Why Did They Publish It?

THE COLLAPSE OF BIG FIVE PUBLISHING IS ONGOING

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Call it a collapse of credibility more than anything.

James Frey may be the most egregious person on the literary scene today.

Frey’s 2003 best-selling memoir, A Million Little Pieces, was later revealed by The Smoking Gun to contain large fabrications.

In 2010 James Frey was shown by Suzanne Mozes of New York magazine to be running a “fiction factory” ruthlessly taking advantage of aspiring young writers.

Frey’s just-released novel, Katerina, is getting slammed by literary critics.

-Including by Ron Charles at the Washington Post, who says it may be “the worst novel of the year.”

-Including by Claire Fallon at Huffington Post, who states firmly that “James Frey Still Sucks.”

THE QUESTION everyone is asking is “Why does James Frey continue to be published?”

It has to be more than Ms. Fallon’s take that he’s published simply because he’s a white guy. There are scores of talented white male writers out there who aren’t landing big book contracts from Big Five publishers like Simon & Schuster. At New Pop Lit we’ve published many of them, including Clint Margrave, Jack Somers, Brian Eckert, Richard Greenhorn, Gregory YelnishAlan Swyer, D.C. Miller, Alex Bernstein, Alex Olson, Jon Berger, Michael Howard, Don Waitt, Wred FrightJoshua Caleb Wilson, and Elias Keller, to name some of the more recent names.

simon & schuster bldg(Simon & Schuster Building.)

COULD IT BE that giant book companies which are part of gigantic media conglomerates and insulated by layers of bureaucracy within Manhattan skyscrapers are simply unable to locate actual literary talent? Instead they take the easiest path: “Round up the usual suspects!”

It’s a top-heavy and feckless system worthy of collapse.
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

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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?

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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?

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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

Should Literary Editors Ever Apologize?

IS AMERICAN LITERATURE BECOMING A CENSORSHIP HORROR SHOW?

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Some days it seems writers spend as much time taking down other writers as they do creating their own work.

WE HAVE the instance of The Nation magazine apologizing for publishing a poem. (Covered by us in “Political Correctness Backfires.”)

NOW, the Anders Carlson-Wee poem is one we wouldn’t run ourselves. It’s mediocre, poorly thought out, even goofy. The poet is blatantly pandering to his audience (literary editors, not readers) and his performance in (as Mother Jones described it) “blackface” has backfired. Anders is a writer who’s fair game to be criticized. Who begs to be criticized.

AT THE SAME TIME, The Nation‘s haste to apologize for running the mangled thing was a tad unseemly. An embarrassment– running, rushing, gushing to apologize. Their action sets a regrettable precedent for literary editors everyplace.

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Writers, editors, and publishers fought for many years– decades, centuries– for the right to publish anything. ANYTHING. Have the battles over Ulysses, Lady Chatterly’s Lover, “Howl” and other cases become lost from historical memory? Today, after a wave of sensitivity trainings, we see editors and writers afraid to upset anyone in any way.

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A CASE IN POINT is that of poet Rachel Custer, whose poem “To the Woman in a Plague Mask Outside the Living Room Window” was accepted by Ohio State University’s The Journal literary magazine for their Spring 2018 issue, then taken down by editor Kelsey Hagarman after she received complaints not about the poem– but about the poet. (Blackballing?)

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The two complainants used terms like “good literary citizen,” “negative individuals,” “negative online behavior”– which invites the question: What does this have to do with art? They also told Hagarman “–the community will be here to support you”– a statement which reeks of the mindset of a herd. Half-a-step toward the totalitarian.

(The role of the artist over the centuries has been, as often as not, to stand against the herd.)

FYI: The Rachel Custer’s poem was restored by an Ohio State administrator after Rachel threatened legal action. Afterward Hagarman emphasized to one of the complainants that it was “an administrative decision, not an editorial one.” So much for the editor backing her writers and their art!

What makes the affair more inexcusable is that both complainants, Hannah Cohen and E. Kristin Anderson, are editors at other literary journals. A quote to Kelsey Hagarman from Anderson:

“I’ve probably worked with problematic folks in the past and I’ve taken to just googling everyone.”

