Getting a prestigious teaching position at Oxford University is a serious accomplishment, but the selection process for the new professor of poetry has generated some serious controversy.
According to The Guardian, three candidates have been selected for the role of professor of poetry at the internationally-renowned university: Alice Oswald, Andrew McMillan and Todd Swift. While Oswald and McMillan have seen relative success within their campaigns for the position, Swift has come under fire for conduct concerns… and the conduct is concerning.
Specifically, critics have referenced Swift’s behavior while running the independent publishing company Eyewear Publishing. A report from The Bookseller said that Eyewear mistreated its poets by locking them in contracts that didn’t allow them to communicate with trade unions, specifically the Society of Authors. Bookseller journalist Heloise Wood elaborated on the nature of these troubling allegations:
To prohibit authors from contacting the SoA is to prevent them from taking independent advice from their trade union. Not only is this unenforceable, it constitutes an unwarranted interference with their civil rights. The termination clause is also extraordinary – the fact that it explicitly mentions the possibility of the publisher sending ‘rude emails’ that cause ‘hurt feelings’ speaks for itself.
Swift, and other poets who chose to remain nameless, defended the contracts:
Each contract we have signed since 2012 is bespoke, we try and base on industry standard templates,” he said. “They are all discussed with the authors. We are very short on resources and usually if authors object to a clause we delete.
Another complaint surfaced from Vida about Swift’s old tweets where he allegedly attacked emerging poets. Both the tweets and Swift’s entire Twitter page were deleted, and soon after, Eyewear released a tweet condemning Swift:
Swift did not respond to these complaints directly.
As of right now, Oxford does not have any plans to remove Swift from consideration for the position. The incoming professor will be decided on June 21, and we’ll have to wait and see whether or not Oxford University offers him the role.
Do you believe Swift should be out of consideration for the position?
Books are hardly the strangest thing human beings have ever put into a vending machine. Aside from our love of stories in all forms, that’s one thing all people generally have in common: we’re honestly pretty weird. One woman’s pregnancy cravings led to the invention of the cupcake vending machine, providing Mississippi, USA with twenty-four-hour cupcake access and making the rest of us wonder why you’d need to be pregnant to want junk food at four in the morning. China and Japan both offer live crab vending machines, complete with vinegar and ginger tea for an optimal on-the-go-meal. (Being from a country where live crabs aren’t commonly eaten, I DID initially wonder whether or not you could use the live crabs to exact revenge on any rude pedestrians or public transit passengers.) Then there’s the infamous used schoolgirl underwear vending machine—though Japan technically made these illegal in 1993, some continue to exist.
And what are we supposed to gather from this? That the world is a stranger place than even we, as strange people, can imagine? Sure, but also this—books may not be the strangest thing we’ve ever sold via self-service kiosk in a public place, but they’re definitely the coolest. Let’s delve into the many iterations of the book vending machine.
1. Historic Book Vending Machines
Some inventions are pretty bad—consider the pet-petter, an allegedly-convenient invention that condemns you to a reality in which you’ll “never touch your pets again!” Others, though, are pretty badass. Back in 1822, members of the public usually were forbidden from buying seditious books (and probably plenty of other things, like women wearing pants or enjoying being alive). English bookseller Richard Carlile didn’t want to be thrown in jail for distributing banned books, but there was one major problem: he really, really wanted to distribute banned books. His plan? Deposit censored material into self-service machines and give the people what they want. Of course, Carlile got exactly the opposite of what he wanted—a criminal conviction.
Image Via Mental Floss
In 1937, a more effective but less exciting book vending machine became accessible in the UK: the Penguincubator. The brainchild of Allen Lane, founder of Penguin Books, the Penguincubator came into being when Lane couldn’t find a book he wanted to purchase while waiting in a train station. While it’s possible that only one machine ever actually existed, it’s certain that most of us would have been first in line. Alas, book vending machines are still relatively uncommon—but so are people who take their socks off on airplanes, and yet, they’re still f*cking everywhere.
