Year-End Wrap-Up 2018

CONCLUSIONS OR DELUSIONS?

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(Painting c/o wikipedia commons, “outsider art.”)

2018 was a challenging year, as we injected ourselves, on several occasions, wisely or unwisely, into debates in defense of free expression and of truth.

A score of posts at this blog were devoted to our investigation of the Junot Diaz Controversy. See one of our reports here.

We also came out publicly in opposition to the depublishing of poets in response to pressure by what I called “Poetry Cops.” One of our reports on that matter is here. In this post we asked the question, “Is American literature becoming a censorship horror show?” As of this writing it remains an open question.
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AMID the noise, we found time to present some of the best fiction and poetry found anywhere, from present and future literary luminaries and of all kinds and styles. Examine them and their work at our Features line-up here.
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OUR own highlight at this blog and in our lives in 2018 was this trip back up to northern Michigan’s Hemingway country, this time for distinctly personal reasons.
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What’s in store for New Pop Lit for 2019?

More new fiction and poetry,

BUT ALSO–

We’ll attempt to reinvent the short story. That’s all.
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit News

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Cultural Revolutions

WHAT REALLY HAPPENED TO IAN BURUMA?

chinesemaoists

What happened to Ian Buruma is that he was perceived by younger members of the literary herd to be out-of-step and slow, and so he had to go.

Step back, gain perspective, and you’ll see what’s happening is that English-speaking culture is in the midst of an ongoing cultural revolution, which is really a hundred mini-revolutions occurring simultaneously. Miscreants shamed, editors toppled, with accompanying cheers from twitter mobs and in halls of the academy.

What’s happening is as old as humanity. An energetic young generation wishing to displace those in their way, grabbing any excuse necessary.

Yes, the old system, populated by decaying icons like Ian Buruma, is corrupt, clueless, patriarchal, fossilized. Some of its members are toxic– but not as toxic as what’s coming.

It’s akin to what happened with the Bolshevik Revolution. The very flawed Czar and his aristocracy were removed. Those who took their place– Lenin, Stalin, and the like– pursued the cause of social justice but were in fact another level of corruption and ruthlessness from what they replaced. As history demonstrated.

In today’s cultural scene, the ambitious newcomers seeking to topple the gatekeepers are another level of volatility and drive from the likes of Buruma, David Remnick at The New Yorker, or The Boston Review‘s Joshua Cohen. Cohen, Remnick, and Buruma perceive themselves as leftist, maybe even as Sixties-style radicals, but they aren’t really. They’ve been playing. They’ve held to long-time liberal principles of open debate, free speech, the pursuit of objectivity. Now they’re seeing with the arrival of the Jesse Browns and Monica Byrnes onto the cultural scene genuine revolutionaries whose only principle is the pursuit of power and self, letting nothing stand in their way.

Don’t kid yourself. Instinctively, the Joshua Cohens, David Remnicks, and Ian Burumas are the actual targets of those who want to clean house of toxic debris. Not consciously, but instinctively– and the Jesse Browns, Monica Byrnes, and Zinzi Clemmons of the social justice mob run chiefly on instinct. Their ideology is simply the available weapon– the justification– allowing them to achieve their actual ends. Their unconscious needs.

Targets such as Jian Ghomeshi and Junot Diaz are collateral damage. Objectives to take out on the road toward the big guys.

What of that Old Guard? Remnick, Buruma, Cohen, and others yet to be discredited?

They’re akin to Stepan Trofimovitch Verhovensky in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s masterpiece novel The Possessed, (aka Demons or Devils). Feckless liberals seeing the world around them change, in unpredictable and dangerous ways.

possessed

COMING: Part II of these speculations.
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

 

Unreason and Literature

OBJECTIVE TRUTH IN THE JUNOT DIAZ CONTROVERSY

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Interesting to me is how the Junot Diaz accusers and the accusers’ supporters aren’t interested in the truth of the matter. To them, objective truth is an outmoded concept. To them, objectivity is impossible. They don’t care about evidence or the lack of evidence, because to them, evidence is irrelevant.

