If you took to heart the recent cover story in The Economist, “How Science Goes Wrong,” you might be tempted throw your hands up and stop reading about scientific research entirely. The piece describes how scientists often fail to reproduce some of the most frequently cited findings in their fields, calling their conclusions into question. Science writers have also come under fire recently, most notably Malcolm Gladwell, who according to critics in the The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal, and Slate, among others, cherry-picks research to fit his thesis and hangs major arguments on poorly replicated studies in his latest book, David and Goliath.
A short documentary shows how Scott Lew, who has ALS, writes feature films.
Writers who have day jobs outside the literature industry aren’t a new thing. Oscar Wilde wrote, “The best work in literature is always done by those who do not depend on it for their daily bread and the highest form of literature, Poetry, brings no wealth to the singer.” Essays at The Millions, Ploughshares, and elsewhere feature stories of folks who have made the double life of writer and Joe or Jane Worker fruitful and rewarding. Short story writer Lorrie Moore wrote, “First, try to be something, anything, else,” in her essay “How to Be a Writer.”
Poet Amy Woolard, named one of the 50 Best News Poets of 2013 by Best New Poets editor Brenda Shaughnessy, has tried “something, anything, else”—including, most recently, working as a child-welfare lawyer. But she has also kept writing. I spoke with her about what it’s like to maintain a career in poetry while also maintaining a demanding, white-collar day job. A condensed, edited version of that email conversation follows.
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"Slaves of the Internet, Unite!" is the kind of headline that is guaranteed to get you attention on the Internet. And so, my little corner of it was ablaze yesterday with its central question: Is it right to write for free?
This discussion typically ping-pongs between two extremes: (1) It’s deeply unjust and insulting to ask people for free work, including free writing; and (2) If you don’t want to write for free, then just don’t, end of story. These are easy and attractive answers, but the question is deeper.
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Alexie never thought he could leave his reservation to pursue a writing career—but a line written by Adrian C. Louis taught him to venture outside the “reservation of his mind.”
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Cursive is an art. It’s woven into the very fabric of the United States constitution. Yet, everywhere we look, it’s literally being written out of existence. Like a sandcastle built at the edge of the sea, with each crashing wave, the strokes of cursive are slowly fading away.
Once at the very heart of public school education, cursive is aggressively being replaced by computer classes. As of today, 45 states have adopted the Common Core State Standards for English, which omits cursive from required curricula in schools today.
Instead of learning the basics of cursive handwriting, children are increasingly being introduced to the nuances of the keyboard. There’s absolutely no denying the importance that computers play in our world. You’re reading this in print, on a computer, tablet, or mobile device.
Yet, we wonder, how widespread is this phenomenon?
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It’s become somewhat unfashionable in Britain to publicly rail against competition from immigrants and the dilution of national identity. Two-thirds of babies born in London have at least one foreign parent; the Olympics showed Britain at its multi-cultural best; and it would be hard to deny that foreigners have brought prosperity, vibrancy, and better food. There are only two places, really, where Little Englanders can still nurse a pint and sing a sad song for the good old days: right-wing pubs and literary circles.
The latter, however, are about to be infiltrated. Last week, the Man Booker Prize, Britain’s most prestigious literary award, announced that it would in the future welcome novels originally written in English and published in the UK, regardless of the nationality of the author. (The sudden change of mind may have been inspired by a new rival, the Folio Prize, which has promised a similar open-doors policy.) Some leading British critics and authors have protested against the decision, arguing that it will water down the significance of the prize and lead to its demise. They are wrong: Embracing foreign talent will reinvigorate the competition for the Booker Prize and turn it into a better representation of diverse, plucky, and meritocratic modern Britain and the global reach of its language.
The typewriter is, among things, an archetype of today’s computers. But while computers are increasingly products of our disposable consumer culture — assumed and built to be upgraded often — typewriters were built to last. While occasionally some innovation or another would pop up – a machine made noiseless or self-correcting or electric – the general idea remained the same. Fingers mashed down a key, the key drove a lever with the designated character on it toward an ink-saturated ribbon, and with a decisive clack the intended mark was made (provided the typist’s fingers were accurate). It was a physical interpretation of intention-meets-action, thought-meets-paper, and many users maintained an ongoing relationship with their typewriters for years.
So intense was this relationship between writers and their machines, that many people who made their careers out of writing never made the transition to computers; Hunter S. Thompson used a typewriter until his until his death in 2005. And Cormac McCarthy is still click-clacking away, after selling his Lettera 32, which he’d been writing on for close to 50 years, at a charity auction a few years back for $254,500 – and promptly receiving another of the same model from a friend for $20. It’s unsurprising that he’d stay committed to the heavy, clunky producer of words. Computers and other digital tools may have brought ease to writing; they don’t offer, however, the deliberation that typewriters do — the forethought required to avoid the particular punishment of a typer: a piece of correction ribbon or dab of White Out be required to eradicate an erroneous mark or misplaced musing.
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