2. SCHOOL VENDING MACHINES
Let’s agree that books are healthier and more enjoyable than king-sized sodas. What pleasure the latter provides tend to be short-lived—which is what anxious parents suspect their kids might be if they have even hypothetical access to a Pepsi. Of course, healthy living is important even when it isn’t fun for the hyperactive, slightly rabid kiddos riding the wave of their first sugar highs. But reading is fun, and what could be healthier than kids finding that out for themselves—before their college lit classes make them read Moby Dick?
Image Via NewsSTANDHUB.COM
One Utah elementary school has recently opened the state’s first book vending machine, among the first handful of these machines. Yes, handful. There are currently fewer than five of these schoolyard machines: Umatilla Elementary School in Umatilla, FL and Arthur O. Eve School 61 in Buffalo, NY were the first two. Granger Elementary in West Valley City, UT has decided to encourage even healthier behavior (no, the vending machine doesn’t also dish out spinach and lectures on the value of hand-washing to these tiny human booger-farms). Instead of money, the machine will accept tokens that teachers can give to students for their work and conduct in the classroom. By collecting enough of these, students can receive the greatest gift of all—the early understanding that a book is a reward, not a punishment.
3. Repurposed Cigarette Machines
The most common vending machines dispense food and drink; cigarette vending machines, while once common, are now illegal in many countries due to changing attitudes around public health. Those that still exist either use age verification technology or are only present in establishments like bars or clubs, which bar underage people from entry. Many of these machines are now defunct, but they’re still there—and that’s led many to look for different uses. North Carolina based artist Clark Whittington began the Art-o-Mat project in 1997, replacing cigarettes with small art pieces.
Image Via Treehugger.com
German publishing company Hamburger Automatenverlag has repurposed some cigarette vending machines to sell books instead of tobacco products. For just €4—less than the cost of a pack of cigarettes—you could make a different decision and change your story. Will it make you feel better? In the long run, probably. But we all know books are more than capable of causing short-term emotional despair.
4. ‘BLIND DATE WITH A BOOK’
Some readers may recognize this concept because of Barnes & Noble (while others may be familiar because of awkward romantic encounters). Certain Barnes & Noble locations wrap novels in paper and identify them only with a brief description—genre, setting, time period, and any other notable traits. Picture these ‘notable traits’ as highly-specific Netflix categories, like ‘steamy independent movies based on books’ or ‘stunts & general mayhem.’ Though these books are generally cheaper, you take a risk when purchasing one of these books. Maybe you’ll hate it. The opposite is equally plausible: maybe you’ve even read it before! But you risk disappointment when purchasing any book, especially if you’re like me (read: insanely picky, willing to shout about poorly-realized character arcs at all times). It’s just that the reward of a life-altering story is worth so much more than the money spent.
Image Via NPR
The Monkey’s Paw bookstore in Toronto is the proud home of the first randomized book vending machine. Stephen Fowler, the store’s owner, originally thought that a store employee might stand inside the machine and physically drop the book down to the customer. The bookstore employee, presumably, thought about quitting on the spot. With a little common sense, Fowler saw the line between ‘stroke of genius’ and ‘stroking out.’ Now, the machine is made out of a metal locker to suit the store’s vintage aesthetic. Notice how lockers aren’t transparent? For $2, customers get the pleasure of a complete surprise.
The front of the machine reads: “collect all 112 million titles.” It could be a joke—but it could be a challenge.
What’s the worst thing that a potential beau could do on a first date? Well, provided your date doesn’t snatch your wallet or set fire to the restaurant, the answer is nearly unanimous: treat the waitstaff poorly. Everyone knows the most fundamental tenet of common decency that of treating others with respect. No one is entitled to unkindness; certainly, no one has the right to mistreat someone whose job requires them to serve or assist you—that means no shouting at customer service reps, no predatory flirting with disinterested bartenders, no taking it out on a retail employee when you didn’t bring your receipt. Except, of course, for the people who don’t.
Meet Natasha Tynes, social media strategist and snitch.
Picture this: Natasha was riding the red line of the Washington, D.C. Metro when something unthinkable happened. No, nobody was injured. No, nobody was robbed. It was an unthinkable act because most of us never would have considered it out of the ordinary—an MTA employee eating her lunch on the train.