Most important is the cause.

An anti-Junot Diaz advocate tweeted this quote from Nietzsche:

All things are subject to interpretation. Whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth.

Nietzsche

It’s a Nietzschean concept, and also a Hitlerian one.

We’re living in a post-truth age. We’ve seen this in fiction for awhile. More and more, best-selling novels are about fantasy, not reality. Fantasy of some kind, be it vampires, zombies, sci-fi– or the medieval dragons of George R. R. Martin and Company.  Quite a difference from, say, sixty years ago when readers still lived in reality and expected to encounter reality in their reading.

2010-01-C&E_Dragon(Artwork: David Revoy/Blender Foundation.)

A noteworthy example of this change is chief planner, organizer, and accuser in the Junot Diaz Controversy, Monica Byrne. Would that her novel was as well plotted as the Diaz takedown. Instead, it’s an assault of Too Much Information– experiences and imaginings jammed together with uncountable settings, characters, and ideas in a well-written but ultimately incoherent story.

Byrne classifies herself as a Christian– a style of Christianity untethered to any church or doctrine. A belief system where the individual herself determines her own beliefs, her own morality.

It’s old-fashioned Gnosticism, which gave established Christianity heavy competition around 150 A.D.

the-gnostic-gospels

-Whoever follows the direction of his own mind need not accept anyone else’s advice.

-Convinced that the only answers were to be found within, the gnostic engaged in an intensely private interior journey.

-Elaine Pagels
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TODAY: Post-truth, post-reality, post-objectivity– spawned by postmodern philosophies which began with Nietzsche. Truth merely a construct. Who’s better at selling their version of truth? One version is as good as another– the conflict little more than a PR battle.

1979 Grammy Music Awards

Pretended truths and made-up belief systems on all sides. It’s not new. Nietzsche brought forth from his own insanities nothing new. The mindset has been with us for millennia.

Gnosticism matches the attitude toward objective truth found among the Junot Diaz accusers and their supporters. If it’s “your truth,” that’s all that matters. Your truth, your reality, accuser always believed. The accused is assumed to be guilty.
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Responses to these remarks are invited.

-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

 

Junot Diaz: Captive of the System

THE HARASSMENT CONTROVERSY VIEWED FROM A DIFFERENT ANGLE

phantom monster

IF all men are monsters, then that psychic grievance needs continual proof in the form of visible examples. Junot Diaz fit that need.

THE NARRATIVE

Evidence shows the accusations against Junot Diaz to be flimsy– more a case of bruised egos or a dismissive personality than sexual harassment. Junot Diaz fans blame the accusers themselves for the controversy. (Two accusers, in fact, are ambitiously eager to exploit every opportunity to gain publicity.)

For me the matter is caused more by a politicized literary scene– and by the media which covers that scene needing a steady supply of victims and guilty. The accusers are the Id of that media– the realized expression of their beliefs and needs. Without encouragement behind the scenes, the matter would never have become a story in the first place.

THE MACHINE

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One has to write outside today’s New York-centered literary system in order to see it AS a system. Those inside it have no perspective on it.

THE PRISONER

Junot Diaz’s reaction to the accusations against him has been constrained by his membership in the club. He became successful as a creature of the machine, but now the bill has come due and he’s paying it.

MUCH has been made about Diaz hiring a PR firm, and by appearing at his Boston Globe interview accompanied by a lawyer– but these are shackles on no one so much as him.

Handcuffs01_2003-06-02

Did you see the expression on his face in the photo by Suzanne Kreiter which the Boston Globe used? The expression of a prisoner. What you didn’t see are the invisible handcuffs chaining him to that lawyer. Said attorney and said PR firm exist to keep Junot Diaz from speaking his mind. From being himself.

That’s a hell of a position for any artist to be in.

