By Howard AxelrodApple Sirs, I thank you for your appreciation of my lecture at the recent TED Dead conference: “Thinkers of Yesterday, Challenges of Today.” (Your company, as Mr. Jobs declared in his own lecture, truly has eyes and ears everywhere.) I must confess some of your letter eluded my understanding—for instance, the polite imperative: “Please drill down to deliverables.” Am I to understand that you view my ideas as buried underground, like a vein of gold or a healing spring?
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Like everyone else who works in publishing, I grew up as a bookworm. My grandfather and my parents used to take me to the children’s section at the Needham Public Library, and we’d leave with more books than I could carry. In high school, my friend Alex and I were total Harry Potter diehards. We used to make trivia quizzes to determine which of our classmates was worthy of attending the movie premieres with us. So books were always a huge part of my life, but it never occurred to me to make books into a career until I had finished my second year of law school. Luckily, there are plenty of ways in which law and publishing intersect—contracts, licensing, permissions, and more—so I started networking and scouring the Boston area for jobs that combined my interests. When I saw my job posted at Beacon in December 2012, it sounded perfect for me. And it was!
By Lennard Davis
Twenty-seven years ago, disability activists threw away their canes, crutches, and wheelchairs. They proceeded to slowly and painfully crawl up the steps to the Capitol to protest those who would block the Americans with Disabilities Act. The “Capitol Crawl,” as the event was called, has become in retrospect a powerful visual symbol the difficulties faced by people with disabilities when confronted with barriers and obstacles created by politicians and others. Now, faced with massive cuts in disability medical care and services under the proposed Republican dismantling of Obamacare and Medicaid, disability activists are staging protests around the country.
By Carole JoffeMany Americans are puzzled by the all-out attacks by the Trump administration on contraceptive services: the administration has signaled its intention to take contraception out of the list of no co-pay preventive services authorized by Obamacare; it has made clear its eagerness to defund Planned Parenthood; and it has appointed longtime ideological opponents of contraception to positions of power in the federal bureaucracy, including direct oversight of family planning programs. The question becomes, why is an administration firmly opposed to abortion taking steps that will only assure more unintended pregnancies, some of which in turn will lead to an increased demand for abortions? What became of that short-lived moment in American politics when contraception was viewed as the main point of “common ground” between supporters and opponents of abortion?
By Lynn K. HallWhen you Google the name of the man who raped me when I was eighteen, the top hit says, “There are bad men. And then there are bad man. *** is one of the very worst men.” When I publicly accused this man of rape, I stood in a sizeable line of survivors. That there were five of us and the details of one of the cases—the girl was young, and disabled, and badly injured by the assault—left no doubt about the credibility of our stories. Our rapist was convicted, incarcerated, and served fourteen months. That may seem like a paltry sentence, and it is, but the point is that he saw the inside of a prison. He is now a registered sex offender with a past which follows him forevermore. The bigger point: I am believed.
By Angela SainiAs a lifetime geek (you’re welcome to inspect my membership card — it comes in the shape of an engineering degree), I’ve long been a devoted worshipper at the altar of science. I’ve attended nerd nights on two continents. I’ve spoken at Google. I even wrote a book about geek culture in India. For me, as for millions of others, there’s no better way of understanding the world than the scientific method. So imagine my horror when I finally learned that science wasn’t the perfect world of lab-coated, bespectacled good folk that I had always imagined it to be. Underneath the whiz-bang discoveries that populate the science pages, there are deep, dark problems that threaten to undermine public confidence in research—and that show it’s possible for bad, biased research to survive and thrive.
By Kay WhitlockHere’s a thought I keep coming back to during this tradition month of Pride celebrations (and protests by some LGBTQ folks against the growing corporate influence and welcoming of strong police presence in Pride celebrations.) It’s not my thought alone. Any number of people—activists, organizers, scholars—have, over many years, voiced something similar. Let’s center criminalized transgender, gender nonconforming, and queer folks in the moral, cultural, and political imaginations and agendas of movements for LGBTQ liberation. Especially criminalized queer communities of color.
By Christian ColemanReveling in science fiction/fantasy for an openness she saw lacking in other genres, Octavia E. Butler gave us gene-trading extraterrestrials, psionically powered mutants, a genetically engineered vampire, a reluctant time traveler forced to visit the brutal past of American slavery. There was no subject matter she wouldn’t tackle, no story she wouldn’t write during her three-decades-long career—except for one. The ghost story. She didn’t believe in ghosts. Raised as a born-again Baptist, Butler stopped believing in the afterlife and a celestial caretaker by age twelve. “Somehow you’re supposed to believe and have faith but not worry about having any evidence to support that belief and faith,” she said in a 1988 interview. “That just doesn’t work for me, and I never went back.”1 Coincidentally, at age twelve she began trying her hand at science fiction.
By Haroon MoghulEver notice how, when a disturbed young Muslim commits an act of violence, it’s immediately blamed on his religion—but when a disturbed white and non-Muslim man commits an act of violence, it’s because he’s a “loner,” “disturbed,” or “troubled”—even when there are clear indications he is motivated by and sees himself as part of a transnational network of extremists? The way the media portrays Muslims, you’d think we are immune to any kind of mental trauma, or that our actions can only ever be motivated by religion. But Muslims are human beings (surprise!). Our minds work like everybody else’s. We are susceptible to the same weaknesses, and liable to go through the same pains and traumas.
