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Wendy C. Ortiz on publishing gatekeepers; Mellon Foundation gives $4.5 million to Academy of American Poets

Wendy C. Ortiz. Photo: Meiko Takechi Arquillos

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has given a grant of $4.5 million to the Academy of American Poets. The money will be used “to fund its poet laureate program for the next three years,” according to the New York Times. “I have so much faith in the leadership of the Academy of American Poets, in the whole concept of the poets laureate project, and in what I think is poetry’s underrecognized ability to communicate with outsized power,” Mellon Foundation president Elizabeth Alexander said. “One thing I can promise you . . . is that there will be at least some poems made in the next few years, under the aegis of this work, that will stand the test of time.”

Farrar, Straus and Giroux/MCD is publishing two new books from late Geek Love author Katherine Dunn. Toad, an autobiographical novel that will be published this fall, will tell the story of “a woman who has retreated into a life of isolation following a breakdown” as she reflects on her college years in the 1970s. A currently-untitled short story collection will be published in 2022.

Flatiron Books has canceled the book tour for American Dirt out of fear for author Jeanine Cummins’s safety. The publisher said that they still plan to “organize town-hall-style meetings” with Cummins and her critics.

“It is more palatable to publishers and their (mis)perceptions of who readers are to give massive amounts of money to one (white) author who can fictionalize a lived experience of people who are marginalized in the literary world,” writes Wendy C. Ortiz at Gay Mag. “Gatekeepers have kept me, and so many others, out. Now is the time to call out the publishing industry (as we have, as we do, as we keep having to do) for its racism and small-mindedness about who gets published and who does not; who gets massive advances and who does not.”

A recent survey by children’s book publisher Lee & Low Books found that 76 percent of publishing industry employees identify as white. In 2015, the same survey found that 79 percent identified as white.

“There is no clean line between politics and media,” former BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith tells the New Yorker’s Isaac Chotiner. “Political campaigns are basically media operations that produce text and images and video and audio, and try to circulate them and compete with news organizations for the attention of audiences, and also are staffed up to manipulate, and get journalists to cover them in certain ways, and if you try to draw some kind of clean line between media and politics you just miss the story. And it makes political reporting both totally compromised and totally fascinating.”