Tuesday, December 20, 2016

CIVILLY DISOBEDIENT

We’ve had the privilege of publishing two novels by Tom LeClair, The first, Passing Off appeared in 1997, nearly twenty years ago, which garnered excellent reviews: The Nation saying that “it is like reading a Ken Follet thriller with a basketball overlay. Elegant  writing!” while the Washington  Post review concluded that “LeClair has written a book that is literate, lively and entertaining.” 

We published his second book, Lincoln’s Billy in 2015, and it remains among my favorite novels of all time, with The Daily Beast having this to say (I  paraphrase),  “The man who tells his own sad tale as Lincoln’s Billy is William Herndon. He was Lincoln’s law partner before  Lincoln ran for public office who failed to publish his long, version of Lincoln, so Tom LeClair has stepped in to write this 176 page bawdy expose of young Lincoln, a tough, sinewy historical  novel.  

So ends my introduction to Tom, who has long been a social critic and activist as he explains that
“the crowds of protesters at Trump Tower have thinned in the weeks since the election and how his rage propels him to stay at his lonely post on Fifth Avenue, standing vigil at Trump Tower”  To which I add that this blog is fascinating, ironic, funny, and caustic, and  will be running until early January, as our last blog for 2016 .



*         *         *

“The thousands who marched on Trump Tower in New York right after the election have returned to their hives and lives. Groups in the low double figures sometimes gather nearby at night. I’m the day shift, every day. It feels like the third shift because I’m usually a solitary watchman on Fifth Avenue across the street from the Tower. You can walk the sidewalk in front of the building if you agree to be searched by the police, but they would never let me stroll with my protest sign. You can also go into the Tower if you put your bag through an X-ray machine. I fold my sign into my bag and enter to use the Tower’s underground marble toilet. Down there in the bowels of the ziggurat, I think of Trump way up in his penthouse and a line by the novelist William Gass: ‘I want to rise so high that when I shit I won’t miss anybody.’

“Pedestrian movement several blocks in any direction from Ground Trump is curtailed and controlled by the waist-high barriers with metal bars you see at New York City parades. All the varieties of police swarm the area: Secret Service, a SWAT team outside the Tower’s front doors, traffic police in yellow vests, community affairs police in bright blue jackets, regular officers with their low-slung duty belts, undercover cops (I assume), and what my contacts, the blue jackets, call the “white shirts,” the lieutenants and inspectors. Many of the blue jackets in charge of pedestrians are women, Latino, or black, and some nod at my protest signs or even shake my hand when I arrive for duty. I think of them as secret sharers of the sidewalk. The white shirts are mostly white guys like me, and they don’t like me protesting the orange whale Trump on his block, their block.

“There is a protesters pen constructed of those metal barriers down the Avenue from the Tower. That’s where the after-work groups of 10 or 20 are confined, shouting out their chants without disturbing those who live in the building. I reject the cage. I take my stand smack in front of what I heard one black cop call the “Black House” so passers-by can take photos of my signs and the “TRUMP TOWER” sign behind and above me. I ask scores of smartphone users every day to post their photos online. Thousands walk past me in a day, and many may read my sign, but the solitary protester can now really multiply his semiotic impression through social media.

“I’ll stand at my post for some hours, and then a white shirt will come by and tell his blue jackets to move me. Once I conversed directly with a tidy whitey. He said, ‘You have to move.’ I said, ‘I’m not impeding pedestrian traffic.’ He said, ‘You have to move if you’re on the sidewalk.’ I happened to be standing right at the curb, so I stepped back onto the street, where I was protected by a barrier from traffic. The officer walked off, took out his phone, and I got a visit from the blue jackets who told me to move because they really didn’t want to arrest me.

“Speech is free if you’re in the cage or in motion. So I walk, as one blue jacket suggested,’ like a turtle; up and down the block because I can’t be arrested—I thought of the root meaning of arrest—if I keep moving. I stand still when people ask to photograph my sign, when I’m out of sight of the blue jackets, and when they go into one of their vans to get warm. But ‘going to and fro on the earth,’ as Satan tells God, doesn’t give the same impression as standing firm, hands behind my back, a sign hanging from my neck—posing as a lone heroic resister against the depredations to come. I’m not stopping any tanks, like that guy in Tiananmen Square, and I don’t want to end up, like Bartleby, in prison, but being solitary is advantageous. One day a woman with a sign stood next to me, and the blues converged to explain that since protesters were now two—a veritable demonstration!—we had to go into the cage.