BUSINESS

What was the quote from the Hyman Roth character in the movie Godfather II?

hyman roth

“This is the business we’ve chosen.”

Junot Diaz chose the world of establishment literature when he signed up for the MFA program at Cornell University he was later to write about in his 2014 essay “MFA vs. POC.”

Cornell_University_arts_quad

Diaz was one of the few writers of color in that writing program. He also may have been the only non-bourgeois person in it.

MFA programs teach students how to write in the proper upper-middle class “literary” style of long slow paragraphs of finely-detailed descriptions expressed in well-wrought sentences and it’s all very impressive to the cognoscenti but it’s also removed from the fast-paced real world lives of 95% of the American populace– a big reason why the short story, once the most popular American art form in the vulgar days of O. Henry and Jack London, is today only the delicate captive of writing programs, MFA grads, and New Yorker magazines sitting unread on Manhattan-or-the-Hamptons coffee tables.

manhattan c of alexkotlickDOTcom(Photo c/o AlexKotlik.com.)

It’s to Junot Diaz’s credit that his talent rises above the limitations– the handcuffs– of that very same refined writing style.

NOW he’s being judged by the same people he loathed when he was in those classrooms. Yes, those perfect beings currently staffing Buzzfeed, The Cut, Slate, The New York Times, etc. etc.; almost all from privileged backgrounds and in their Resistance daydreams looking for purpose, looking for causes, looking for harsh macho misogynists looking for anyone they can accuse hang and shred on the altar of their virtue signaling. Someone to nail to the wall for offending their sensibilities with too much reality brushing indelicately and intolerably against the fragile bubbles of their sterling New York City lives.

pelt on wall

-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit News

Junot Diaz and the Sensitivity Police

SENSITIVITY TRAINING FOR ALL NOVELISTS?

USAF_Mess_Dress

(NOT the Sensitivity Police.)

I DISCUSSED the matter months ago in the latter part of my second post about the Junot Diaz controversy. The rules and standards the writer must obey, and the lines he or she must never cross, expand by the day. Maybe the hour.

The writer’s personal behavior is subject to scrutiny in the new Orwellian literary world. But as important is a person’s writings. Fiction is no longer regarded as fiction. It will be used in judging you.

dress uni woman w knife

Case in point is this essay by Lyta Gold from the precocious characters at Current Affairs which appeared on May 8th. (I’ve covered Current Affairs before at this blog, including here.) Note how, referring to Junot Diaz, Lyta Gold has “strongly suspected, from his prose alone, that he’s a virulent misogynist.” Quite a leap. (Was the character Popeye in William Faulkner’s novel Sanctuary based on Faulkner? Who knows!)

The atmosphere of Gold’s essay is not that of literature, but religion. Current Affairs‘ peculiar pseudo-Communist/Social Justice religion.

Military_of_Hungary-welcome

The giveaway line is when Lyta Gold says, about Junot Diaz’s writing, “his work was presumptively taken to be flawless and free of sin. . . .”

Free of sin? Is this how writing is being judged?

Nun_ruler - Edited

Lyta Gold further says that “no writer . . . gets to be validated by invisible particles of virtue.”

Well, yeah. But is this the standard? Is this why Junot Diaz was validated to begin with?

Virtue?

David_A_Christian_in_dress_uniform(Literary awards– for virtue?)

Or because of his writing? Why are writers published? If all that will be accepted, after thorough personal screenings and background checks, are virtuous writers, the art of literature will be in even more trouble than it is now.
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current affairs staff

(Current Affairs staff, from their website.)

PART of what’s happening, ironically enough, is the imposition of bourgeois morality. The Current Affairs staff, like many such staffs, is completely bourgeois in background and sensibility. When expedient– in feeding their own selfish needs and conveniences– they’re as egoistic as Ayn Rand. In the case of Current Affairs, ambitious careerist ladder climbers. Harvard grads, most of them.

