I thought about using the title Literary Tea from 2018, but I didn’t want to make it obvious how much I live for literary gossip over any other form. It also implies that the moments aren’t factual and I promise link my sources, okay? Numbering them in descending order is a thing I’ve seen others do, but some of these stories mash into each other and that might not work here. Besides, I have lumped them in my head as good news and not so good news. Let’s start with the good good.
Zora Neale Hurston’s Barracoon was finally published after many years of only being accessible to scholars at Howard University’s library. Hurston attempted to get it published towards the end of the Harlem Renaissance, but they wanted her to remove the dialect and she wasn’t having it. The fruition of the Well-Read Black Girl Anthology, edited by Glory Edim, was another positive publishing highlight. It’s amazing that an idea for a t-shirt, blossomed into a book club, and then led to a whole literary conference and anthology that celebrates the literature of Black women has been a pleasure to watch. Shuri and Ironheart comics written by Black women was amazing news too.
In award celebrations, I was happy to see Elizabeth Acevedo win the Young People’s Literature Award from the National Book Foundation. I have a soft spot for novels in verse, plus Acevedo lives in this area so it’s nice to support local artists (though she’s originally from New York). In the Science Fiction realm, N.K. Jemisin won her third Hugo for her novel, The Stone Sky. Her acceptance speech was everything. Had no idea she was related to W. Kamau Bell, but I saw his tweets giving her a shout-out for the win.
And on to the not so good, starting with the Atlantic article about how Instagram saved poetry from an untimely death. Poetry Twitter was ablaze. Like, on fire is what I’m saying. Popcorn worthy. I wasn’t familiar with Rupi Kaur before this article, despite her having millions of followers and being on the New York Times best sellers list. While reflecting on this moment, I vaguely remember seeing her book in Barnes & Noble, but if I’ve made it to the buying stage with a poetry book, chances are I’ve already read it, or at the very least seen poets I respect cosign it. Rarely do I buy a serendipitous poetry book. The discussion reminded me of the “public libraries are dead” conversation that seems to happen at least once or twice a year. The consensus is always that public libraries are alive and well and not going anywhere, the same is true of poetry.
The most recent violation on Poetry Twitter was a plagiarism accusation. Rachel McKibbens accused Ailey O’Toole of ripping lines from her collection blud. O’Toole even tattooed one of the lines in question – with one or two words of her own – in an unfortunate font on her forearm. How Sway? I just…don’t understand what the thought process was that lead to that tattoo. I can at least comprehend why a person might steal someone else’s writing. Writing is difficult, especially good writing. But you don’t steal and then be so proud of what you stole that you get inked in a visible area on your body. Yikes. And this theft has worked so well that she was able to be a repeat offender.
And the Tomi Adeyemi and Nora Roberts book title thing is probably not worth mentioning, but it happened.
The most disturbing bit of literary news for me was the sexual misconduct allegations with Junot Díaz. Disturbing for any number of reasons, but on a personal level, I was bothered because I couldn’t pick up on the misogynistic vibes that would allow for this sort of conduct to be an acceptable and repetitive response, despite interacting with him and reading a lot of his work. Some of the aftermath was troubling too, like the intense exchange between Eve L. Ewing and Robin Coste Lewis on Twitter that ended in the later deleting her Twitter profile. And then Zinzi Clemmons accused Roxane Gay for not being vocal enough about Díaz’s behavior. (Really surprised I couldn’t find think-pieces on both interactions. Did I not dig hard enough?)
Whew! It was a full year and I know I’m not including everything. Did these literary moments leave an impression on you too? Which ones were impacted you?