Scandalous? Probably not, even if the posted rules on the train express that eating and drinking are forbidden. But Tynes did seem to feel that it was far less scandalous to snap a picture of the woman’s face and rat her out on Twitter.
Image Via The Daily Beast
(The original photo DID show the woman’s face, but Tynes has deleted her complaint.)
This self-proclaimed “social media expert” apparently wasn’t knowledgeable enough to predict the ensuing social media wrath. Twitter was quick to point out that Tynes was poised to launch her career by writing novels about her experience as a woman of color… experiences which can, apparently, include being ratted out for scarfing down breakfast between assignments. The hypocrisy was unsettling to many, who took the opportunity to articulate that someone’s racial or ethnic minority status cannot except them from anti-blackness.
“People of color” like Natasha Tynes is the reason why I make it a point to directly name Black people within the spectrum, because there is anti-Blackness within people of color in totality.
POC solidarity is often upheld by Black people, but not maintained by others within.
Twitter found it particularly upsetting that Tynes marketed herself as a minority writer and yet would threaten the livelihood of another woman of color.
The Natasha Tynes situation is a reminder that there are plenty of scumbags in minority communities that could give a shit about anyone but themselves. “Own voices” and “diversity” good enough to sell them books, but a hard-working black woman eating on a train is unforgivable?
Racism and the Metro have a long history. In 2000, Ansche Hedgepth was arrested on the D.C. Metro for eating a potato chip despite her spotless record—handcuffed and held in a windowless cell. She was twelve years old.
Some rushed to Tynes’ defense. Many of them then rushed just as quickly to delete their Tweets.
It’s only reasonable that passengers don’t know as much about the rules & regulations regarding D.C.’s transit as its employees. In fact, the employee in question had received an email days before stating that all employees must “cease and desist from issuing criminal citations” for eating and drinking on the trains—”effective immediately.” The Metro Workers’ Union also elaborated on the poor conditions employees face when trying to eat lunch: not all stations have break rooms. Anyone who’s absently watched a rat skitter away as a train barrels down the track knows that, without break rooms, the workers have no guarantee of sanitary conditions in which to eat.
We don’t have to guess at the employee’s circumstances; though she is not allowed to comment herself, the union has publicized the fact that the bus operator ate on the train because of train delays that were preventing her from getting to her next assignment on time. Rather than keep her passengers waiting, which would have caused further delays, she chose to eat on the train. Given the aforementioned official email, the employee will not face repercussions of any sort—but Tynes will.
Rare Bird, Tynes’ publishing house, publicly condemned Tynes’ actions and cancelled the publication of her upcoming novel.
They Called Me Wyatt, Tynes’ novel, may no longer be published—but on Goodreads, its 1.42 star legacy lingers.
“You apologized for the tweet,” wrote one reviewer, “but do you understand that you wanted her disciplined for not catering to your demands? A stranger. You tried to shame her for refusing your entitlement. Some WOC solidarity you got there.”
Literary agents are the glue that hold the publishing world together—from shopping manuscripts at international book fairs, to negotiating the most lucrative publishing deals for their authors, to securing foreign publishing rights and film deals, they are the essential go-between, connecting authors with the industry.
But how does one become a literary agent? And just how crucial is the role of an agent to the career of a writer? We caught up with Trident Media Group’s Mark Gottlieb who answered all this and more!
q: How does one become a literary agent?
A: Book publishing was historically something of an accidental profession where people stumbled out of the humanities into book publishing. Although that has begun to change in recent years, even for those on the literary agent side of the book business. In recent years, more colleges have been offering undergraduate studies in book publishing. I attended Emerson College in Boston to study in their Writing, Literature and Publishing program, where I helped found the Undergraduate Students for Publishing club, as well as the small press at the school, Wilde Press. From there, I went to work at Penguin Books for a short stint, before coming over to the Trident Media Group literary agency.
Q: What does a day in your life look like?
A: You’re asking what a day in the life of Trident Media Group literary agent Mark Gottlieb is like? One of the things I love about being a literary agent is that there really is no average day in the life of a literary agent! Anything exciting can happen. I learned that my very first day at the job. It’s also very interesting and dynamic to be able to work with creative people such as authors. Certain things can be expected to happen on a regular-basis, though. For instance: reaching out to potential writers, reading/editing manuscripts, pitching books to publishers, negotiating book deals, contract review, pitching our books for film/TV adaptation in Los Angeles, pitching our books to foreign publishers from around the world throughout the year and at the London, Bologna and Frankfurt Book Fairs.