Problematic? Just know, writers, that when dealing with a host of literary journals you’ll be judged more for who you are, or for past statements and actions, than for your art.

(Meanwhile other literary editors have continued to attack Rachel Custer on twitter.)

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WHAT’S HAPPENING is a mob mentality, where the hungry crowd, having achieved victories, needs to be satiated again. And again, and again, growing ever larger and more narrow in viewpoint. In the name of tolerance, more intolerant. In the name of the marginalized, further marginalizing already marginalized writers. The literary art becoming more and more homogenized.

We first noted in “Death of the Alt Right” the phenomenon in regard to projects like Casper Mag (later Fluland Mag), whose anonymous editor changed his project’s name and his ideas to accommodate critics, but after too many battles closed down anyway.

TODAY’S LITERARY SCENE from top to bottom is becoming more about politics than about creativity and art. We say, fight your battles in the sphere of politics. (We’re an anti-political literary site.) One area which must be exempt is the arena of art. I could find every day examples of movies, paintings, stories, novels, poems, songs, and plays which offend me. Even anger me. Being offended is part of living in a free and intellectually diverse society. Controlling one’s anger is a key part of becoming an adult. We expect it of a five year-old.

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History shows that artistic breakthroughs come from outcasts and outsiders. Sometimes from unpleasant individuals whose work violently upsets somebody. Genius is one step from madness. Creativity is taking your brains and emotions beyond the bounds of normal or acceptable behavior.

Tomorrow’s masterpiece is UNacceptable today. Throw open the doors. Air out the stodgy museums. Allow new voices of every kind and style to have their say.

Author James Joyce and Publisher

-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

 

Schizophrenic Literary World

THE CURIOUS REHABILITATION OF TAO LIN

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THE WAR within establishment literature continues– as evidenced by this article by Jakob Maier of Buzzfeed News commenting on the sudden comeback of alt-lit opportunist Tao Lin.

(NOTE: Buzzfeed News was at the forefront of promoting accusations against Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Diaz— we have yet to receive a yes-or-no answer from reporters Amber Jamieson and Dara Levy about how much they knew in advance about the Zinzi Clemmons confrontation with Diaz at the Sydney Writers Festival this past May.)

ACCORDING to the Jakob Maier article, Tao Lin is currently being promoted by several icons of the established literary world– Vintage Books, The New Yorker and New York magazine. Anna Silman of The Cut (a New York mag project), has been leading the charge against Junot Diaz, so it’s a bit surprising to see this article in New York about what Tao Lin– accused of statutory rape four years ago– adds to his shopping cart.

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AS Tao Lin infamously published a book titled Shoplifting at American Apparel, can we surmise that he doesn’t have a shopping cart? Confusion, confusion, all is confusion.

(To add to the confusion, the publisher of that book, Melville House, has also been on the anti-Junot Diaz bandwagon.)

For the record, Tao Lin as a writer is no Junot Diaz. In this critic’s opinion he has yet to demonstrate any writing talent at all.

More worrisome is possibility that the entire alt-lit movement of literary scam artists will make a comeback. Let’s hope not.

Media Malfeasance?

QUESTIONS IN THE JUNOT DIAZ CONTROVERSY CONTINUE TO MULTIPLY

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(Is this Dara Levy?)
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THE QUESTION TODAY is: To what extent does major media manufacture news stories?

The Related Question: Was the Junot Diaz controversy created by media– in coordination with the three main accusers?

Start examining the timelines of the quick reaction to the encounter between Zinzi Clemmons and Junot Diaz  which occurred May 4th at the Sydney Writers Festival, and it begins to look that way.

OUR STORY properly begins, however, with an email sent 12/18/2017 by Buzzfeed‘s Dara Levy to author Zinzi Clemmons. (Clemmons tweeted out a copy of the email several days ago, July 1.) In the email, Levy says,

I’m a reporter at Buzzfeed News and wanted to reach out regarding this Facebook post . . . particularly, your comments about a Pulitzer-prize winning, supposedly woke writer of color. We’ve been looking into a number of tips . . . One of the tips we received sounds very similar to the ‘Pulitzer-prize winning’ person you mentioned, so I wanted to see if you might be comfortable sharing a little bit more information with me on the phone.

