Representation Matters: We All Want a Seat at the Table

Emerson College’s Writing, Literature, and Publishing program offers many literary events throughout the year. On October 3rd, one of these events entitled Gayly Forward: The Future of LGBT Publishing brought together a panel of queer writers and editors to speak on the topic of queer representation in the publishing industry.

The Panel:

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Although the panel consisted of four well-spoken, well-versed, and well-read writers, only two letters of the titular acronym had a presence on the panel: lesbian and gay. Ironically, the topic of representation composed a large portion of the event: should queer writers have their own section in bookstores or be interspersed among the different genres within the store? Are queer writers more inclined to take the position of activist or journalist when covering gay events? Are Young Adult novels the only texts doing a good job of portraying queer stories and characters?

The panel had a large load to unpack over the hour and a half talk. First, unanimously, the group made a quasi-tongue-in-cheek decision that queer novels should appear alongside of non-queer books and have their own section, claiming to “want it all.” And after so long without adequate representation, why shouldn’t the gay community have it all?

The moderator, assistant professor Benoit Denizet-Lewis, broached the question of conflicting identities for queer writers, especially on the newspaper and magazine side of publishing. Activist or journalist? Is there a way to embody both identities without sacrificing the integrity of either? The group was unable to reach a verdict, instead deciding that the truth mattered most, no matter which stories were being told.

Young Adult novels, the panel concluded, not only have been doing an excellent job of representing queer stories but are planting the idea in the minds of young writers that these stories can—and should—be told. Chee’s comment on J.K. Rowling’s post-publishing reveal that Dumbledore had, in fact, been gay was especially poignant: he said it sounded as if she had regretted not explicitly adding that detail in the text and only felt “safe” to make that apparent after the book series’ completion.  This is the crutch of representation: safety. When do we feel safe to be ourselves and share our own stories?

The panel and the panel’s audience constituted a strange moment for me, a cis woman who identifies as pansexual. I felt like an outlier in an already sidelined community—not just underrepresented, but lacking all and any representation. Outside of a brief mention of the ostracized bisexual community, the panel focused on only the experience of gay (the majority) or—severely limited—lesbian experiences. No trans men or women made an appearance either in physicality or anything more than a passing mention.

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Writing this post harkens back to the moderator’s query: activist or journalist? I was hesitant to describe the event as anything other than an all-around positive experience with meaningful talks of representation. And, for all intents and purposes, it was a great look into the publishing future of “L” and “G.” Although the length of the acronym itself was briefly touched upon, not all of the letters it contained received equal representation.

–Brooke, intern

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The Author and The Media Age

Social media has become a part of the language we speak. Facebook incites argument, Instagram provokes envy, and Twitter is used for foreign policy. Because of this, social media is one of the best marketing tools available for artists today. Likes, shares, and retweets bring artists in obscurity to prominence through a series of successful social media campaigns.

For a writer, the best social media platform is Twitter. Confined to 140 characters (though the site is thinking about introducing a new 280 limit), the social networking site is ideal for those who deal in words. However, some prominent published writers seem to scorn all forms of social media, either to prevent themselves from becoming distracted from their work or because they believe the medium to be a frivolous time waster.

I, however, believe that a well-managed Twitter account can increase an author’s readership, help market their new work, and connect them to a network outside of the literary world. Today, I am going to explore the Twitter accounts of three reputable (and remarkable) female writers: Nayyirah Waheed, J.K. Rowling, and Jennifer Egan. I will analyze what their accounts do well, their limitations, and how they allow these women to reach new audiences.

Nayyirah Waheed

I am in many ways limiting Waheed’s social media influence by analyzing her Twitter profile because it was her Instagram that expanded her audience and allowed her poetry to garner attention. She takes pictures of poems from her collections (my favorite is salt.) and posts them, captioning the collection and title of the poem.

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Her tweets are similar. What I find most effective about Waheed’s Twitter is that everything she tweets is a poem. Her poetry consists of fragmented sentences that explore issues of race, love, and gender.