Q: You must get so many manuscripts and inquiries sent your way— what makes a manuscript stand out?
A: When it comes to fiction, the first thing I always look at as a literary agent is the hook contained within the pitch or query letter. As with the plot and character development, that’s really where the meat and potatoes of a story will be. From there, I turn my attention to the quality of the writing itself, in looking at sentences by-the-line. Lastly, I look at the comparative/competitive titles in doing some market research to see how similar books are performing in the book publishing landscape. In the case of nonfiction, I first look at the author’s platform before making an evaluation of the subject matter of the manuscript and the quality of the writing.
Q: The job of a literary agent is very diverse— from attending international book fairs, to dealing with foreign rights and audio book companies— do you have a favorite part of the job?
A: One of my favorite parts of being a literary agent at Trident Media Group is our regular meetings and yearly trips to Los Angeles, where we meet with studio heads, producers, managers, lawyers and agencies in Hollywood to get our books turned into movies or television shows. Some of our recent book-to-film/TV projects at TMG include: Dune (2020), The Passage (2019), A Dog’s Journey (2019), Wonder (2017), among many others.
Q: You’ve spoken of ‘interesting or comical’ occurrences at your agency Trident Media such as “Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi [coming] into the office with a box of cannoli for the staff”— what other instances come to mind?
A: I have seen lots of celebrity memoir clients around our offices. One of our newest clients is Billy Dee Williams, who played Lando in the original Star Wars franchise, in addition to many other roles!
Q: How important is the role of a literary agent to a writer’s career?
A: I would say that a literary agent is central to the career of an author. A literary agent will advocate for an author at every turn since literary agents exist to provide services to authors. Some of these services include but are not limited to: Book Sales, Editorial, Film and TV Sales, Foreign Rights, Contract Negotiation / Business Affairs, Accounting and Information Tracking, Audio Books, eBook Sales and Marketing, Publishing Management
Q: What have been some of your greatest achievements as an agent?
A: A search for my name, Mark Gottlieb among literary agents in places such as Publishers Lunch will yield my dealmaker page. There you will see over 150 book deals performed and some six-figure deals. I’ve previously ranked first among literary agents across book publishing in overall volume of deals and I’ve ranked just as highly in other individual categories by volume of deals. Along the way I have represented numerous bestselling and award-winning authors and have sold a number of projects into the book-to-film/TV market.
Q: What would be your advice for aspiring writers who might be ready to start sending out enquiries
A: Write a knock-out query letter to really grab the attention of literary agents and aim high: start from your top list of literary agencies and work your way down the list.
Mark Gottlieb is a highly ranked literary agent both in overall volume of deals and other individual categories. Using that same initiative and insight for identifying talented writers, he is actively building his own client list of authors in fiction and nonfiction. Mark Gottlieb is excited to work directly with authors, helping to manage and grow their careers with all of the unique resources that are available at leading literary agency, Trident Media Group. During his time at Trident Media Group, Mark Gottlieb has represented numerous New York Times bestselling authors, as well as award-winning authors, and has optioned and sold numerous books to film and TV production companies. Mark Gottlieb is actively seeking submissions in all categories and genres and looking forward to bringing new authors to the curious minds of their future readers.
A symptom of a larger societal problem, most analyses would suggest. The term refers to social media communities’ desire to hold organizations, individuals, and artistic works accountable for their questionable or unpopular opinions. In the Y. A. book community, it’s meant acts of what some perceive to be virtual dogpiling, assailing unpublished novels with one star reviews and bad publicity in order to deprive the target of profit or platform. (When you type ‘dogpiling’ into Google, the next suggested word is Twitter.) In the past two years, several prominent debuts have been the subject of social media attacks; as a result, some authors have chosen not to publish these books. They are, as the term suggests, canceled. For our purposes, let’s not attempt to determine which among the allegations of cultural insensitivity are true; instead, let’s document these incidents and consider them individually.
