist in a place beyond fact-correction, in a mystical realm with rules that, as individuals, they may not see,” she writes. “They exist apart from utility, and by virtue of our unexamined and irrational needs. You can’t write or speak about the princess without explicating and embellishing her myth. She no longer exists as herself, only as what we made of her.”
Rebecca Solnit talks to The Guardian about Trump, modern families, and her latest essay collection, The Mother of All Questions. In a separate essay for the paper, Solnit imagines how her life might have turned out differently had she been born male. “Perhaps as a girl, I was liberated by expectations that I’d be some variation on a failure,” she writes. “I could rebel by succeeding, while a lot of white middle-class men of my era seemed to rebel by failing, because the expectations had been set so very high for them.”
Facebook has hired former New York Times public editor Liz Spayd to consult on the company’s efforts to be more transparent to users.
At Wired, Nick Stockton reports on a new type of FOMO: the fear of missing breaking news. “Since the election, every iota of news has somehow come to seem more urgent, with each newsbreak, tweet, press conference, and cable news countdown clock hurtling toward … impeachment? War? The end of net neutrality? Climate chaos?” he writes. “And while information overload is nothing new, the stakes of all this new information feel exponentially higher—feel being the operative word here—and processing it has therefore become that much more burdensome.”
St. Martin’s Press executive editors Elizabeth Beier and Michael Flamini discuss Macmillan’s decision to leave the Flatiron building. While Beier mourns the loss of prestige and history that comes with the move—”Walk into a gin joint anywhere in the world, mention that Macmillan’s offices are in the Flatiron Building, and eyes light up”—Flamini is already over his “Flatironic existence.” “True, the Flatiron is a historical landmark,” he says, “but so is Grant’s Tomb.”
Claire Messud remembers the fiction of her mother’s library, and how it formed her literary life. “For a long time I believed that the books I read were more or less universally known,” she writes. “It didn’t occur to me that by borrowing and devouring books selected by my mother, I was being shaped by her predilections, thoughts and desires.”
The Stranger’s Rich Smith looks into the controversy behind PEN Literary Award nominee John Smelcer, who Marlon James recently referred to as a “living con job” due to his falsified credentials and questionable claims of Native American heritage.
At The Millions, Chris Kraus and Jarett Kobek discuss their respective new books, After Kathy Acker and The Future Won’t Be Long.
Time talks to Jesmyn Ward about Faulkner, family, and her new book, Sing, Unburied, Sing. Ward says that the election of Trump and the increase in hate crimes that followed have difficult experiences for the residents of DeLisle, Mississippi, where Ward grew up and now lives with her family. “We’ve been reminded once again that we live in the South,” she said, “that we live in a place where throughout the centuries and throughout the decades, our lives have been considered worthless.”
In the New York Times, Adam Kirsch and Francine Prose reflect on the right to free speech. Kirsh feels that the right to free speech is necessary for a functioning democracy. “Without it,” he writes, “politics becomes a war of all against all, and as we have learned since last November, there is no guarantee that the right side will win.” Prose argues that “the law doesn’t ban words that wound egos or hurt feelings,” but it does protect citizens from speech that incites violence.
After defending the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally in court, the ACLU is internally debating whether all speech is worth defending. After Heather Heyer was killed by a white nationalist, members of the group are questioning whether a line should be drawn at defending groups that plan to protest while armed. But the ACLU will continue protecting the right to free speech for citizens on all sides. “If you can’t stomach respecting the First Amendment rights of people you despise, you don’t work here,” said associate director Stacy Sullivan.
Variety reports that the recent firing of four top Los Angeles Times editors “was the result of a month of newsroom turmoil.” Paul Pringle, an investigative reporter at the paper, had filed a human resources complaint about the delay of a story about USC, which Pringle alleged was “due to cozy relations between the editors and USC officials.” Although an investigation didn’t prove Pringle’s claims, the incident prompted “additional newsroom grievances against the paper’s leadership.” Nieman Lab reflects on former editor Davan Maharaj’s time at the paper, “a remarkable run as a tightrope walker on one of the highest wires of American journalism.”
Rafia Zakaria talks to Nadeem Aslam about politics, fiction, and how the two interact in his new book, The Golden Legend. Aslam, who “did not set out to write a timely book,” says that his novel came out of his increasing frustration at the lies told about regular citizens by the powerful. “Against this reality, kindness has become a political act; to be decent has become a political act,” Aslam said. “I wanted to bring these political lies down to the level of everyday life and show that people are behaving in the opposite manner, that the idea that everyone wants to get ahead is not true of everyone or even most people.”
Mashable explains why coal company CEO Robert Murray’s lawsuit against John Oliver could be the next Gawker case. The suit is being tried in West Virginia, a state that, like Florida, does not have an anti-SLAPP law, which is aimed at preventing lawsuits that stifle free speech. “It’s a perfect recipe for a pissed off billionaire to go after someone he doesn’t like and do his best to cause financial burden,” Jason Abbruzzese writes, “even if the case doesn’t end up going the billionaire’s way.”
Anelise Chen talks to Electric Literature about sports, life, and failure in her recent book, So Many Olympic Exertions.