In April, after the Junot Diaz New Yorker magazine memoir came out, there began a series of rumors and inferences on twitter which may have been aimed at Diaz.

Then: Friday, May 4th at the Sydney Writers Festival. A 3 p.m. panel discussion. From the audience, Zinzi Clemmons asks Junot Diaz a question which others in the audience take as embarrassing. She drops the microphone and stalks away.

Almost immediately afterward, 5:05 pm Sydney time (3:05 am Eastern Time), Zinzi tweeted her accusation about an event from several years ago.

Monica Byrne appears to have tweeted out her own thread of detailed accusations against Junot Diaz a mere nine minutes later–

The third main accuser, Carmen Maria Machado, followed with her own detailed thread shortly after that–

Coordinated? It sure looks that way. Especially when you realize that Machado and Byrne discussed on twitter taking Junot Diaz down as far back as 2015.
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dara levy linked-in

(Buzzfeed journalist Dara Levy from her Linked-In page.)

THE CURIOUS person in all this is Dara Levy– the reporter who’d contacted Zinzi Clemmons about Junot Diaz back in December. After the Clemmons-Diaz exchange in Sydney, and the follow-up tweets, Buzzfeed was one of the first news outlets to cover the story, with an article penned by Amber Jamieson and Dara Levy, here.

Buzzfeed is the only news outlet I can find which has quotes from actual attendees, as if they had a reporter on the scene. (Why would they?) In their article, they cite four attendees spoken to. (Other outlets, like Vulture, cribbed from Buzzfeed’s reportage, using the same quotes and linking to their article.)

Curious, curious. Also curious is the way so many news outlets around the world– Vanity Fair, New York Times, CBS News, ABC News, The Guardian, The Independent— quickly ran stories on the exchange, though they had a short time frame to do so– even given the time difference between Sydney and cities like London and New York.

WERE these media outlets prepped in advance?

The Sydney Morning Herald ran an article the day after the Diaz-Clemmons exchange which was penned by two writers from the New York Times, Alexandra Alter and Jonah Bromwich– as if the New York-based writers and their publication were more ready for the event than were Sydney’s journalists.

A set up?

KEEP IN MIND that the exchange between Diaz and Clemmons was the kind of rushed, hectic encounter which onlookers couldn’t hear clearly, and which they had little-to-no idea what it was about. On its own, it would have caused scarcely a ripple. Only that what appeared to be a series of prearranged tweets– and possibly prearranged notifications to press outlets– turned a short dialogue into a controversy covered across the globe, which has yet to end.
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More to come?

-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit News

How to Write a Hatchet Job

PRELUDE TO EXAMINING SLATE’S JUNOT DIAZ ARTICLE

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THE TRUTH is that a character assassination can be written on anyone– especially when you delve into the person’s long history of writings and cherry pick from them to bolster your argument.

Did Slate‘s Lili Loofbourow do this in her examination of the Junot Diaz sexual harassment controversy now dividing the literary world?

THE TRICK is that the same treatment could be performed on Ms. Loofbourow. For instance, two minutes of google searching found this article:

“In Praise of Fleabag and the Unapologetically Flawed Female Antihero.”

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The television show Loofbourow acclaims is, in her own words, “–a tremendous, oddly nourishing show about a liar and thief.” “It’s the story . . . of a woman who reads people too well and takes advantage of them,” “somehow desperate,” “a lean, amoral Matilda with no impulse control.”

(Anyone we know. . . ?)

Reading the article, one would think Lili Loofbourow doesn’t care, really, about apologies– nor about ethical behavior and truth. One could readily believe that Lili Loofbourow is simply a media gun-for-hire, fixing her opinions to fit the needs of her editors– or those of the greater conglomerate media herd.

That would be unfair.