This month, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? turns fifty. King’s acute analysis of American race relations couldn’t be more prophetic. Written in 1967, in isolation in a rented house in Jamaica, King’s final book lays out his plans and dreams for America’s future: the need for better jobs; higher wages; decent housing; quality education; and above all, the end to global suffering. King’s dreams are very much our own today.
By Rev. Elizabeth M. EdmanPeople are going about their business with big, black smudges on their foreheads. My queer lens kicks in: “They’ve come out of the closet—as Christian.” Then the lightbulb moment: “What if progressive Christians could make ourselves visible on Ash Wednesday as both Christian AND queer-positive?” I make a note on my phone and set an alarm to go off in January.
By Adam EichenFor the last nine months, we have assessed the state of our democracy. In our search, we confirmed the now seemingly intuitive notion that Americans across the country are upset, for they feel increasingly powerless, that their voice does not matter, and that the political system does not represent them. But we also found something underreported—that people are eagerly yearning and demonstrating for solutions to make our democracy better represent all voices and work more efficiently. In fact, there is nothing less than a Democracy Movement emerging in our country.
By Perpetua CharlesThis year marks the fortieth anniversary of the court decision in Loving v. Virginia that struck down anti-miscegenation laws across the United States. Thanks to this ruling, people across races could legally declare their love for each other through marriage. Sheryll Cashin’s new book, Loving: Interracial Relationships and the Threat to White Supremacy, offers a history of interracial relationships in the United States and looks at how present interracial relationships will shape the future of the country. As I read Loving, I was struck by a short section near the end of the book. Cashin writes that one doesn’t have to marry, date, or adopt a person of another race to experience transformational love or to acquire what she calls cultural dexterity—an enhanced capacity for intimate connections with people outside one’s own tribe. An intimate friendship works just as well. Cashin doesn’t use the word friend lightly, and neither do I.
We’re excited to be marching in Boston Pride this year! Will we see you there tomorrow? You’ll see us in bright blue shirts emblazoned with “Publishing with Pride,” handing out buttons and postcards with links to PDF samples of select LGBT titles from our catalog. And it looks like the weather will be cooperative this year, too. A sunny Pride is the best Pride. Those of us you will see in the parade, staff members and authors, would like to share with you the reasons why we’re marching. Happy Pride!
By Nicholas DiSabatinoToday marks the hundredth anniversary of legendary literary icon Gwendolyn Brooks. I’m so proud to be working on the new biography of her from award-winning poet, playwright, and novelist, Angela Jackson, who intimately knew Brooks and her family and had unprecedented access to her papers. A Surprised Queenhood in the New Black Sun: The Life & Legacy of Gwendolyn Brooks is a welcome introduction to Brooks for both longtime fans and newbies like myself.
By Rashod OllisonWhen I realized I’d never jump in the sky and fly away like the mythical African slaves in that old folktale, which was also around the time I figured Michael Jackson would never come to the projects and take me away in a rocket limo, I begrudgingly accepted my sexuality. I was still a child, a precocious one, about eight or nine years old who lived inside his overactive and always vivid imagination. I didn’t know what “gay” really meant, but I gathered from the casual and mean-spirited homophobia at home and in the working-class neighborhoods we shuffled in and out of that being “that way” or a “faggot” was a sin and shame.
Sanj Kharbanda has been named director of sales and marketing at Beacon Press, the 163-year-old independent publisher based in Boston. Kharbanda’s appointment, which is effective June 5, was announced on May 31 by Beacon’s longtime director, Helene Atwan. Kharbanda, a member of Beacon’s Board of Advisors since 2014, has thrived at the intersection of books, marketing, and transformative technology for over twenty years. He was most recently Senior Vice President, Digital Markets at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, where he worked for eleven years. Kharbanda also has experience at the store level, beginning in publishing as a bookseller and store manager at WordsWorth Books in Cambridge, MA.
I tend to read email on the train ride to the office, so that when I arrive at my desk I’m ready to respond to my colleagues and the authors I’m working with. Sometimes I spend the first hours of the morning drafting a response to a problem an author is dealing with. Or I could be writing to ask someone if they would be interested in writing a blurb for a book. Or maybe I’m sharing title or cover ideas with my colleagues. Most mornings tend to revolve around these kinds of discussions, and then in the afternoons I try to make time to read proposals, get up to speed on environmental news, and edit the manuscripts I’m working on. It varies from day to day, which is one of the aspects of the job that I enjoy.
By Laura Erickson-Schroth and Laura A. JacobsTransgender people have faced scrutiny and harassment in bathrooms for decades, but only recently has this discrimination become law. In 2013, Arizona was the first state to sponsor a “bathroom bill,” which made it a crime to use a bathroom that did not correspond with your birth certificate. Fortunately, as the Transgender Law Center pointed out, that piece of legislation was “flushed away” later that year. But other states followed suit, including Texas, Nevada, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Tennessee, and, most prominently, North Carolina.
A Q&A with Angela SainiI was asked to write a piece about the menopause for a newspaper a few years ago, and I decided to look into the controversy around the evolutionary explanations for why women experience it when it is so rare among other species. It turned out to be an enormous scientific and gender battleground, and that prompted me to explore other controversial areas of science around women. Once I got started, the topic became an obsession. Writing this book has utterly changed the way I think about myself, the place of women in the world, and science.