paper trail

White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor sells memoir; Mychal Denzel Smith on how book publishing needs to change

Yamiche Alcindor

James Bennet has resigned from his position as editor of the New York Times Op-Ed page. In a staff letter announcing Bennet’s departure, publisher A. G. Sulzberger wrote, “Last week we saw a significant breakdown in our editing processes, not the first we’ve experienced in recent years.” The resignation followed the publication of an op-ed by Republican Senator Tom Cotton, which drew sharp criticism from readers, and led some New York Times staffers to demand Bennet’s dismissal.

Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism (Beacon Press), published almost two years ago, is currently the best-selling book on Amazon. Also in the top five are two books by Ibram X. Kendi: How to Be an Anti-Racist (One World, 2019) and Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (Bold Type, 2016).

At The Guardian, Pulitzer-winning poet Jericho Brown, author of The Tradition, looks to “the citizens marching nationwide for radical change”: “most of them are black or young, many in their 20s. Their entire lives, these protesters have known the truth about police brutality. More recently, though, they’ve weathered coronavirus-related deaths and illnesses of parents, grandparents and friends. (Floyd himself recovered from the virus before his killing.)” He continues: “They’re aware of all the ways our government enabled the spread of the virus, and they know they risk their own health when they gather to declare their need for something more than reform when it comes to policing. They found out about the baffling killings of people including Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and Tony McDade after having sheltered in place for many weeks. They live in a nation where the unemployment rate reached nearly 15%. If they participated in any looting, they probably needed and used what they stole. They know that capitalism comes before public health here. They think about the future.”

At Publishers Weekly, Mychal Denzel Smith, author of Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching, looks at how the publishing industry has constrained writers of color. “More often than not,” he writes, “we are called upon to produce work that responds to a particular moment of social unrest related to our racial group and that mines our personal stories for sympathetic or tragic narratives that are easily consumed by white audiences. Or we are called upon to write inspirational stories, ones in which we’ve directly confronted the racism that overdetermines our lives and won. We are asked to perform either our sadness, our triumph, or both, because these kinds of stories soothe the guilt of the imagined white audience, who believe themselves to be engaged in some kind of righteous act by way of learning about someone who does not look like them or share their life experience.” Smith urges publishers to stop “demanding that nonwhite writers perform their stories for white audiences”: “Everyone in the book industry must grant themselves permission to be a bit more daring, to create space for every writer to produce the most challenging work possible, even when that does not fit the established narratives of minority trauma and/or success.”

At Vulture, Devon Ivie reports on #PublishingPaidMe, the hashtag created on Saturday by fantasy novelist L.L. McKinney. Along with a number of other writers, McKinney is making known the amount they received in book advances, in order to show the monetary disparity between the advances publishers offer to black and white writers. “#PublishingPaidMe is part of a bigger conversation about the system issues in publishing that Black people face,” McKinney says. “Issues we’ve been talking about, and screaming about, for years, but we’ve largely gone ignored.” Among the writers who have revealed their book advances using the hashtag are Roxane Gay, Matt Haig, and Scott Westerfeld.

PBS White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor has sold her memoir, Don’t Forget, to Ballantine. According to the publisher, the book will show “how the precise path Alcindor took—as the child of Haitian immigrants and as a journalism prodigy covering Black Lives Matter and civil rights abuses—informs her point of view while reporting on one of the most chaotic administrations in modern times.”

Tonight at 8pm EST, the New York Public Library will host an online author event featuring Rachel Louise Snyder, whose No Visible Bruises reports on domestic violence in the US—the victims, perpetrators, law enforcement, and reformers—and also explores “the real roots of private violence, its far-reaching consequences for society, and what it will take to truly address it.” She will discuss her book with Tali Farhadian Weinstein, the general counsel of the district attorney’s office in Brooklyn and a professor at NYU Law School.