“My first sign, RAGE TRUMPS HATE, was just ambiguous enough to get me interviewed by print journalists from Canada, England, Argentina, and France. And taped by TV channels in Russia, Japan, Sweden, and Kurdistan (whose reporter was amazed that an American knew who the Kurds were). Fox News and CNN are in the media pen right behind my post, but they never point their cameras my way. Like me, the lip-glossed and hair-fiddling talking heads want the Tower at their backs. With plenty of time to think, I imagine new visual memes: ‘Turn Your Back On Trump’ or ‘Take Photo, Post Tower On Its Head.’ When the lights go on to illuminate the TV reporters, pedestrians stop to gawk at them and impede other pedestrians. That’s when I realize police enforcement of the ‘stay in motion’ rule is arbitrary and selective, for officers don’t disperse the crowd of gawkers, valued New York tourists. But if three or four people stop at the same time to take photos of my sign, I’m told to move along by some among the blue jackets. They always cite ‘higher ups,’ and I wonder from just how high up the order descends. I like to think the petty occupant of the penthouse wants to cancel sidewalk mockery as he hopes to cancel Saturday Night Live.

“Invariably, the interviewers’ first question of me is not what I have against the outlier-elect but why I would be standing by myself holding a hand-lettered sign. I don’t try to change anyone’s mind. But if I’m sufficiently enraged to stand alone out in the cold every day, maybe I’ll inspire my fellow citizens to stay angry. NEW THREE R’S: RAGE, REJECT, RESIST. As another of my signs says, NEVER SETTLE WITH THIS FRAUD. Since it’s mostly visitors who walk Fifth Avenue, I also address them: TOURISTS: TRUMP TOWER IS NOT AMERICA. IT’S BABEL. I have some accompanying patter: ‘Free tour, Tower of Babel, coming down soon.’ I want visitors to take home or send home the impression that Trump and his tower of arrogance do not represent America. Of course, I know that’s a lie like one of Trump’s, for greed and hate such as his, founded and expanded this land to the California gold Trump loves. But despite my country’s distant and very recent past, I want foreign tourists to know America remains a republic of equal rights and free speech (as long as it’s in motion).

“Some passers-by ask to be photographed with my sign and me. My data is anecdotal, but I’d say Canadians are per capita, my chief huggers. Maybe no fences do make good neighbors. Europeans with their excellent English pat me on the back and extend their sympathies. On weekends, Latino parents want to photograph their children beneath my sign. To them, I extend my apologies. Chinese tourists, of which there are many on Fifth Avenue, stop, puzzle out my signs (GILD IVANKA, GELD DONALD) and ask permission before snapping. Maybe they think I will get in trouble if dissent is photographed. I suppose the security cameras overhead are recording all the activity so some future anthropologist may modify my anecdotal data. And when facial recognition gets powerful enough, I can scan Facebook and other social media to check if my photographers have indeed posted my impression as they promised.

“I don’t get many insults, perhaps because my block on Fifth Avenue with its Prada and Tiffany’s attracts few visitors from the Benighted States of America. Although I know the passers-by have little time to prepare a witty rejoinder to my signs, I’m still continually surprised at how dull the Trumpsters are. Maybe they’re just being charitable when they offer advice: ‘Get a job’ or ‘Get over it.’ I thank them and tell them that I have a job, protecting their First Amendment rights and that ‘it’—the profiteering and hate—is just getting started. Some in ‘Make America Great’ caps are curious. They ask, ‘How much you getting paid?’ for they assume that a man Trump’s age must be as guilt-ridden as he. Or they ask, ‘What country you from?’ for they know no native-born American would insult a president, at least one not born in Kenya. Moderates plead, ‘Give him a chance.’ I refer them to Charles Blow’s essay in The New York Times on the subject of just get along with the monster and show them one of my signs: I GAVE TRUMP A CHANCE, AND HE GAVE US RACE-BAITERS AND IMMIGRANT HATERS. Then I tell polite pleaders that I may decide to give Trump another chance because I pity their populist loser of the popular vote.”
*         *         *

I hope all of you reading Tom’s blog will respond to it by commenting on this website and pass it along for others to read. You can also contact Tom LeClair directly by email: leclaite@ucmail.uc.edu 

This is a time when we are encouraged to buy Christmas gifts, watch endless TV ads selling Christmas gifts,  spend a couple of bucks for a Hallmark card and envelope. This commercialization of Christmas gets tedious after a while. And while I’m certainly not against this holiday, I do think LeClair’s blog adds a balance at this time and this particular year, before the President-elect takes office.  May you consider this as an electronic holiday card from us to you.