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Because her poetry is so sparse, Waheed is able to fit an entire poem in 180 characters. She’s created a distinct form of tweeting that allows her readers to see new work daily. It also extends her readership more quickly since other users can browse her profile and get instant access to her poetry. If a tweet resonates with a follower, they can like or retweet it, and the poem will show up on their timeline. Then, one of their followers can see the poem, and if they like it, they may follow Waheed or even buy one of her collections.

Some limitations to Waheed’s Twitter include her use of pictures, retweets, and her promotion of other poets. While this is normally a great way to utilize social media, Waheed’s tweets are in such a specific format that her profile as a whole loses some potency when she breaks from tweeting poetry. Ideally, her account would consistently stick to her “poem as tweets” format.

However, this has not stopped her from garnering nearly 50,000 followers on Twitter and over 350,000 followers on Instagram. Waheed’s use of social media has had a tangible effect on her career. She self-published her first collection, salt. By posting her poems on social media, Waheed gained positive attention from various followers. Because of this rise in popularity, Waheed’s collection started to be taken seriously by critics who had at first blown off her poetry for its non-traditional form. Her work is now studied in high schools across the country.

J.K. Rowling

Rowling holds nothing back on her Twitter. She uses it for marketing new work (especially by retweeting promotions from Robert Galbraith, her pseudonym’s account), for connecting with her fans, and for confronting political issues, both in the US and the UK. Since joining the site in 2009, Rowling has tweeted almost 9,000 times, gained over 12 million followers, and averages around 1,000 retweets for her unlinked tweets.

Rowling’s tweeting is partly a product of her prominence in the world as a celebrity. She has used her platform to speak out against Brexit and Donald Trump, and she frequently calls out British journalists on Twitter. Also, because she is a celebrity and doesn’t have to worry about gaining or losing followers, she can tweet whatever she likes, for example:

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And she will receive a receive a generally positive response from her followers (like me!):

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One limitation of Rowling’s account is that, because she tweets such politically charged material, she’s bound to lose followers and receive flack from other users on Twitter. What makes Rowling a master of the medium, however, is her ability to respond to those comments with concise, biting turns of phrases:

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Rowling has plunged head first into the social media world and has used Twitter to cultivate a specific voice outside of her creative work. People who may not be interested in reading her fiction still follow her because of her engagement on the social media site. Through her tweets, Rowling has made herself a prominent voice in today’s volatile political climate.

Jennifer Egan

Egan is an acclaimed writer and an elite presence in the literary world, and her twitter reflects that. Egan uses her twitter account exclusively for marketing purposes. She was active in 2014 when she was the editor for the anthology Best American Short Stories (and, during this time, retweeted Joyce Carol Oates’ thoughts on the collection). She then stopped tweeting. Her account ceased its three-year period of dormancy to market her new book Manhattan Beach, which comes out October 3rd.

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While this strategy will not garner you the most followers (Egan has just over 12,000 followers and averages at or under 100 likes per post), it is a great marketing strategy. If I was a curious reader wanting to see what projects Egan had coming out, it would be super easy for me to find that information on her sparse account. Additionally, because her account isn’t inundated with a constant stream of tweets (both personal and professional), she would be an account someone who likes an uncluttered feed would be more likely to follow.

Egan’s account is not geared toward gaining new readership. There’s nothing on her account that would make someone who has never read her work follow her. However, because she does have a Twitter, she can be tagged when she’s nominated for prestigious honors, like making the National Book Award Long List. This can direct readers who are not familiar with her work toward her profile.

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There are a number of different ways for a writer to manage their social media accounts, and these are just three examples. Whether you choose to manage your account like Waheed, Rowling, or Egan, know that your Twitter can have a positive effect on your professional work when you utilize the medium creatively and effectively.