Because here’s what cancel culture isn’t: an accusatory classification into which all criticism might be stuffed.
Kosoko Jackson was a sensitivity reader for the Big Five publishing houses. A queer, black author, Jackson was poised to make a successful debut with his novel A Place for Wolves, proudly labeled #ownvoices, a term used to describe novels whose protagonists share the same marginalized identities as their authors. The novel followed the LGBT+ love story of two American teenagers set during the Kosovo War, an Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universemeets Code Name Verity. With favorable reviews from Publishers Weekly, Jackson seemed on the precipice of literary heights.
Then, A Place for Wolves was canceled—and the Internet was gleeful.
“I have to be absolutely fucking honest here,” opens the infamous Goodreads review, the first proverbial thrown stone. “I’ve never been so disgusted in my life.”
Criticism largely centered upon allegations of mishandling the Kosovo War: particularly, making the protagonists American and the gruesome human tragedy the backdrop for a love story. The novel’s most grievous sin, according to its detractors, was making the villain an Albanian Muslim—notably, the demographic most impacted by the ethnic cleansing. And this injustice was compounded by just how recently the violence ended: on the brink of our current century, in 1999, recently enough that some born in that same year are still teenagers.
Among the first responders was an incendiary article titled: “He Was Part of a Twitter Mob That Attacked Young Adult Novelists. Then It Turned on Him. Now His Book Is Canceled.” The title clearly alludes to a just-desserts mentality, a social-justice ouroboros circling back to devour its own head. Jackson is not the victim here, it assures. He is someone whose luck has run out.
Refinery29echoes this sentiment, opening its coverage of the matter with Jackson’s haunting Tweet, a knock-knock joke with the who’s there? a clumsy I-told-you-so:
Stories about the civil rights movement should be written by black people.
Stories of suffrage should be written by women.
Ergo, stories about boys during horrific and life changing times, like the AIDS EPIDEMIC, should be written by gay men.
In fact, Kosoko Jackson himself was not ‘canceled;’ after a lengthy and public apology, his reputation seems largely untarnished. Not only was he not required to pay back his advance, but his new debut, Yesterday Is History, is scheduled for 2020 release. The novel will follow a contemporary gay teen who, through a time-travel mishap, finds himself in NYC on the eve of the Stonewall Riots.
There are many ways to interpret the Internet’s reaction to Jackson’s possible blunder, many of them equally valid. Some see detractors attempting to silence a black debut author, a voice of color in the midst of a white-majority industry. Some see criticism against Jackson’s work as a valid response born of nuanced understanding of the Kosovo War, perhaps from someone with more historical insight than Jackson himself. But most seem to suggest that all sensitivity concerns—regardless of the specific issues—possess all the nuance of a gleefully hurled tomato.
The Continent by Keira Drake
“If you want an idea of what this book is like,” one Goodreads reviewer explained, “it’s like Disney’s Pocahontas intermixed with even more blatant racism and obvious xenophobia.”
Keira Drake’s book wasn’t ‘canceled,’ but the seething monolith known as the Internet still feels she should have been. Could the Internet be right?
Image Via Salt Lake Tribune
Drake, a white debut author, was moved to tears when she heard an NPR report of a bombing in Iraq; according to Vulture, she felt compelled to write a book about what might happen if a person like her (“white, sheltered, and privileged”) suddenly wound up “in the middle of a war between two violent societies in a foreign land.”
In fact, Keira Drake is from a violent society: in the U.S., rates of lethal violence are much higher than in similarly wealthy countries. But these violent societies are different, as Drake explains herself. Remember? They’re foreign.
The article continues from Drake’s inspiration to what exactly her inspiration produced:
Drake set her fantasy in a place called the Continent, a brutal realm where privileged tourists, safe in their heli-planes, gaze down with detached curiosity at the native people slaughtering each other below. After a heli-plane crashes, Drake’s narrator is saved by one of the natives from an attempted rape at the hands of an enemy tribe, and she, in turn, saves his people from ruin.