The happenings which Junot Diaz puts into his stories and novels are outside their experience. Not surprising, then, that they’re thrown by them. Which doesn’t justify an easily applied label like “misogynist” (a clinical term). If we start judging writers by their musings, their fantasies, and their fictional characters, we’re all in trouble.

This could be the future, if the Sensitivity Police have their way. A kinder, gentler literature– innocuous, harmless, and irrelevant.

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Comments are welcomed.
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-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

Where’s the Evidence?

LATEST NEWS FROM THE JUNOT DIAZ CONTROVERSY

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The latest news from the Junot Diaz controversy is there is no news.

FROM THE MOMENT the Junot Diaz alleged harassment controversy broke big-time on May 4th, two of the three original accusers, Monica Byrne and Zinzi Clemmons, have made numerous tweets promising everyone that more stories would be forthcoming. Zinzi Clemmons has said she has “receipts”– emails from Junot Diaz documenting the fact he’d harassed her. Monica Byrne has mentioned time and again “39” other accusers waiting in the wings. Those who’ve been covering the story, including ourselves, have been waiting, and waiting, and waiting. (Alisa Rivera came immediately afterward with an incident from a date gone awry 15 years ago, as did ex-girlfriend Alisa Valdes with her experiences.)

THE ASSUMPTION– in my opinion the wager by the original three– was that Diaz was unquestionably an abuser and that many more accusers would come forward after the coordinated presentation on May 4th made international headlines. Monica Byrne had been through this twice before (see this), and based on those experiences, believed enough other women would come forward to remove Junot Diaz from his positions at Boston Review and MIT. As we now know, both institutions held the line.

HOW LONG had the planned revelations been under consideration?

Here is their genesis, in a few of the tweets exchanged between Monica Byrne and an initially reluctant Carmen Maria Machado– dating from 2015:

THE THIRD member of the trio was brought on board beginning in December of 2017, at the same time MeToo stories were breaking everyplace. See this, and this, and this.

MEDIA BLITZKRIEG

Ausbildung, Überrollen durch Panzer

GIVEN the intensity of the criticism, Junot Diaz should’ve been completely destroyed. The calculation with any such maneuver is that the target will be. It’s analogous to Germany’s “Operation Barbarossa” invasion of the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941. After a string of easy victories, Hitler believed the rotting structure of the world’s first Communist regime would collapse in on itself, as a result of a strong push. Didn’t happen. He didn’t count on the enormous fortitude of the Russian people.  What followed was a long, slow slog. Which is what’s been happening the last several months between both sides of the Junot Diaz controversy.

Bora Zivkovic and Raphael Martin, obsequious liberals unprepared for their personal idiosyncrasies to be exposed to the world, immediately apologized and resigned in the face of accusations. What happened in the Junot Diaz matter was that a recording of his verbal exchange with Carmen Maria Machado was produced– and completely changed the dynamic of the controversy. This led us, and others, to look further into the matter.

question mark

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? We’ll see.
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-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

Should Writers Be Purged?

LITERARY EDITORS AND PUBLISHERS are divided over the question of whether or not a writer’s work should be purged over misbehavior imagined or real taking place outside the sphere of the art itself. We may well be in the minority for answering, “No.”

Another question inevitably arises during such censorious periods: Where does the purge end?

Ezra_Pound

For instance, should Ezra Pound, founder of literary modernism, be deleted from memory banks and lit-history books? Should every award granted him be expunged?

(We addressed the question here in our yet-to-be-resumed All-Time American Writers Tournament.)

What do you do with a host of classic-but-problematic writers whose lives or art would today be considered beyond acceptable bounds?

American_Psycho_by_Bret_Easton_Ellis_first_US_paperback_edition_1991

ARE WRITERS BEING BLACKBALLED?

We have the case of poet Joseph Massey, accused earlier this year of harassing women. According to Massey,  this was based on anonymous, distorted, and fictitious allegations. His chief accuser is a poet who had a two-year affair with him. I haven’t looked into the substance of the claims. Massey did admit, in a Facebook apology which was later taken down, to having issues.

