5 min read

Back to book leave

image of the book PALO ALTO on a fluffy white faux fur blanket, with a black post-it note on the page reading, "What happened to the IWW sent to Vegas in 1931?"

I'm off again on book leave, and this is where you can find me for the next month, keeping this more like a scratchpad, stripping off the "Friday Letters" to be a "whenever I can and more often letters" for at least that long.

Books, events

I did my first in-person book event since 2019 this week, for the New York release of Palo Alto (my notes above) by Malcolm Harris. A lot of people came out and we closed down the store at the end of the night (thanks, Powerhouse workers). The video will be on BookTV on C-SPAN eventually. It was great and what I had to do to be there was easy, in part because people respected Malcolm's directive to wear a mask, and we all tested before taking ours off for the panel.

The next day I spent almost entirely in bed. I knew I would and I planned for it. There are risks I thought were worth taking for one event, which also means, taking fewer overall.

This last year, I've slowed down writing this new book to accommodate the new pace of a post-viral body; the book event reminded me that will likely apply to publicizing it, too. So I'm looking at how other writers have done this. Not a lot talk about it.

I'm looking for those who, like these, tend to think about what they need not as an individual rider of demands, but as a set of relationships.

I want to save this, from Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha's book tour advice:

Believe me, I know the pressure to keep the hustle going, and the fear that if you don’t reply fast you’ll be seen as disrespectful or flaky, or lose an opportunity. But I also believe in the quiet power of pushing back on expectations of constant instantaneous internet communication, slowing things down to move as our bodies can and do ...

I still have that voice in my head that says “You’re reading poetry/writing to people, how hard could it be?”...

And this, what Akwaeke Emezi wrote in Dear Senthuran (as excerpted from Granta):

I’m not interested in resilience, but in how to move through this world with reciprocal tenderness, even though this only works with people interested in the same thing ...

Once, a woman followed me into a nail salon to confront me about an interview that my agents had canceled with the magazine that hired her, accusing me of standing her up. I’d never even corresponded with her; I’m not the one who sets up my meetings. I remember standing there with a bottle of nail polish in my hand, listening to her tell me how she saw me on the street and decided to follow me into the salon, and all I could think was that I was only in town for twenty-four hours, I was sick and exhausted, and the last thing I needed was to suddenly slap on the mask of my public persona to placate a complete stranger. I should have told her to leave me the fuck alone, but that would have been a whole thing, so I played along apologetically until she left. I swear, at some point when all people can see is your public persona, you stop being a person. I’m writing this letter to you because it’s invaluable to not feel alone when thousands of eyes are watching.

I used to think I wanted to be famous. Now I think I just want to be safe, with enough resources to build even more safety around myself.

Some of the problem is about access, all the dozens of decisions along the way, as Emezi details, including their workarounds:

... my team and I develop protocols. I communicate mostly through my agents – often, organizers have no way to reach me until I physically show up at events. When I have phone interviews, they send me the interviewer’s number instead of sending them mine. I have two phones, four and a half numbers, unidentified calls are unanswered knocks on the door... ‘We prefer more of a personal touch,’ one of them writes. ‘Working with agents can be a little tedious,’ another suggests. It makes no difference; the protocol is protocol for a reason.

Piepzna-Samarasinha offers some models for doing it differently, even when the industry will not:

... none of these models are easily accessible as models if you’re not lucky enough to have disabled writer community who can share them with you. And none of these models are easily offered or accepted by the vast majority of the abled literary establishment, which assumes⁠—as ableism does⁠—that there is one, high speed, five things in one day, speaking verbally while standing up way of doing book readings and events, where no one ever gets sick or tired or can’t remember their own work or has a panic attack ...

Emezi writes their solutions as a letter to someone who already gets it (and publishes it in a book for many more people who don't):

Tamara teaches me about insulation, which is really a lesson about community. ‘You should never go anywhere alone,’ she says. Her family has been in Brooklyn for more than a hundred years; she tells me about her and her cousins insulating each other. On the night of the Freshwater launch, she met me outside with a green juice; she taught me how to take care of my flesh after expending such energy. In New York, either she or Alex come with me to readings, galas, and shoots. It makes such a difference, I am stunned. I tell my agents I won’t travel without a companion coming with me or waiting at my destination. Ann meets me in LA; you meet me in San Francisco; Alex flies with me to Boston. When Tiona came to town and we did the NY Art Book Fair together, she gave me one of her anxiety gummies before we walked in. There were so many people there, it was ridiculous. She reached out to hold my hand as we walked, and I remember feeling proud that I could show up as her insulation ...

What does it feel like? For Piepzna-Samarasinha:

We are sitting down, asking for water, going slower, recording podcasts over long tours, taking breaks, reading at the community center, turning the lights low, reading while lying down, speaking directly to disabled people as our focus audience and bucking the assumption of that abled people are the only people who like books, and refusing to obey the pressure to pretend that we aren’t the bodies that created the work.

And for Emezi (as they recounted the end of their tour):

I stay in bed for as long as I can. It’s been two weeks since my memoir launched, somewhere in a different world ...

I love the moment when I can pull back as the book bursts forth into readers’ hands, the moment I am no longer as necessary.

Listening to:

(For Steve Mackey, Pulp's bassist, who died this week—one of the first Pulp records he played on, "My Legendary Girlfriend.")