Madeline Sneed, Intern

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The Intellectualization of the Genre Novel

Academics and those concerned with literary theory turn their noses up at the concept of “writing in genre.” And yet, those same critics of genre surreptitiously consume popular fiction in the bowels of their favorite bookstore, saying to themselves, “I know this is trash, but…”

The debate of genre versus literary fiction is not a new one: The New Yorker and The Guardian have both discussed the topic in the past. Chances are you’ve actually been assigned genre fiction for a class during your high school education. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famed Sherlock Holmes is part of the detective fiction tradition, a subset of the more generalized crime fiction faction. Herman Melville’s Moby Dick is an example of 19th century adventure fiction. The list continues.

Sherlock Holmes

Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce in Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon

But it’s undeniable that these novels have merit—so what about the intellectuals who read notoriously bad genre novels, both in form and content? Is it pure escapism or fulfilling another need?

The phenomenon of certain texts gaining in popularity reflects more about the society that embraces them than the actual texts. Think about the political and social climate that gave rise to the first Twilight book.  The year was 2005, President George W. Bush had begun his second presidential term, Chris Rock was the first black man to solo host the Academy Awards, and Terri Schiavo’s right-to-die case spurred activity from the pro-life movement, the right-to-die movement, and disability rights groups.

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Twilight fans camping out, photo by National Post

The first Twilight book did not deal with these issues, but by the end of the saga the notion of violent versus non-violent conflict resolution, racial (or species) prejudices, and pro-life arguments found their way into the story—and not just as casual mentions. These topics situated themselves as pivotal plot points, and, in the case of non-violence, the actual climax and dénouement to the entire series.

The next time you find yourself ensnared by a piece of genre fiction, don’t think of it as a “guilty pleasure.” Instead, turn it into an intellectual exercise—a sociological experiment, if you will. What is the larger rhetorical situation this text is responding to? What about it is drawing the attention of its audience? What is that audience, for that matter? And how do you fit in with that audience?

Remember, no text—novel, poem, or otherwise—is created in a vacuum. A discerning reader will look at the larger events surrounding its creation—and the implications of its existence. Reading “guilty pleasures” doesn’t have to be something to be guilty about; all you have to do is approach ‘mindless’ reading mindfully.

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Intentionally Introductory

Introducing myself in any capacity always reminds me of the opening pages of a novel. Just as Holden Caulfield quips in the opening pages of The Catcher in the Rye, maybe I should start with where I was born and “all that David Copperfield kind of crap.”

But where’s the fun in that? Instead, I’ll start by saying I actually hate The Catcher in the Rye. Don’t get me wrong—I don’t hate J.D. Salinger’s writing style or anything; I just feel the book is a poor example of a coming-of-age story and thusly shouldn’t be taught as such in the general high school curriculum.

However, I will say this: My name is Brooke Knisley, a new intern at CambridgeEditors. I’m also in Emerson College’s Writing and Publishing M.A. program. My main concern is hearing and acquiring stories, and my definition of “stories” is a broad one. I like to know why people elect to share certain stories and what narratives are intrinsic in seemingly innocuous pieces of text: a scribbled note, an improvised tune, a birthday invitation. Graffiti counts too.

Me

I’ve traveled throughout the world in search of stories (Chiapas in Southern Mexico being my most recent destination) because the literary landscape is as diverse as our physical one. No text exists in a vacuum and the place of creation affects the production of a text as much as the narrative’s locale, whether intended or not.

But intentionality does matter in any story. The choices an author makes (or doesn’t) reveal the project at work behind the narrative. Which is another reason every introduction reminds me of the beginning to a novel. Why did this person use that piece of information to construct an identity? And why did they want to show you that specific side of their personality?

Which begs the question: If every introduction is a contrived text, why did I choose to introduce myself this way to you all? What is my larger project?

I look forward to revealing it to you over my tenure as an intern at CambridgeEditors. Hopefully, you will stick around so we can work through it together.

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Intern Introduction

Hello! My name is Madeline Sneed, and I am one of the two fall interns at Cambridge Editors this semester. I moved to Boston from Houston, Texas (the greatest city in the world), just a couple of weeks ago. Though I miss the Lone Star State, I’m so thrilled to be in a completely new environment, and I love Boston already. I am here to pursue an MFA in creative writing from Emerson College. My goal after graduation is to write novels while teaching English or creative writing.

