Claps and Cheers: The Power of No

by Ramona Pilar, Editor Claps & Cheers

This past January, writer and cultural critic Roxane Gay made the decision to pull her upcoming book How to be Heard from publishing with TED Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.

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Noted author and “bad feminist,” Roxane Gay

The reason: not wanting to be published by the same publisher that would give Milo Yiannopolous, noted far-right writer and cultural instigator, a platform.

From a statement she gave to BuzzFeed News:

“I was supposed to turn the book in this month and I kept thinking about how egregious it is to give someone like Milo a platform for his blunt, inelegant hate and provocation. I just couldn’t bring myself to turn the book in. My editor emailed me last week and I kept staring at that email in my inbox and finally over the weekend I asked my agent to pull the book… I can’t in good conscience let them publish it while they also publish Milo.”

The Washington Post, Slate, LA Times, and CNN among many others, covered this story when it happened at the end of January. The reportage was focused on stating the basic facts about what happened gleaned from the statement she gave to BuzzFeed News, a statement Simon & Schuster gave to its concerned authors, and a statement sent to booksellers and the public.

Gay acknowledged that she was in a particular point of her career where she can elect to decline an opportunity for publishing.

I appreciate this in a way that I might not were I not also working to develop a writing career. Getting to own being a writer takes dedication and fiercely combating doubt and what’s considered to be “practical.” Convincing yourself, convincing the people in your immediate circle, then convincing the rest of the world that you’re “at that level” is the work in addition to the creation and processing of the writing itself. To say “no” to an opportunity to get that work out into the world seems counterproductive to all the student debt (if you have it), revenue lost by not being fully committed to a “regular” job, or any of the other challenges involved in claiming a career in writing.

It reminded me of a similar incident, on a somewhat smaller stage, during the summer of 2015 in Los Angeles. Writer and Women Who Submit Co-founder Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo opted out of publishing her first book with Red Hen Press after Managing Editor of Red Hen Press Kate Gale, wrote a blog for the Huffington Post making light of calls for diversity at AWP Conferences.

“Associated Writing Programs is a membership organization which connects writers, MFA programs and publishers, but many of those members treat it like it’s the government out to oppress us, the man, the ogre in the closet. When we get upset, we hurl insults or questions via the web. Social media and emails allow us to behave like we’re driving on a freeway. From our cars, we remain invisible. We can drive like crazy people, and we have the option of yelling threats from the safety of our offices at the organization that includes us. I have news for you people, there is no us and them. AWP is us.”

(More links about the Gale post and the responses here)

I didn’t have a lot to say about Kate Gale’s piece at the time, and I don’t have much more to say about it now, as I’m in the “safe space” of a non-professional writer, able to observe without consequences. It’s rhetoric I’ve been hearing since adolescent Woman-of-Color-hood, essentially, “sit down, you don’t know what you’re talking about, you’re crazy.”

However, what I see in these two instances is something that’s particularly intriguing to me as a newly-middle-aged-woman of color. There is simplicity in saying “no.” Just “no. I don’t want to work with you.” Not, “You’re wrong,” or “You’re going down,” or “I WILL END YOU.” Just “no. I don’t want to.”

When it comes to work and career, so many times people are put in a situation to choose between career and principal. It’s almost as though principal has no place in a professional setting. When starting out in a career, there can be a tone, as Bermejo mentions in her response to Gale’s post, and pulling her book from Red Hen Press, of just taking what’s offered and be happy with it.

Bermejo has since found a home for her manuscript with Sundress Publications, which published Posada: Offerings of Witness and Refuge late last year.

posada-cover

Gay, as of this posting, has not found another publisher for her manuscript.

It’s been about three weeks since this all went down and it’s still on my mind. It was covered by major news outlets, but I’ve not seen any recent follow-up coverage. I spent some time looking for coverage from writers, other publishers, editors and agents points of view to see what they think of this whole incident. Are writers inspired by this act of saying yes to the self over industry and career? Are agents re-thinking how they approach taking books to market? Are publishers re-thinking what “marketable” means these days? What of the “of color” publishing industry?

The claps and cheers go to all of those moving beyond passionate impulses and considering and weighing objectives, and finding principal based in pragmatism.

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