We have to talk about Jo

Do you feel JK Rowling has basically ruined everything she ever created with her anti-Trans ranting? Well, she would like you to know that she has reasons. Here she is trying to give some context for her TERF-enabling, biological essentialist stance on Trans rights: sexual and physical trauma is the main point. Terrible. I get it. I get that trauma can make you suspicious of others, and can take you to dark places in your head. And I’m not even sure how to best comment on it, except to say I think that she handles it all so poorly. The supposed difference between us and animals is that we can work to rise above acting on baser impulses, regardless of how difficult that may sometimes be, including both what’s supposedly bred in the bone and what’s learned. Further, I don’t really see her dealing with the pain this has caused to people who have admired her for years, along with the wider societal damage caused by trying to legitimize anti-Trans ideologies, except in saying: what about poor me? In the end, as with other justifications for bad behaviour and the abuse of others that we see from writers (from upbringing to social status/expectations to mental illness), it’s really only an explanation, not an excuse. I had the shit knocked out of me every day as a kid, but do I hate angry mothers and 12-year-olds named Danny? (Note: only linking to news stories and not her statement because I don’t want to give her the tiny slice of traffic.)

JK Rowling has revealed her experience of domestic abuse and sexual assault for the first time, in a lengthy and highly personal essay written in response to criticism of her public comments on transgender issues.

In a 3,600-word statement published on her website on Wednesday, Rowling described in more detail than ever how she became involved in an increasingly bitter and polarised debate around the concept of gender identity.

The author revealed she was “a domestic abuse and sexual assault survivor”, citing this alongside her belief in freedom of speech and experience as a teacher as reasons behind her position.

“I’m mentioning these things now not in an attempt to garner sympathy, but out of solidarity with the huge numbers of women who have histories like mine, who’ve been slurred as bigots for having concerns around single-sex spaces,” she wrote.

Poetry news

Big news in the ever-tumultuous world of poetry: Chicago’s storied Poetry Foundation saw its board leaders resign yesterday after an enormous campaign by American poets calling for positive change within the organization to better reflect the ethnic makeup of Chicago itself. I’m a big fan of Poetry and the last few years have really seen it be reinvigorated with a wider range of styles and poets than ever before, but it is truly past time for some POC presence among the leadership. Being on a NFP board is generally a thankless job, and a difficult one, if the org is underfunded and requires a working board to function. But the two dudes who resigned are named “Henry Bienen” and “Willard Bunn III”, which makes me feel they probably will be just fine. And frankly, getting a guy who feels it necessary to add “III” to the end of his name to resign from anything is a victory in and of itself.

The entirety of the Poetry Foundation release is here (and copied below), and there’s an article in the Tribune covering it.

The Board of Directors of the Poetry Foundation has accepted the resignation of Foundation President Henry Bienen with gratitude for his years of service; it is effective immediately. In addition, Willard Bunn III is stepping down as Board chair. 

On culture, language, and animals

This is a fascinating article about a book I’m going to have to get about animal culture. Not animals in culture, but culture in non-human animals. I’ve been reading a lot lately about the link between complexity in matter and energy, and how that creates and affects consciousness, and it’s some remarkably mind-melting stuff. This article is lit-related mostly in how it basically outlines that animals are conscious too and talking all the time. Bizarrely, I wrote my first poem in a month or so a couple days back and it was about this. Universal translators can’t come soon enough.

I was taught at school that animals have instinct but humans have learning. Later that got more refined: animals can only ever pass on things through their genes, but we humans can pass things on by example and by teaching — in short, by culture. Culture is why we’re humans and they’re not.

But like all adamantine barriers we have drawn up between human and non-human life, even the most cursory examination reveals a million leaks and porosities. Of course non-human animals have culture.

Midweek news

Freelancing in the time of Covid

What does the worldwide pandemic mean for freelancers in the publishing industry? An illustrator, a typesetter, and an editor from India give personal accounts of how their lives and livelihoods are changing. I’m sure there’s overlap over here. I know that freelance work has dried up for me in three areas: journalism/reviewing (though that was well on the way before all this), writing for private enterprise (everyone is relying on staff and putting expenses on hold during the uncertainty), and teaching (I’ve been teaching online for over 10 years and there’s nothing out there right now for sessionals… The unionized and tenured folk are being made to take on our jobs, which they didn’t want before, so …. bye bye paycheques). Here’s hoping whatever new system rises up out of this mess will have room for us mercenary types.