Martin Shepard, signing off.


Monday, December 12, 2016

BRILLIANT NEW VOICES FROM SOUTH ASIA

Co-publisher Chris Knopf takes over this week’s Cockeyed Pessimist blog with a short and eloquent piece about two novels that first appeared in India, from writers who will appear in 2017—Saikat Majumdar’s Play House, which we’re publishing in April, and Kaushik Barua’s No Direction Rome, due in November, and has already been sold to Blackstone Audiobooks.


*         *         *

 Comparing a writer’s work with another writer, particularly one highly regarded, is tricky business.  On the one hand, you’re paying a compliment by saying “His prose is rich and evocative, even Faulknerian.”  On the other, you might be saying, “This guy spent too much time reading Faulkner in college, and it shows.”

 We are blessed to be publishing in 2107 works by two authors from India, Play House, by Saikat Majumdar and No Direction Rome, by Kaushik Barua.  Both are entirely original works, and interestingly, very distinctive from each other.  Saikat’s book is lushly composed and sensuous, meaning it provokes all of one's senses – eyes, ears, sight, touch and smell.  With starkly drawn characters, written with careful attention to detail. Yet also paced like a suspense novel, that had me enthralled throughout.  Told from the point of view of a young boy, Saikat expresses the fear and wonder children experience living in the confusing adult world while allowing readers access to the realities beyond a child’s understanding. 

As to associations, I was initially reminded of Justine, the first in Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet.  Though Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient, D.H. Lawrence, Joyce, Faulkner and Gabriel García Márquez also came to mind.

If Saikat renewed my love for sumptuous prose, Kaushik’s work took me back to 1980’s New York City, and Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City.  The hero of No Direction Rome is also a young man adrift in a teeming metropolis, not knowing what to do with himself, seemingly attached to nothing, yet observing everything.  Where McInerney pulled off a risky second-person narrative, Kaushik delivers a crisp stream of consciousness that moves seamlessly from quip to commentary, to startling profundity.  
            
Though approaching the art of the novel from opposite directions, these books share an abundance of creativity, thoughtfulness, and gimlet-eyed perception.  I also found both to be remarkably mature works, in the mastery of difficult narrative techniques, and in the kind of awareness of the world you’d expect to from, older writers. 

Both originally published in India to wide critical praise, we’re pleased to introduce, Saikat Majumdar and Kaushik Barua to lovers of brilliant literature here in America and beyond. 

*         *         *

Please share this blog with others and comment directly to myself and Chris below. You can also email Chris your comments directly at ChrisK@mintz-hoke.com 


Next week we’ll be  featuring a lengthy blog by author Tom LeClair entitled: CIVILLY DISOBEDIENT: WHY I’M STANDING VIGIL AT TRUMP TOWER







Monday, November 21, 2016

AN ANTIDOTE FOR DESPAIR


“In times of political turmoil, books can become more relevant than they ever have. Frederic Hunter’s new novel, Love in the Time of Apartheid, paints a grim picture of what racism and dictatorships can do on a personal level. Hunter’s discussion of the sixties in South Africa seems closer than ever when put into perspective with our own tumultuous climate. To see two individuals kept apart because society dictates that they are from two very different worlds is devastating but very much a reality for Petra and Gat, Hunter’s main characters. Today in the aftermath of our political campaigns, we have seen opposing viewpoints break apart families, tear apart relationships, and irrevocably damage the personal lives of others. It is no different for Petra and Gat. They go so far as to try to out-run the oppression and the violence that surrounds them, only to be stopped by the overreaching hand of Petra’s father, who heads the Bureau of State Security. It is their love for each other and their personal moral compasses that rescue them. We can only hope that in the wake of our political uproar that something as good as the love Petra and Gat share comes out of it.”   —Emily Montaglione, Managing Editor    

                                *             *             *

“I share Emily’s concerns but have less faith that things will work out given our recent elections where two very unpopular candidates faced one another. In the end, like the actor Viggo Mortensen and many others, I decided to avoid voting for Trump or Hillary, refusing to choose between two flawed major candidates, instead, writing in Judy Shepard’s name on the New York ballot. Nor do I see any relief in sight.