WE’VE SEEN in the Junot Diaz controversy that an apology isn’t enough.

Joseph Massey, well-regarded though he’s been, lacks as big a name and reputation as Diaz. After the allegations, accompanied by an article or two about the matter, Massey’s work was deleted from The Academy of American Poets website, including an essay written about his work. Joseph Massey was also deleted from The Poetry Society of America, where he’d been announced as “New American Poet” in 2009. Down the memory hole.

NO DOUBT there are many flawed individuals within the walls of the literary scene, as there have always been. Some seriously flawed. As there have always been in the arts, period. History shows that many of the best artists, writers, composers, musicians, have been in some ways disturbed, wrestling with demons in the world, and within themselves. An argument can be made that it’s part of experiencing the world with more intensity than the rest of us. To feeling, raging, and suffering more than “normal” people.

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(Some will regard this as mere excuse making.)

Do we delete them and their work, all of it?

HOW MANY of the rest of us writers and poets have misbehaviors in our backgrounds which could someday be exposed? A few of us? All of us?

Do we all submit to background checks before submitting our work, just in case?

In this hyper-regulated day and age is the following statement obsolete– or does it still have relevance?

Let the one among you without sin cast the first stone.

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-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

The Removal of Junot Diaz

ORWELLIAN BEHAVIOR IN A POLITICIZED LITERARY WORLD

removedjunotdiaz

While looking into another matter, we stumbled upon this article by Matthew C. Winner. Or rather, a note from Mr. Winner about an April 24th podcast involving Junot Diaz and Leo Espinosa, “The Children’s Book Podcast #435,” which on May 5th was removed.

AS Winner’s own comment states, the removal took place within 24 hours of accusations of sexual harassment being made against Junot Diaz– a knee-jerk action after no reflection, no investigation, no waiting for any dust to settle.

WAS Matthew Winner caught up in the media hysteria over the matter?

Note that he refers to “an overwhelming number of women” making such charges. (There were four by this time. An ex-girlfriend chimed in ten days later.)

Winner also says,

I, Matthew Winner, and The Children’s Book Podcast will not support the works of individuals accused of misogynistic acts, sexual predation, or any other offense against women. That behavior is intolerable. . . .

Do you catch the jump in logic? He goes from “individuals accused” to “That behavior.” For Michael C. Winner, the accusation is enough.

To make his point he slaps a large “REMOVED” over the image of Junot Diaz.

Flushed down the memory hole?

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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

Political Correctness Backfires

POLITICIZATION OF LITERATURE LEAVES EVERYONE CLUELESS

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OR, THE IMPLOSION OF ESTABLISHED LITERATURE CONTINUES

Kai

THE SUSPECTS

LIVE BY politics, die by politics seems to be the new credo of today’s literary world. A brief scandal taking place the past days has been a poem, “How To” by Anders Carlson-Wee appearing in The Nation magazine. The poem was meant to be progressive, talking about the homeless and other downtrodden people. It ended up offending readers. The Nation has added an apology. More a confession than apology:

We made a serious mistake by choosing to publish the poem . . . We are sorry for the pain we have caused to many communities . . .we are listening and we are working . . . we know the onus on change is on us . . . we need to step back and look at not only our editing process, but at ourselves as editors.

No word yet as to whether the Nation editors have entered a re-education camp.

WHAT’S the story behind the story?

Anders is trying to get in step with the zeitgeist– in so doing, has inadvertently upset people he was attempting to portray. Maybe he should’ve skipped the political stance to begin with– except he’s benefited greatly from being political in his poetry. He has a book out from New York publisher W.W. Norton. There’s also this from his bio:

His work has appeared in BuzzFeed, The Nation, Tin House, Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, Poetry DailyThe Sun, and The Best American Nonrequired Reading. His debut chapbook, Dynamite, won the Frost Place Chapbook Prize. He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the McKnight Foundation, Bread Loaf, and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. He is codirector of the award-winning poetry film Riding the Highline and winner of Ninth Letter’s Poetry Award, Blue Mesa Review’s Poetry Prize, New Delta Review’s Editors’ Choice Prize, and the 2017 Poetry International Prize.