Criticisms of racial insensitivity in The Continentwere swift and damning: comparisons abounded between the fictional ‘Topi’ tribe (who adorn their faces with war paint and attack primarily with bows and arrows) and the Hopi tribe of Native Americans. A petition emerged to halt the book’s publication after one reader expressed concern over the stereotypes they felt were rampant in the novel, a nonstop action ride of “Magic Black people, Ninja Asians, and uneducated, ruthless Natives who get drunk and try to rape the precious white girl.”
Image Via Ya Interrobang
If that sounds like a straightforward condemnation, it isn’t. As in the case of Kosoko Jackson, many reviewers had not read the book—a fact which undeniably diminishes their credibility. And even the shapeless mass of YA social media gremlins (I jest, given that perception of this community is often unnecessarily negative) couldn’t agree on whether or not the changes were necessary—or even good.
“The original had more balls,” one Instagram user wrote. “It was grittier and the criticism of colonialism and racism more impactful.” Of course, one review from someone who may have genuinely read the books is not evidence that Drake’s original work was thoughtful and self-aware… but it does mean something.
When people cite ‘cancel culture,’ they envision relentless Twitter mobs echoing and exacerbating criticism they’ve heard, a botched game of Telephone that no one ever seems to win. In reality, the quality of reviews irrefutably varies from those who haven’t read the book yet have boarded the hype train to fellow YA authors of color or Native American readers with doctorates in Library Science pulling descriptions of “savages” with “almond-shaped eyes” directly from the novel they dissect. It’s ideologically risky to perceive online criticism as inherently less real, to assume that anything taking place over social media platforms is inherently less thoughtful. We’ve seen social media put to the task of propagating serious political movements, as is the case with the groundbreaking #MeToo movement. We’re well-aware of our place in the digital era; this is a part of what that means.
The novel follows Elloren, a girl growing up in a society in which fantasy races (wolfmen, fae, etc.) are deemed inferior. Of course, this is a low-hanging metaphor for real-world racism, but it’s certainly not unprecedented: Cassandra Clare‘s Shadowhunters universe relies heavily on the concept of ‘Downworlders’ (werewolves, fae, etc.) and their second-class status in the Nephilim-dominated Clave, whose laws generally fail to take the magical races into account. The Harry Potter franchise also comments upon inequality and racial issues through the concept of ‘purer’ wizarding bloodlines. While J.K. Rowling‘s efforts at including diversity in her texts may not easily lend themselves to the word ‘effort’ (think Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s ‘intense sexual relationship‘ that’s never shown in the prequel films), she lightly prods at real-world issues with the inclusion of plot points such as Hermione’s social activism on behalf of the house elves. Rowling’s work has had such an impact that young people looking to involve themselves in politics frequently allude to her work in protest signs and political arguments (think ‘no one deserves to live in a closet’).
Image vIA jOSH jOSH tWITTER
One Goodreads user parsed the “most dangerous, offensive book” they had ever read apart in a 9,000-word review, barbing readers with quotes along the lines of: “The Kelts are not a pure race like us. They’re more accepting of intermarriage, and because of this, they’re hopelessly mixed.” Given the novel’s premise, it seems likely that this quote came from one of the aforementioned fusty, traditional relatives whose views are the launchpad for Elloren’s character arc. In fact, the main premise of the review was, according to Vulture, “racist characters saying or doing racist things.” There seems to be confusion over whether or not including characters with bigoted views means endorsing those characters’ bigoted views—a dangerous conflation.
Forest herself has said that she wanted to avoid “[injecting] harmful tropes into fantasy,” for example, casting people with dark skin (including fantasy races) as villains. Intentionally, Forest said, “all [her] villains are white.”
Reviewers agree that Elloren’s bigotry is “jarring,” the novel rampant with homophobic, ableist, racist, and otherwise bigoted remarks. But many remain divided on whether or not the comments fulfil their intended purpose—a clearly-stated opposition to bigotry told through the perspective of a protagonist whose hateful outlook is implied to unravel by the end of the yet-unpublished third book.
Others (in particular, acclaimed author L.L. McKinney) say that the bigotry itself isn’t exactly the issue: Forest is a white author and therefore doesn’t have the range to dismantle racial oppression—it isn’t her story to tell. Regardless of whether or not you, reader, agree with this sentiment, McKinney is more than justified in expressing it.