But I do cast a similar vote for the reading of books for there is artfulness out there in the literary world. While a strong majority of politicians are bought and sold by lobbyists, no one has yet been able to stop us from reading quality fiction or non-fiction, which removes us from the bickering and heat that runs rife in our political system. A good book can take us into a ‘better world’ without leaving us enraged by things we clearly haven’t the ability to fix right  now.

Politically I would say America got what it deserved this time around. Now is surely the time to say ‘God Save America,’’ for Americans and their candidates do not seem capable of bringing back wisdom. But a good book can surely bring back a sense if comity and convey a different perspective when it comes to seeing how different our lives might be.  —Martin Shepard
co-publisher

WHICH BRINGS US TO Love in the Time of Apartheid which was widely praised in the following Kirkus Review that appeared on September 15 and will be published at the end of November.

“A quasi-political thriller and love story set in 1960's Africa. Gat, aka Adriaan Gautier, has been given instructions by his Belgian superiors in the Congo: "disappear." With $2,000 American and a forged passport, he flees to South Africa to reinvent himself and shrug off the demons that haunt him from his soldiering in Prime Minster Patrice Lumumba's new Congo. The lonely Gat eyes an 18-year-old beauty from an Afrikaner and English family, and he begins a promising courtship. But Petra is the daughter of a racist Cape Town police colonel, and Gat abhors apartheid. Gat, who is guilt-ridden and fighting nightmares of murder, helps Pet see beyond her family's prejudices. When a black woman is struck by a car, however, Pet's rushed conversion to fervent good Samaritan-ism may be a bit too convenient. The lovers skip town and marry, but Pet's enraged father won't let them go easily. This novel's hodgepodge of subplots—hiding spies, thwarted romance, systemic racism—ultimately coalesces. Hunter (The Girl Ran Away, 2014, etc.), a former Africa Correspondent of the Christian Science Monitor, ably captures South Africa. Plain prose and dialogue keep the pace motoring, and the simply told espionage storyline may appeal to Ian Fleming fans. There is daring, intrigue, and an ugly current of racism, but make no mistake, this is a love story at its core. Austere and well-told; an unlikely mix of espionage, apartheid, and love on the run.”


Or this blurb from Joan Baum, NPR reviewer, who will likely expand her review after publication.

 “With a nod to Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Love in the Time of Apartheid, Frederic Hunter beautifully explores the subtle and sensual power of love as a counter force to the diseases of racism and war. Though set in South Africa, with nightmare flashbacks to the Congo when Lumumba was assassinated, the suspenseful narrative resonates with deeply moving timeliness.”

Click the link below for Fred Hunter’s Love in the Time of Apartheid. May you pass it on to others. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

HUMPTY TRUMPTY

In 1991 we republished Daphne Athas’ Entering Ephesus which was originally published by Viking Press 20 years earlier. The critical response to our edition was both glorious and exceptional, gaining high praise from The Christian Science Monitor, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, The Kansas City Star, and several other newspapers.

Daphne, now 92 years old has not lost her touch. Still part of the faculty at the University of Carolina in Chapel Hill, her observation are always both classical and timely, as in this latest blog, Humpty Trumpty, as she comments on our forthcoming election on November 8th—one day shy of my 82 birthday.  May I be as surefooted if and when I reach her present age ten years from now. With that, I turn this blog over to Daphne...

*          *          *

       Gram-O-Rama Guru Column 
Gram-O-Rama.com    

“Humpty Trumpty sits on his wall.     
       Preaching his best brand of spite to us all.”             
                
If younger generations, from Age 55 down ever watch gangster movies (1930's and 40s) on Turner Classics or elsewhere, they’ll come across:  “I’ll Smack you in the Kisser”.   In those days the taunt was irresistible, and the kids reveled in it when play-fighting death in the schoolyard.

What do the words mean?  Smack means HitKisser means Face.  Trump, who loves kissing women hasn’t noticed where he’s placed himself in history. He’s kissing like a smacker, leaving the American contemporary electorate to try to keep up with his passion for the old-fashioned.  He’s reversing vocabulary.  Cultural change has outpaced him but left the electorate upside down. Call it a turmoil of confusion.   