ONE CAN SURMISE that The Nation decided to publish Carlson-Wee’s poem based in part on its P.C. politics, but also because its author is apparently one of the up-and-comers of the establishment poetry scene.

A taste of where Anders is coming from as a poet is given in a long, narcissistic interview Anders and his poet brother, Kai Carlson-Wee, a professor at Stanford (second photo) did with 32poems.com. There’s this revealing quote from Anders:

Our parents would often encourage us to think beyond the strictures of gender, class, age, religion, etc. and I think we grew up with a sense that in order to tell our own stories, we needed to tell the stories of others. One didn’t exist without the other.

Do you buy that?

And this one:

I wholeheartedly agree that road narratives of women and POC are severely lacking in pop culture and literature—while in reality, these stories are abundant, alive, and wild. It’s not that the stories don’t exist, it’s that they’re silenced and underrepresented. Travel narratives are universal in human storytelling, and they belong to everyone. And while white male travel narratives are drastically overemphasized–

Uh, dude, if you truly believe that, why are you writing in the voice of women and POC??

Anders is confused, clearly (as even his photo shows), but the nonstop indoctrination he’s been subjected to– beginning from his Lutheran-minister Minnesota liberal parents– is most to blame.

DO WE see a parallel with the Junot Diaz controversy?

As I said in our second post on that complicated issue, Diaz has himself been as progressively political as possible. In an ever-changing literary scene looking for culprits, not properly political enough.
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-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

The Other Harassment Case

THE ACCUSATIONS AGAINST DONALD FUTERS

futers3(Donald Futers in 2011.)

MORE COORDINATION BY ACCUSERS?

Curious or coincidence? On May 4, the very day his wife confronted Junot Diaz at the Sydney Writers Festival, her husband, Andre Naffis-Sahely, confronted Penguin UK poetry editor Donald Futers on twitter, referencing Junot Diaz in so doing:

TO WHAT did these inferences apply? Two days later he added this:

THE NEWS was breaking as he tweeted this. The person making the accusations: A.K. Blakemore:

Among the many articles in the United Kingdom about this controversy, most prominent may have been this one which appeared in The Times.

blakemore2

(Poet A.K. Blakemore.)

At least one journalist in England was skeptical about the accusation:

WE at New Pop Lit NEWS haven’t looked deeply into the Donald Futers/Amy Blakemore issue. We’re unable to offer a judgement, or even an opinion, either way. What’s interesting as regards the Junot Diaz issue is that one of the principals there, Zinzi Clemmons, along with her husband, Mr. Naffis-Sahely, were instrumental in bringing Futers/Blakemore matter also to light. (For what it’s worth, Naffis-Sahely, like Ms. Blakemore, is published by Penguin UK.) More coordination? At the least, many conversations behind the scenes.

The following three tweets show Clemmons to be very much the activist on sexual harassment:

What’s the back story to this particular part of the expanding story? Far be it from us to say. What Futers is accused of doing (which he denies) remains vague. All we know for sure is that he and one of the writers he edits, A.K. Blakemore, went on a date in 2015. We also know that– as with Junot Diaz– his employer has not fired him. We know Zinzi Clemmons has been actively involved in both controversies.

andre naffis-sahely(Andre Naffis-Sahely.)

Keep in mind that both controversies are battles within the established literary scene, in the U.S. and the U.K. Donald Futers, like Junot Diaz, has been vocally and vociferously progressive. Which makes us think our second post on the Junot Diaz affair may have been on the money.

THERE IS YET another personality apparently involved in some way in the Futers/Blakemore issue. More, perhaps, about that upcoming.

-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS