Thursday News: Books can change your life; is reading dangerous; publishing and diversity; trends in online engagement
Yes, One Book Can Change Your Life, Even In Prison – Reginald Dwayne Betts Jr. is a poet. He is also a memoirist with an MFA and a third (and final) year student at Yale Law School. And he got his start reading and writing poetry in prison, where he spent eight years, beginning at age 16, for carjacking. The story of Betts’s discovery of poetry, and of his own passion for reading, writing, and learning is one of the most eloquent and powerful arguments against the reckless incarceration of young black men in the United States I’ve ever read.
One day when Betts was 18, The Black Poets by Dudley Randall came sliding under his door in solitary. “I had read poetry before in school and I had written some for girls. I liked poetry. Or at least I liked the stuff I was writing to girls,” he said, chuckling.
“But I had never thought about poetry as a way to communicate. I never thought about it as a way to talk about things other than love,” he added.
The Black Poets introduced Betts to famous African-American writers like Etheridge Knight (who had also spent time in prison), Robert Hayden, Sonia Sanchez, Amiri Baraka and Lucille Clifton. Clifton especially blew Betts’ mind with the sheer devastation in her writing.
“From that point on, I decided that I was going to be a poet. I had models and an understanding of what I wanted my writing to look like,” he said. Betts figured that he couldn’t train himself to be an engineer, but he could train himself to be a writer.–Huffington Post
Are Coddled College Students the New Book Censors? -I have to warn you that the title of this piece is misleading. It’s actually a very provocative argument about students like those who are refusing to read Allison Bechdel’s book at Duke. Rather than seeing them as privileged and precious, Corey Robin suggests that instead that many of these students are resisting certain books because of the real power of books and the unsettling and discordant effect reading a book that goes so against your beliefs and values can have. Robin does not ultimately find this position particularly persuasive in an educational setting, where reading difficult books is part of the learning process (not to mention the real dangers of censorship in an intellectual community build around the principle of academic freedom), but he does suggest that we think about what is motivating these debates differently and perhaps recognize a shared passion for the power of new ideas and of the books that inspire them. An interesting perspective.
That’s why I’m less bothered than some of my colleagues are by today’s students. I see in their fear a premonition of what a book — and an education — can do. We live in an age, we’re often told, where reading has become rote or has simply disappeared. Half our students don’t do the reading; the other half submit dutiful book reports, barely registering the effect of what they’ve read. . . .
Even so, there’s a greater threat to reading and readers, to education itself, than trigger warnings or students objecting to a text. And that is the downsizing administrator, the economizing politician, who refuses to believe there’s any value in reading a difficult text at all. . . . Given the choice of defending a book to an aggrieved student or a course to a phlegmatic accountant, I’ll take the student any day: at least she and I agree that the book in question has power, and the experience of reading it, reality. . . . –Alternet
Controversy Dogs Red Hen Press After HuffPo Article – And speaking of controversy around books, you may have been following the disastrous fallout from the piece Kate Gale, managing editor of Red Hen Press, wrote for Huff Po. Although the piece has been taken down, you can read it in its entirety here. And there’s also Gale’s apology, which she posted at her own blog here. Be warned, though, that the original post is downright painful to read — cringeworthy and offensive — even though I suspect Gale was trying to call out stereotypes rather than what she did, which was highlight and perpetuate them. Still, the post and its fallout have raised a lot of good questions about the role publishers play in promoting diversity and inclusion, especially when they articulate those values to their house. Side question: do you think the awful mixed metaphor in PW’s title was intentional?
Fallout continues from the publication of Red Hen Press managing editor Kate Gale’s piece in the Huffington Post last week, which skewered critics of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. The piece, posted on August 24 and then taken down less than 48 hours later, ignited a firestorm within literary publishing circles for its seemingly casual reliance on a number of racial, ethnic, and gender stereotypes. Now, the literary press that Gale co-founded with Mark Cull is feeling the effects of the situation.
Since Gale’s article appeared, three members of Red Hen Press’s advisory board–Sherman Alexie, Garrett Hongo, and Helena Maria Viramontes–have resigned. Fifteen authors now remain on Red Hen’s list of advisory board members.–Publishers Weekly
The Demographics of Social Media Users – Yes, I know; I love Pew Internet statistics. But seriously, they’re decently researched and often insightfully relevant to understanding how people engage with and interact in the online environment. One thing that really surprised me about this analysis is the popularity of LinkedIn, which I tend to view as one big pile of professionally packaged spam. Of course, I don’t use Facebook, either, so I’m probably not the target audience. Still, interesting to see the overall trends (note the info on Twitter – not surprising, IMO, and perhaps an indication that Twitter isn’t as relevant as it was a few years ago?).
Today, 59% of Instagram users are on the platform daily, including 35% who visit several times a day. This 59% figure reflects a 10-point increase from September 2014 when 49% of Instagram users reported visiting the site on a daily basis. Similarly, the proportion of Pinterest users who visit the platform daily rose from 17% in September 2014 to 27% in April 2015, while the proportion of daily users on LinkedIn increased from 13% to 22% over the same time period.
Twitter saw no significant changes in its proportion of daily users. Some 38% of those on Twitter use the site daily, a figure that is statistically unchanged from the 36% who did in 2014.
Facebook continues to have the most engaged users – 70% log on daily, including 43% who do so several times a day. This overall proportion of daily users, however, is unchanged from the 70% who used Facebook daily in 2014. –Pew Internet