He makes kissing a ‘Hit” on women. Women, who have, from the Sixties, exercised in Gyms, practiced boxing to get into the men’s game, and tried to figure out where the boundaries are, so rife on radio, with different views on female and male morality and between power and love.  Multiply that exponentially and you arrive at a cultural morality in conflict with individual morality.  We’ve got a mish-mash of a locker room, athletic hero worship, fraternity guy culture (male) versus reasoned wonks (male and female), bookish nerds (male and female) and concerned middle-class parents.  Hacking aficionados have begun practicing locker room slang on the national level and Russia with its imperial tradition of czars sports a Putin who is apparently allowing cyber interference in US elections.
         
Distinctions abound but don’t tally:  Male TV Pundits practice Womens Righteousness.  Puritans of self-righteous disposition (men and women) rise to the challenge.  What if your nine-year-old son  ‘touches’ or ‘smacks’ the girl behind him in line and is called up by the principal?  How do you parent him correctly, advising him not to do this because if he were a fourteen-year-old boy he would be deemed a Rapist?  
       
Verbs change into nouns and nouns into verbs instantly before our tongues can wag left. The word Rapist blooms like a Fourth of July rocket.  Fields of voters are freed of old PC mandates rusted into media cyber systems.  Hardware can’t compete with human software or the resultant lightning changes in public persiflage.  Spell out exactly who did what to who.
            
Roger Ailes, fired as CEO of Fox News takes a job as a Trump campaign advisor, hopping from one million dollar CEO job to another.  Top echelons of governance and Wall St. are white-faced with shock. Your Bushes and other Republican leaders must decide whether they endorse or do not endorse the man they’ve chosen as a candidate.  They say they do not endorse Trump, they merely support the Republican candidate.
     
Paul Ryan is cryin’.  The space between ‘ Kisser’ and ‘Smack’ widens. 
        
Trump says he’ll sue the New York Times for front-paging women whose voices reach trembling mode while their mouths laugh, and one finger wipes a teardrop off a cheek, describing where Trump’s hands were groping—upper torso or up the skirt?  The woman is courageous, laughing and crying simultaneously.  We middle-class people admire her.
       
It is laughable, but ‘concerning’, our newly invented fashionable word. I ponder joining the rallying cry of "Rape!' streaming onto the airwaves.   Women have accepted ‘mens' behavior as normal' because 2,000 generations have said it’s so.  Power is the proof.
        
The qualities women have been recognized for are their wiles and beauty. It’s been so ever since Cleopatra; they’ve bought into being despised, worshiped, reviled, and worst of all, discouraged.
         
So far TV pics of the 20 or so women volunteers telling their 'Trump stories have had more effect than printed outrage. A picture on TV is worth a thousand sermons.  Ever since Zeus blamelessly raped goddesses, young boys and nymphs and up through the day Coach Sandusky entered Pennsylvania prison, the world has waited. 
        
Whether women’s wiles and under-estimated intelligence have failed, the humiliation still goes on.  Women, young boys, and girls —all the less powerful humans—know it.  It’s embedded in various cultures.  Power is Reality.
        
Simultaneously, perfidious Eve of the Bible and the blatant victim-witches of Access Hollywood are still alive and kicking despite Arthur Miller's Crucible.   These women are laughed off and Trump shouts "Lies! Conspiracy!”   Does he believe what he’s saying? 
         
Women—even majors in the Air Force—are still the bitches who had the sons, except, of course, for the virgin, Mary.  And of present protestors Michelle Obama is the most convincing, a black woman whose family worked their way into the middle class, not so she could become a President’s wife, but as a person who knows how to use the vocabulary of the heart with the same measure of passion and reason that Socrates and Jesus lost their lives for.  I hear the lonesome Warrior Wolverettes howling with increasingly justified intensity outside Hotel Doctor Trivago’s window, and as compensation in the snowy wilderness, I write this observation:  Knock your block off is not the answer       
       
Repetition sells products. Trump says if you repeat something enough people believe it.   Gertrude Stein in her famous repetition riff says:  “Loving repeating is always in children. Loving repeating is in a way earth feeling?”       
So what is Trump selling?  His name as a product?  His name as president?  Or his name as ‘earth feeling’? “I am the only one who can make America great again.”  The sound is a clarion which contains many rhymes:  “Trump.  Pump.  Hump. Dump.”
Repetition can sell, but it can also stop the listener cold.  Look out for repetition in the next two weeks. Watch how we will go with the flow.  Repetition is the answer.  Repetition is our modern Petition. Repeat after me, sayeth the teacher....
 