Because here’s the issue with calling this ‘cancel culture:’ The Black Witch wasn’t canceled.
Image Via Jeff Bullas
There was, inarguably, an online crusade against it. The debut novel’s Goodreads rating dropped to an astonishing 1.7. Tumblr posts with as many as 6,000 notes circulated condemning the book, despite the fact that, before its publication, there was almost no chance that such a large group had actually read it. Yet the novel was published as planned in May 2017 despite the controversy, and its sequel was released in September 2018. The criticism drew attention, but, as in the case of Kosoko Jackson, it did not derail the author’s career.
It’s difficult to make a call on this one, particularly given that many of the Twitter and Tumblr threads (including the 9k word review) have since been deleted. It’s irresponsible for us, as critics and as readers, to side with the journalists who condemn “Toxic YA Twitter” without having read the book and the reviews, and the Twitter threads. It’s irresponsible for us to assert that all criticism of possible insensitivity is inaccurate because it is spread through social media—and it’s more irresponsible still to assume that all sensitivity criticisms carry the same weight.
But making a ‘call on this one’ is besides the point. My opinion on which of these books is more appropriate than the others couldn’t be more irrelevant These claims deserve consideration. They deserve it because some of them are true, regardless of whether this particular one is or isn’t. Citing all criticisms as a part of ‘cancel culture’ may be the same sort of blunt dismissal that ‘cancel culture’ itself entails.
Blood Heir By Amélie Wen zhao
And now, we arrive at our final destination.
Amélie Wen Zhao, a French-born and Beijing-raised debut author, faced accusations of racism shortly before the scheduled publication of her upcoming novel Blood Heir, the first instalment of a trilogy with a high three-figure advance. After a 2014 international trip, Zhao began to conceptualize a society in which magical individuals are trafficked as laborers, an incisive allusion to “human trafficking” and “indentured servitude in Asia.” Wen Zhao stated that she had not previously encountered a commentary on human trafficking in Y.A. literature. But not all readers understood Wen Zhao’s intentions.
Image Via Slate
“This book is about slavery,” accused one Goodreads reviewer, “a false oppression narratives that equates having legitimately dangerous magical powers that kill people with being an oppressed minority.”
Wen Zhao, expressing that she never intended the book as an allusion to slavery in the United States, canceled the publication.
Wen Zhao recently made headlines for announcing her plan to go forth with publishing after a thoughtful apology, months after her cancelation announcement. This is not unprecedented; although accusations of Drake’s cultural insensitivity were perhaps the most legitimate, she went forth with publication after official delays due to the controversy. After some deliberation and a lot of changes, Wen Zhao is resuming the publication. Delacorte, her publisher, had a group of multicultural academics evaluate the work—including an expert who “studies human trafficking in Asia.”
Of course, those in favor of the project’s cancelation were quick to point out that all races and ethnicities (read: not just non-poc) are capable of anti-blackness. In a now-deleted tweet, novelist Ellen Oh applauded Wen Zhao for the cancelation and drew attention to the issue. Poet L. L. McKinney also commented upon anti-blackness, and author Stephi Cham commented, “I don’t think she’s bowing to a mob. I think she’s listened to valid feedback and made a decision to do better based on that.” Regardless of the specific intent of Wen Zhao’s novel, the reality is that some people drew different conclusions. And yet, her career is not derailed. Her debut will be available in November and will have gone through an even more extensive vetting process, likely adding more nuance and commentary regarding the serious issue of human trafficking.
Image Via Slate
Image Via Next Shark
‘Cancel culture’ paranoia comes from fear of censorship. What does that fear mean if the author’s career doesn’t end? If the book isn’t canceled?
Each incident has been cited as an example of toxic Twitter culture blown out of hand, allegations of hypersensitivity and all the political firestorm a controversial hot topic. In reality, it’s impossible for any one journalist to deem which criticisms are ‘correct’ and which are irrational. And it’s more than just impossible for critics to automatically associate all of these incidents, to classify each as an act of small-minded censorship. If we categorize all critique under the broad label of ‘cancel culture,’ delegitimize it as hyperbolic outrage, we risk discouraging and outright disregarding serious criticism.