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Just bein’ a Baylor Bear

 

I have a BA in English literature from Baylor University in Waco, Texas—yes, I have been to Magnolia, and no, I have never met Chip or Joanna Gaines. During my time at Baylor, I fell in love with the works of Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, Colum McCann, and David Foster Wallace. While post-modern American literature is my jam, some of my favorite novels include A Tale of Two Cities, Pride and Prejudice, Anna Karenina, and Crime and Punishment. In addition to novels, I love enjoying stories told through film and television. I know too much about Game of Thrones for my own good, I can’t seem to stop watching Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock, and my two favorite films are Dead Poets Society and Carol.

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Reading in front of Baylor’s English building

When I’m not consuming stories, I love to travel, hang out with my friends, work out, listen to music, and try to get celebrities to respond to me on Twitter. I’m an avid Houston sports fan, and the biggest struggle in moving to Boston has been stomaching all the Patriots paraphernalia. I truly believe that the Houston Texans will win the Super Bowl this year (I say this every year). Additionally, I love to cook and am a wannabe oenophile. A fun fact about myself is that I won four consecutive intramural racquetball championships at Baylor, and I believe that is when I peaked in life.

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Peak of my existence

I’m very excited to work with and learn from the Cambridge Editors team, and I hope you all enjoyed reading a bit about me. Look out for future blog posts from yours truly in the future!

Madeline Sneed, Intern

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Boston Bookstore Spotlight!

One of my favorite things about coming to Boston has been the access to used bookstores! Back home, the nearest bookstore was a Barnes and Noble that was almost 45 minutes away. Now that I’m in Boston, I have found so many amazing bookstores to choose from, each having its own unique experience.

Rodney's Bookstore

C: Rodney’s

I love scouring the often-disorganized sections of books, hunting for rare (and hopefully inexpensive!) finds. For a small town girl from New Jersey, there are few things as satisfying as getting a hardcover book for the price of a paperback or finding a rare book. Once, in Rodney’s Bookstore, I found a 1956 hardcover copy of The Catcher in the Rye. Rodney’s is located near Central Square in Cambridge and hosts a maze of books all randomly scattered in vertical piles. Entire rows of books are hidden behind each other and you have to really dig to find something of interest. There, hidden behind one of the vertical stacks, I saw the very top of a spine with the tell-tale red horse and practically threw all of the other books out of the way to get to it. I had never seen The Catcher in the Rye in hardcover before, and bought the book immediately. It’s still one of the best finds I’ve had so far in Boston.

Harvard Bookstore

C. Harvard Bookstore

Recently, I checked out the heralded  Harvard Bookstore in Harvard Square, where the upstairs shelves in the new books section are so massive that they have actual Beauty-and-the-Beast-style ladders along the shelves. Only the staff are allowed to climb them, but it still creates the effect of my dream library. In addition to this glorious maze, there is an impressive section for used books downstairs. You can also find some decent deals on remainders and a large section of discounted comic books and graphic novels. As an added bonus, this summer they are having 15% off fiction titles every Friday through September 1st! The discount doesn’t include used or remaindered titles, but you can still get a bit of a discount on any of your favorite new fiction upstairs!

Brookline Booksmith Shelves

c: hbooks.com

Another favorite treasure hunting spot of mine is Brookline Booksmith. Located off the Coolidge Corner T stop and just down the street from The Coolidge Corner Theater, Brookline Booksmith boasts an impressive inventory. Looking for your favorite author’s newest release? It’s almost guaranteed they stock it upstairs in their vast sections of new books. You’ll also find a collection of journals and tons of fun gift items. If you love pins, funny book-related greeting cards, and Blue Q socks then you’ll definitely be stuck in the gift section for a few hours. If you’re looking for a cheaper find, head downstairs to find a haven of used books. They have everything from used Y.A. and children’s novels to comic books. A typical fiction novel won’t cost you more than seven or eight dollars, and they’re usually in excellent collection. I’ve done a lot of shopping in this particular store. I’ve even used their wide range of used fiction novels to not only bulk up my own collection, but also find some books for literature classes.