*          *         *

DO SHARE THIS BLOG WITH OTHERS and comment on it directly to me at The Cockeyed Pessimist and also direct your comments to Daphne at daphne.athas@gmail.com

I also welcome any of you out there in the electronic Neverland to submit your own blog proposal that we might post in the near future.  My direct email is shepard@thepermanentpress.com


Tuesday, October 4, 2016

THERE’S A NEW SHERIFF IN TOWN

Twenty-seven-year-old Brian Skulnik, who has been the best Managing Editor we’ve ever had during his four-year term, is off to new challenges after October 14 to work with Rosetta Books in Manhattan. Succeeding him is a younger woman, twenty-six-year-old Emily Montaglione, who lives 10 minutes away from us. There’s a lot for her to get used to, but there is no question that she will be up for this new task. Emily also brings her own literary talents, as she has been reading four books a week for over a decade.  One couldn’t ask for a better replacement. You can reach her directly by email at emily@thepermanentpress.com or at our office weekdays from10 in the morning until 5 P.M. at 631-725-1101.

With that, as co-publisher along with Judy and Chris Knopf, it’s my pleasure to introduce her, for this is her blog.
               
*         *         *

This past September I had the wonderful occasion to become acquainted with Martin and Judith Shepard and The Permanent Press here in Sag Harbor. It was amazing to see the publishing process and how many wonderfully exciting books were being created. I was inspired by their love of literature as well as their dedication to all types of authors. I knew at once that I wanted to work with them.

I had the opportunity to grow up surrounded by books and with parents who read to me every day. This early love of literature developed quickly.  Soon I was trying to read whatever I could get my hands on.  Once I could write my name, I got my library card which let me explore the local library to my heart’s content. I consider myself lucky to have been able to spend such large parts of my formative years between the pages of a book.

The love of literature didn’t stop there; my first job was at my local library. At fourteen years old I got the assignment of shelving books in the children’s department. Looking back I probably read more than I put away, but I got to spend every weekend surrounded by my favorite stories. In my teens, books were my best friends. I would finish class assignments quickly because I would often find that I had already read the material some time ago. One very kind English teacher introduced me to the classics. I discovered a love for Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Faulkner, Dickens and Chaucer.

By the time I graduated high school, most of my English degree was finished and I went on to declare a major in English literature. Once again my literary world was opened up further. More classics were discovered as well an even deeper love for medieval and Victorian literature. At that point, despite my degree being completed, my advisor insisted I stay and take another major. I decided the most compatible choice would be a psychology degree. This choice gave life to my other passion, child psychology. I went on to graduate school soon after for psychology and as they say, the rest is history.

Despite my choice in graduate study, my love for a good story never waned. I continue to read everything I can, and my taste for fiction has only grown. If there has been one constant throughout my life, it’s been books—a continuing source of comfort, Joining The Permanent Press has allowed me to continue this endeavor as I now work in a place where a good book is never more than an arm’s length away.

I’ve found, with all the new books that are coming out next year, hard to pick a favorite.  There’s something for every type of book lover from comedy, to romance, and mystery. Whether it’s a soul searching coming of age story like Play House due out in April, or a chilling tale of psychopathy, The Mask of Sanity due in March, The Permanent Press has something for everyone. While it may be difficult to choose only one favorite, it’s not difficult at all to find something you will want to read.

I think one of the joys of working for an independent publisher is the opportunity to experience the creation of stories. We get to work hands on with an author from start to finish, seeing the growth of a novel from a few submitted pages to a beautiful hardcover that we can share with the world.  At The Permanent Press it doesn’t matter what a writer’s background or status is. All that matters is the story they’ve entrusted us with and we look forward to sharing their stories with you.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

ON BEING AN “OUTMATE”: LOVING AN INMATE

Doran Larson, an author we published some years ago, is the Walcott-Bartlett Professor of Literature & Creative Writing at Hamilton College, and has also served as editor of Fourth City: Essays from the Prison in America and Director of  The American Prison Writing Archive. Working as well with prisoners in maximum security institutions, he recommend we publish Danner Darcleight‘s Concrete Carnival, citing Darcleight’s “verbal dexterity and streetwise insights, his honesty, humor, his narrative skills and an unyielding search for the humanity in all of his subjects announce a writer who deserves a place upon the broad literary landscape.” He also felt that Danner was one of the most exceptional writers he’d ever come across, adding that “Darcleight shows once again that any distinction between American literature and American prison literature perverts our understanding of what America is as a literary enterprise.”

We signed a contract with Danner’s agent a year ago and will be publishing Concrete Carnival at the end of this month. What we hadn’t realized is that we had two remarkable people for the price of one, for Lily Darcleight, the woman he met while in prison and wrote about in his memoir, also had remarkable writing skills. What follows is her blog:

*         *        *

With an arm slung over my shoulder in an almost conspiratorial fashion, he leaned in and said, “Things will get better from here on out.”  These are the words that the head of my Board of Directors said to me on the evening that I was fired from my job.  The evening that he and the organization’s attorney sat me down and let me know that the high profile position that I had worked at over the past 30 years, and had performed in a highly competent manner, had come to an end.  Just one week before they delivered this surprising news, I had sat in that exact same room with the exact same people being given a 5-year extension on my contract.  What could have possibly prompted this turn of events?

You may be thinking I did something illegal.  Or unethical.  Or immoral.  Or that I had engaged in such an egregious act of insubordination that I left the “powers that be” with no alternative but to terminate my employment.  You would be wrong on all counts.    My crime?  I was corresponding with, had visited (on my own time) and had fallen in love with a man who was incarcerated.  And apparently that violated some type of morals clause that was hidden in the fine print of my employment contract.  You read that correctly – forging a personal relationship with someone who others apparently found “unfavorable” was considered a morals violation. 

To say that I was in shock would be an understatement.  If you knew me you would know that rendering me speechless is almost impossible, but there I was.  Speechless.  It was true that over the preceding several months I had been getting to know a man whose address happened to be at the nearby maximum security prison.  How I met him was not through some lonely hearts prisoner website, as most people assume.  I had visited the prison in an official capacity, met this man and several others as they told their stories of crime, redemption, rehabilitation, and renewal.  Long story short, I followed up that official visit with a letter of thanks to one of the men in particular because his history and resulting tragic circumstances mirrored an issue I was experiencing with my own son.  I wrote to express gratitude for his willingness to revisit the worst moment of the worst day of his entire life and requested advice as to how I might prevent my son from realizing a similar fate.  He wrote back.  Through the mail, I got to know a sensitive, intelligent, insightful, and humorous man who was so much more than the sum of his rap sheet.  That man was Danner Darcleight.  We corresponded in this manner for approximately 6 months before I summoned up the courage for a first in-person visit.  It was on my third visit that all hell broke loose.

Because of my professional position, I was a recognized person in the community.  Although the prison was a distance from where I worked, I live in rural America and everyone knows everyone else and their business, or they think they do, and they fictionalize what they don’t really know. A corrections officer working the visit room recognized me and took it upon himself to decide that someone in my position should NOT be visiting someone in Danner’s position.  A letter that I had written was seized from Danner’s cell, mailed to the head of my Board of Directors and that brings me back to where this story began. 

“Things will get better from here on out.”  Those fateful words spoken by my boss on one of the most stressful evenings of my life.  What neither he nor I knew at the time this was said to me is that he was right.  Things DID get better from that point forward, but not in the way that he (or other small-minded, judgmental community members) expected.  Not only did Danner and I persevere in the face of incredible odds and stress, I found my way professionally as well.  Did I have to reinvent myself?  You bet.  In small towns, “scandals” such as this are not forgotten easily and nobody is interested in facts – there was an odd salacious aspect to this story that the gossip mongers interjected (and invented) which significantly affected my ability to get a job, despite having two Masters Degrees and a successful 30-year track record as the administrator of a large public school system.  My family was subjected to sideways glances and whispers.  To this day, 6 years after the fact, I can walk into a public establishment and it’s like the clock has been turned back for some community members.  The judgmental looks, or the direct judgmental commentary directed at me, continue.  But, I’ve grown from this experience in ways that I couldn’t have predicted.

Currently, I speak nationally on topics such as working with marginalized youth and providing effective support to children and adolescents with various learning disorders.  I have had the privilege of speaking in all 50 states over the past three years and this is a path that I never would have investigated if not for the circumstances of my personal situation and resulting job loss.  I have found my “niche,” so to speak, and although I thought I had reached the pinnacle of my career as a high-level administrator, I now realize it was only another stepping stone to success.  A success that would not have been realized without Danner Darcleight in my life. 