At The Baffler, Kyle Paoletta examines the “transformation of The New Yorker’s style from a topic of niche interest to a content-generation machine . . . of the most calculating sort.”
Adrianne Jeffries looks at the collapse of Mic, the latest website to pivot to video. Current and former employees told Jeffries that founders Chris Altchek and Jake Horowitz “seemed to embrace the idea of being an activist website without really understanding the issues,” and only as long as it was profitable. Now, the site is attempting to be more neutral, but former employees said that this has happened before. “Mic has attempted to reinvent itself as ‘real journalism’ multiple times,” Jeffries notes, “only to get spooked when traffic dropped.”
The Village Voice will discontinue its weekly print edition. “The most powerful thing about the Voice wasn’t that it was printed on newsprint or that it came out every week,” owner Peter Barbey said in a statement. “It was that the Village Voice was alive, and that it changed in step with and reflected the times and the ever-evolving world around it. I want the Village Voice brand to represent that for a new generation of people—and for generations to come.”
Publishing platform Medium has finally explained its new system for paying writers. The $5-per-month reader memberships will be doled out proportionally to writers whose articles receive the most “claps.” “These are just the early days of what we consider a grand experiment,” product head Michael Sippey writes. “Imagine a day when anyone with the skills and willingness to put in the effort can write something useful, insightful, or moving and be compensated based on its value to others.”
At the Washington Post, Michael J. Socolow remembers the one year anniversary of Gawker’s closure. “Gawker might have been foolhardy, reckless and ultimately self-destructive, but it was also, above all, courageous,” he writes. “With the hindsight of Donald Trump’s ascendancy to the presidency, we should all recognize that courage in the media is needed now more than ever.”
Mark Bray talks about his new book, Antifa: The Anti-fascist Handbook, which publisher Melville House rushed to print after Trump’s comments on Charlottesville. Bray explains that while the movement does condone violence in response to right-wing attacks, the group’s activities include “educational campaigns, working with communities, monitoring fascist individuals,” as well as physical confrontations. “Though this last facet of anti-fascism gets the most attention,” Bray said, “it is actually only a small fraction of the thankless drudgery that is committing oneself to tracking the scum of the earth.”
At Politico, Andrew Feinberg reflects on his five months as Sputnik News Service’s White House reporter. Feinberg writes that while he knew the company was state-owned, he didn’t see his work as any different than reporting for BBC, Al-Jazeera, or other state-sponsored news agency. But he quickly learned that “Sputnik’s mission statement—‘Telling the Untold’—means that Sputnik’s content should reflect the Russian side of any news story, whether it lines up with reality or not.” Feinberg writes that he was increasingly pressured to ask questions at White House news briefings that supported Russian propaganda, like whether budget cuts to foreign aid spending in Ukraine were related to the country’s “corrupt” government, and that he was fired for refusing to question the press secretary about murdered DNC aide Seth Rich. “I thought Sputnik wanted me for my skills as a journalist,” he writes, “but what they wanted was to use the veneer of journalism to push their own agenda.”
Beyonce is working on a 600-page book about the making of Lemonade. How to Make Lemonade “shows the inspiration and themes behind some of the film’s most provocative and cryptic moments,” and includes a foreword by Michael Eric Dyson. The limited-edition version of the book includes two LPs, and is available on Beyonce’s website for $300.
Adweek lists the online publishers who have chosen to “pivot to video” in the last few months. “Check in later to see what, exactly, they have headed toward.”
Publisher’s Weekly visits the offices of the New York Times’s book review, which was recently combined into one department and is going through a redesign. Although restructuring is often a precursor to downsizing, “this is one of those cases in which centralizing and consolidating is not reduction,” editor Pamela Paul said. “It’s expansion. Obviously, we need the staff to be able to carry that out.”
The Outline reports on the closure of media start-up Fresco News. In one effort to boost morale, the company invited investor Ashton Kutcher to speak. After a pep talk about the site’s mission of empowering “citizen journalists,” Kutcher broke the news that the staff would not be paid on time. Founder John Meyer had given Kutcher some Fresco-branded merchandise, which the actor then offered to the staff. “Kutcher looked at me and said, ‘I don’t need this,’” one employee remembered. “‘If you want it, you can sell this on eBay and pay your rent.’”
In anticipation of the president’s announcement that he plans to send more US troops to Afghanistan, Axios has collected six years-worth of tweets in which Trump called for the US to leave the country.
John Herrman looks at the recent purge of right-wing media and social network users in response to Charlottesville, and explains why these groups proliferated for so long on the internet. “Despite their participatory rhetoric, social platforms are closer to authoritarian spaces than democratic ones,” Herrman writes. “It makes some sense that people with authoritarian tendencies would have an intuitive understanding of how they work and how to take advantage of them.”
Bloomberg takes a close look at Steve Bannon’s descent. Joshua Green writes that while Bannon’s “attack dog” style was an asset during the campaign, his “aggressive instincts and sharp elbows didn’t translate to the White House.” American Prospect editor Bob Kuttner tells Poynter that he can only take partial credit for Bannon’s firing. “My conversation may have been the last straw but he was in the process of doing himself in,” Kuttner said. “I’m honored that he chose me for his final self-immolation.”