Whether it’s looking for a long-lost childhood favorite, trying to expand your literary collection, or just eager to attend some awesome literary events this summer there are tons of options in Boston! Don’t miss your chance!

-Megan, Intern

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Why You Should Hire an Editor for Your Dissertation

Hiring professional editors to look over dissertations before submission can help students reach their full potentials as they wrap up their graduate or doctoral studies. On her blog, “Get a Life, PhD,” Tanya Maria Golash-Boza writes, “Sometimes, you have to ask yourself: ‘What is the cost of not hiring an editor?’”

Getting professional advice and editing from someone who has experience in your academic field will help to narrow the focus of your final project, see and read your own words more clearly, gain a better understanding of what you need to do to make your writing appear more clear and professional, and ultimately produce a successful and publishable project.

There is no question that outside readers find far more mistakes in your writing than you do. Your mind knows exactly what the document should say and, as a result, your eyes see what the brain wants them to see. While asking friends, family, and classmates may certainly help you to discover small mistakes, professional editors have experience in the specific fields you may be targeting or pulling information from in your project. Finding someone who is familiar with your topic of study will largely benefit the final draft of your dissertation.

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Hired editors offer a variety of expert insights. Editors are not just used for poets, memoirists, and other creative writers; there are also those who have doctorate degrees in various scientific, mathematic, legal fields, and more, with the necessary proficiency needed to transform a student’s dissertation draft into publishable material.

Different editors are familiar with different styles and formats; if a student’s professor expects final dissertations to be written in MLA, APA, CMS, Turabian, AMA, or another style, it is certainly possible to hire someone who has a solid understanding of the essential elements of a specific style. Editors with degrees in science or mathematics will likely have a better understanding of how tables, figures, and graphs should be formatted than friends and family would.

Not only are hired editors convenient for dissertations written in specific styles and formats, but they are also helpful when it comes to constructive feedback and critiquing. They have years of experience editing works (especially academic writing) by other people. They can give additional feedback to help students with the structure and flow of their dissertations. Students sometimes struggle trying to plan and organize their ideas all on their own; getting outside perspectives can help. Some editors specialize in working with clients who are non-native English speakers.

They are paid to meet strict deadlines that will provide some relief to students with tough time constraints between school, work, and family responsibilities. While it’s certainly cheaper to edit your dissertation yourself (or have it edited by another student/ friend), that will not be enough for a project that could eventually become an important addition to your résumé.

A well-written and well-researched dissertation has a better chance of being published in a scholarly magazine or website. A published dissertation looks an impressive detail on a job application. As Edit 911 says on their website, “Completion of the dissertation or research projects and conferral of the degree are often required to achieve advancement with one’s current employer or to obtain a position with a different employer. Delays in final acceptance and frustration with the system may even be sufficient to cause some candidates to abandon their goals of working in academia, even if they do complete degree requirements successfully. Dissertations often are the first major publications for these professionals.”

Dissertation-Proposal

While hiring an editor may seem like asking for outside help, it is encouraged by most schools and will ultimately create a more publishable product. “Professional editors have the skills and expertise to complete these jobs satisfactorily and guarantee the quality of their work.  Reputable editors will also provide a sample edit to show the kind of revisions they can do and to ensure they understand the candidate’s exact needs in the editing process” (Edit 911). Getting your work read by an outside perspective will help you reach your highest potential as a student who has an intelligent idea to offer the world after years of taking college classes. Remember, “Sometimes, you have to ask yourself: ‘What is the cost of not hiring an editor?’”

After a hired editor provides the helpful feedback all students need to create a perfect or near-perfect finished product, the student’s professor will in turn focus his or her critiques/ grading more on the student’s work and research rather than the quality of writing, because the quality of writing will be good enough to ignore once it has gone through a hired editor.

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–Audrey Conklin

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