My relationship with Danner was not built on sex as most relationships are, if we are all honest.  That was not possible due to our circumstances.  So, we talked.  A lot.  About everything.  And we still do.  We support one another and have built an intimacy grounded in trust and compassion.  He became, and continues to be, my very best friend as well as my husband.  I have given up on trying to justify how I can love “someone like him.”  Actually, how can I NOT love “someone like him?”  Did he make a tragic, horrific decision 17 years ago?  Yes.  Has he turned his life around from being a heroin addicted, pleasure-seeking, selfish person who committed murder as a result of drug-fueled behavior?  Yes.  Has his family forgiven him and continued to keep him in their lives?  Yes.  Danner has become the person that he always was, before heroin seized his very soul.  In writing, he has found solace, healing, and redemption.  And he’s worthy of respect, love, and compassion just as anyone else is. 

I am proud to call Danner Darcleight my husband, my best friend, my soul mate.  Loving an inmate is not for the faint of heart.  It is wrought with numerous challenges.  Our commitment to one another is tested regularly.  But, we always pass the test and we always will.  I have been an “outmate” for almost 7 years.  And I will continue to be for as long as the system deems necessary that he remain incarcerated.  Even the stringent bureaucracy of the Department of Corrections can’t dampen our spirits.  We keep on keeping on and I can’t think of anyone else I would travel through this world with. 

*         *         *

I’M HOPING THAT that you will not only read this blog and place your comments on it, but also feel free to contact Lily at lily.darcleight@gmail.com to ask questions, pose opinions, and get responses.


Marty 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

THE BEST REASON FOR READING? BOOK LOVERS LIVE LONGER, SCIENTISTS SAY

On August 9, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Amy Ellis Nutt who covers Health and Science for the Washington Post wrote a brief article that I found well worth passing on. For one thing she is not in the business of books, but is in the newspaper business. And in a time of decreasing book sales, her short piece might provide another incentive for people to read more books. Surely, anything that promotes book reading books is worthwhile. But to read for one’s health? Well, why not? 

Amy has a great turn of phrase when it comes to newspapers as well.  I hope you take the time to read this posting, pass it on to anyone in failing health, and respond to us and to Amy directly at Amy.Nutt@washpost.com.

With that, I turn you over to Amy:


*         *         *

Good news on National Book Lovers Day: A chapter a day might keep the Grim Reaper away  — at least a little longer.

A recent study by Yale University researchers, published online in the journal Social Science & Medicine, concluded that “book readers experienced a 20 percent reduction in risk of mortality over the 12 years of follow-up compared to non-book readers.”

The data was obtained from a longitudinal Health and Retirement Study sponsored by the National Institute on Aging. The study looked at 3,635 subjects, all older than 50, whom the researchers divided into three groups: those who didn’t read books, those who read up to 3.5 hours a week and those who read more than 3.5 hours a week.

The findings were remarkable: Book readers survived almost two years longer than those who didn’t crack open a book.

Accounting for variables such as education level, income, and health status, the study found that those who read more than 3.5 hours weekly were 23 percent less likely to die during that 12-year period. Those who read up to 3.5 hours — an average of a half-hour a day — were 17 percent less likely.

In other words, just like a healthy diet and exercise, books appear to promote a “significant survival advantage,” the authors concluded.

Why or how that’s the case remains unclear; the research showed only an association between book reading and longevity, not a causal relationship. But the findings are not so surprising. Other recent research showed that reading novels appears to boost both brain connectivity and empathy.

Book buying has increased annually during the past few years. At least 652 million print and electronic books were sold in the United States in 2015, according to Nielsen BookScan, the main data collector for the book publishing industry.

The bad news: Americans barely crack the top 25 when it comes to which countries read the most books. India, Thailand, and China are ranked one, two and three by the World Culture Index, while the United States comes in 23rd, behind countries such as Egypt, Australia, Turkey and Germany.

The better news is that 80 percent of young adults in America read a book last year, compared with 68 percent of those between the ages of 50 and 64, according to a Pew Research Center survey.
Unfortunately, the Yale researchers said longevity was not increased by reading newspapers.

Originally posted on:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2016/08/09/the-best-reason-for-reading-book-lovers-live-longer-say-scientists/



*         *         *

NEXT UP?  Unclear at this moment. There are several things to write about and lots of exciting things to report. I can promise you a new posting no later than two weeks from now and remain open to any potential blogs any of you, dear readers, wish to submit.

Marty