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THE SLATE article is interesting to me, because it reminds me of a long essay that was written fifteen years ago for a major literary publication, about an activist writers group. A writers group coincidentally devoted to exposing blatant corruption in the established literary world. That long-ago essay was a well-written hatchet job, filled with half-truths, distortions, and omissions. It defined us, creating a narrative which became “the truth” about us in everyone’s heads, so much so that any journalist afterward covering the organization read that essay as part of their research on it, viewing it through the same prism of misconceptions.
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I’m not complaining. I’m stating how the game is played. Those who rise to a position where they crank out articles for a variety of publications play the game very, very well.

The solution? To create an alternative literary world, and alternative lit-media, not based in the shark tank of New York– one devoted to facts, talent, and truth.

COMING SOON: A more direct look at the Slate article.

-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit News.

The Cult of Junot Diaz

FOURTH IN A SERIES ON THE JUNOT DIAZ-BOSTON REVIEW CONTROVERSY

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RARE INDEED is it for a writer in  this day and age to create an obsessive fan base– but by all appearances Junot Diaz has done it, as I’m discovering while covering the ongoing controversy over whether he should or should not resign as Boston Review‘s fiction editor. His defenders guard twitter night and day, obsessively noting every hashtag related to the issue and commenting instantaneously. As someone who worries about the health of literature in this country, this is good to see.

THE QUESTION I’ve raised is to what extent the Junot Diaz persona matches the actual person beneath?

It’s unquestionable that he’s an intelligent person– by all indications a fairly complex one. It’d be naive to think he’s not to some extent in his public appearances playing to the needs of his audience. Would this be unusual? Not at all– not even in the pristine land of today’s literary scene, which some want to believe is all sunshine and cotton candy.

(Does anyone truly believe that the public good-guy persona of author-publisher Dave Eggers, for instance, is the actual person? Is anyone that naive?)

THERE’S ALSO the question implied by Carmen Maria Machado in her infamous recorded exchange with Junot Diaz. Namely, to what extent does the character Yunior in his book of stories match himself? A little? A lot? Does Diaz’s actual life match in any way the incidents described in the book? Is Junior in any way an aspect of Junot Diaz’s own personality?

These are questions which his defenders believe aren’t supposed to be asked about him– even though they’ve been asked about nearly every famous author who’s ever existed. (Did Hemingway’s characters resemble himself? Scott Fitzgerald’s? Naw! No way!)

ANOTHER PROBLEM the Cult of Junot has is with anyone who thinks his revelatory memoir in The New Yorker magazine was a mistake. Significantly, most who think it wasn’t are women. But I bring to the question the perspective of a man, taking the stance of the aforementioned Hemingway in regard to a confessional memoir called “The Crack-Up” penned by the aforementioned F. Scott Fitzgerald. Hemingway felt the publication of such material was a mistake; that it was better dealt with obliquely in a novel. Ernest Hemingway followed a stoic code forgotten or dismissed in this day and age.

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The New Yorker wants its male writers to reveal– if not revel in– their vulnerability. For example we need go only as far as one of the stories in their current fiction issue, “Fungus” by David Gilbert, which has the weepy male lead character searching at the end of the overwritten tale for a “pregnant tree.”

(We’re doing a feature on “Hamlet” at our main site in a day or two. I’m reminded of one of that character’s lines: “–wise men know well enough what monsters you make of them.”)

WHAT’S HAPPENING

VULNERABILITY. That word is the secret for Junot Diaz’s fanatical defenders and opponents, not a one who’s able to view the recent accusations against him dispassionately. They’re emotionally invested in the guy– likely because he exudes a sense of vulnerability. Women are attracted to this quality in a public personality– as could be proven by a long list of movie stars and pop music idols.

Are Junot Diaz’s accusers in fact (has been charged by his fanatic defenders) themselves frustrated fans? Ex-members of the Cult of Junot Diaz? (One anyway had an affair with him.)

There’s some logic to the idea. And as I said, if people are getting worked up over a writer, pro or con, that’s good to see. (David Gilbert no doubt wistfully wishes he could create that level of hysteria. . . .)

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MORE TO COME?

-Karl Wenclas on the New Pop Lit news beat.