Monday, February 15, 2010

More On Power (The Taking-It-Back Version)

So that big, mean therapy phase of my life reached its natural, or rather unnatural, denouement. As it receded in time I realized I had a story I wanted to tell. Which I then wrote. An agent submitted the book to publishers, and we kept hitting a wall.

Now what? Commercial publishing is an institution with an evolving set of rules and strategies. As was therapy. I had learned the hard way that institutions, believe in them as we may, are not infallible. From keeping up on publishing news I saw that while money was being invested and decisions were being made, no one really knew what people wanted to read or what books would sell. It seemed that nobody was happy—bookstores, authors, publishers, or, for that matter, readers. So the question for me became: why should I allow my literary fate be determined by what seemed increasingly a dysfunctional system?

This made sense, but acting on this also meant reclaiming the power I had, in my own mind, granted the publishing-literary-critical establishment. It was comforting to believe that there was this distinct entity called “a good book” that a writer aspired to and that an editor would recognize and embrace. But I could no longer believe this. So, tentative about this though I was, I chose to take back that power and avail myself of new publishing vehicles to bring the book out myself. Every once in a while I slip and find myself apologizing about its being self-published, but it turns out readers are not as hung up on those publishing brands as I thought. The same with writers (though every once in a while I sense that someone sees self-publishing as a disease they might catch—but this could be my own projection.) Not that I’m against conventional publishing; I have a novel making the rounds (I’ll write about this another time). It’s just that, same as with therapy, you’ve got to know when it’s working for you and when it’s time to go your own way.

In honor of the 20th anniversary of Nelson Mandela's release from prison--and the notion of taking back power, generally--here's the necklace that Beverley Price, a friend and South African artist, made as a contemporary interpretation of the Xhosa neckpiece Mandela wore to his sentencing. Beverley had the chance to present it personally at an exhibition on the occasion of Mandela's 90th birthday.Anyone who knows me has probably seen me wear this necklace, depicting Drum magazine, which my late father-in-law, Cecil, at one point edited.

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