Tuesday newsday

Can one “grow out” of a genre?

This young fella in his 20s is sort of doing what I did at his age: trying to grow up by shedding old interests and obsessions in reading. Things do change, and yes, you are “allowed” to grow out of books, but what you’re not “allowed” to do is castigate yourself for the things you once loved.

I read The Hobbit and the Narnia books at age 5 and subsequently spent my entire youth trying to recapture that magical feeling, reading and rereading SciFi and Fantasy novels. I moved from high fantasy like Anne McCaffrey to the hard, occasionally trashy, science-based stuff of Niven, Brin, Herbert, Asimov, etc., to the satirical (and often deeply problematic) books of Piers Anthony and Orson Scott Card, to the social dystopias of Gibson, Sterling, etc., to the socio-political stuff Le Guin, Atwood, Butler, Piercy, etc, and then gateway’d my way into mainstream literature. Once I was at university, I was somehow ashamed of my early reading (still a little ashamed of Dragonlance, but let’s save that one for another day), so I hid it and read like stink to catch up on classics and the mainstream lit of the time (omg, The English Patient? I didn’t have the “patients,” so to speak, but I slogged through). Anyway, once I hit my 40s, I realized something super important: I don’t give a flying fuck what anyone thinks. So that helped. But in the end, the only books I’ve “grown out of” are the ones that had always been poorly written in the first place (see Dragonlance reference above). Would my mind be as blown away today as it was when I first hit big reveal in Steel Beach by John Varley back when I was 20? No, but as a window on who I was at the time, and as a record of my development as a critical thinker, I think it’s important for me to revisit. If the book is good, I’ll find a new way of loving it. If it’s not, I’ll throw it in the pile for donation and let someone else’s kid start the process all over again.

Interest and comfort don’t give a shit what age you are. I’m sure there are a few adults out there who still wake up sucking their thumb. Who cares? Did they sleep well? How can I get me some of that? Because I’m having a hard time. That’s it, I’m trying tonight. Though I better wash this little market piggy good first.

As a twentysomething, I’ve learned that growing out of things is natural. For so long I resisted that part of growth, because I thought it meant that in order to become an adult I had to let go of everything that I loved as a child. But that’s not true: the things we love as children—books, movies, characters, even stuffed animals—tend to shape us as people in pivotal ways, so there’s definitely no need to discard them because someone told you that’s what growing up is. However, sometimes we can’t always avoid the fact that we’ve grown out of something: people, places, mindsets or, most depressingly, books.

Last year, I wrote about how I think I’ve outgrown young adult novels, because as much as there are YA books that I will always hold dear to my heart, I can’t escape the fact that I don’t hold the same mindset that I held when I read YA. Similarly, I’ve come to realize that outgrowing books isn’t limited to a specific genre aimed at a specific age group. Sometimes we grow out of books merely because we aren’t the same people we were when we read them.

Over the last few months, I’ve learned how enjoyable rereading books can be, especially if you loved them the first time. If I love a movie, I’m definitely going to watch it multiple times, so why can’t that also apply to books? As I’ve continued to make progress on the physical pile of unread books I keep in my bedroom (because, you know, quarantine), I thought it might also be a good time to reread some old favorites. I was wrong.

Booksellers report from the “front lines” of the ‘Rona

Dislike jargon creep/appropriation and pretty sure the “front lines” of this pandemic are in nursing homes and hospitals, but if you’re interested in how public-facing bookstore workers are dealing with things, this article is for you.

Frontline booksellers are the first people customers see when they set foot in bookstores across America. They also do physically demanding work, from carrying heavy boxes to shelving thousands of books every year. Often they work for hourly wages and are among the most vulnerable workers in the publishing industry. During the first weeks of Covid-19 stay-at-home orders, thousands were laid off nationwide.

Over the past eight weeks, PW spoke with five frontline booksellers to hear about their experiences. They were granted anonymity in order to be able to speak freely. These are their words, edited and condensed for clarity.