Thursday, March 2, 2017

Building Book Movements, Not Fires: Q&A with Leader of Books Are Not a Luxury

black book cover with text in orange-yellow paint
If we all buy books twice a month, every month, a movement is built.

Within days of the 2016 presidential election, I received an email from my old friend Michael Noll about a huge, new project that would actively promote writers "with the single goal of promoting sales of books by writers from groups that Trump seeks to erase from our country." The name of the project would be Books Are Not A Luxury.

The website launched January 3, and now, the project is entering its third month of literary resistance and its third featured book, complete with shelf talkers, essays, links to reviews, author Q&As, and of course, links to multiple bookseller sites where readers & librarians can purchase the book. There is even a growing list of participating bookstores featuring and selling the books.

I'm pleased to welcome Michael to this little place on the internet, so that you can learn about Books Are Not A Luxury.



1. What motivated you to begin the website?

MN: I got the idea for the website a day or two after the presidential election. It wasn't the fact that a Republican won that bothered me but, rather, the fact that America had elected a man who had made abuse, ridicule, and violent rhetoric toward people of color, Muslims, immigrants, and disabled people a central part of his campaign. While Trump didn't talk a lot about LGBTQ+ issues, his vice president had signed a bill making it legal to discriminate against gays and lesbians as governor of Indiana. I really felt—and this may be naive—that if people in areas that predominantly voted for Trump knew people of color, Muslims, immigrants, LGBTQ+ people, and disabled people, then they wouldn't be so accepting of hatred and ugliness toward them. When direct experience isn't possible, books can at least offer a glimpse into worlds that aren't the reader's.

I also worried that, in terms of publishing, that those groups would have a harder time getting published now that alt-right rhetoric had gone mainstream. So, I wanted to help make those books more visible.

2. What has been the response?
MN: Incredibly positive—for a couple of reasons. People really want to support the groups being directly attacked by alt-right rhetoric. But they also want book recommendations. As the Lee & Low report showed, the publishing industry, from top to bottom, is almost entirely white, and so it's no surprise that people in that industry have a tendency to promote books that hew closely to their own experience. There are many smart, well-meaning people in publishing, of course, and many who advocate for diverse books, but the machinery that they're part of just isn't set up to promote diverse authors and stories. This means readers don't find out about many great books, and so people are hungry for books that reflect a broader range of experience.

3. What should readers do after reading the book? Are you encouraging donations to libraries, for example? 
MN: Readers should do what comes naturally—tell someone about the book and pass it along to people who might want to read it. If that means donating to libraries, that's great. I have a link at the website that helps people find the address for their local library. I grew up in a small town in rural Kansas, a place with a great library but no bookstore. For people living in my hometown—and towns like it all over the country—the only way they discover new books is at their libraries. And, these libraries are always strapped for funds, particularly in Kansas where the governor wants to cut and even eliminate their funding altogether. So, donations are great!

4. How could book clubs use the site?
MN: Readers and book clubs should check out the website for Books Are Not a Luxury. For each book, the site publishes an author Q&A and essays by writers responding to the book. The goal is to create a conversation around each book and place the books within a context of other experiences and ideas. These essays offer more perspectives and experiences, which makes for a richer reading and discussion experience.

5. What's a question you'd like me to ask?
MN: I'm sometimes asked—about Books Are Not a Luxury and about another site I run called Read to Write Stories—how I find the writers and books that I feature. It's always struck me as a surprising question because it doesn't feel hard to find them. Sometimes I will consciously read journals or book lists for something to check out, but it's more often the case that I can check a list I'm constantly updating with books that I stumble across and make a note to read. I stumble across them on Facebook (which is the nice thing about having lots of friends who are writers and avid readers) and through journals, both print and online, that I follow. And, of course, I find out about books through reviews.

It's true, as I said earlier, that the publishing industry can do more to promote diverse books, but that's not to say that it's only white, straight, able-bodied writers who are getting attention. Both of the first two books featured at Books Are Not a Luxury (Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching by Mychal Denzel Smith and In the Language of Miracles by Rajia Hassib) were reviewed by The New York Times. I think part of the problem is that white, cis, non-disabled readers tend to see those reviews and not pause to read them or pause to think, "I should read that book." Of course, a book becomes more difficult to pass by when it pops up over and over, which is why multiple reviews are so popular. (Why else does anyone read Franzen? Because he gets reviewed so often that you think, "Oh hell, I'll just read the damn thing to see what everyone's talking about.") 

At some point with these blogs, I made a conscious decision to seek out diverse books, and so I tend to notice them when they're reviewed. I don't skim over them. Skimming is how unconscious racism/bigotry reveals itself. One bookstore manager told me that they'd carried In the Language of Miracles—a pretty mainstream narrative that anyone who reads thrillers or tense literary fiction would enjoy—and sold zero copies. Readers saw the book but didn't buy it, probably in large part because of the author's name. Diversity is all around us if we're just willing to witness it.

  • Have you read a new book and want to recommend to Books Are Not A Luxury? Go here: https://booksarenotaluxury.com/contact/ 
  • If your neighborhood bookstore would be interested in this project, send an email to booksarenotaluxury @ gmail dot com.


Featured Reads from Books Are Not a Luxury:






Michael is the Program Director for the Writers' League of Texas and the editor of the craft-of-writing blog Read to Write Stories. His book THE WRITER’S FIELD GUIDE TO THE CRAFT OF FICTION, is forthcoming this fall (Press: A Strange Object). His short stories have appeared in American Short Fiction, Chattahoochee Review, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Indiana Review, and The New Territory. His story, “The Tank Yard,” was included in The Best American Mystery Stories 2016. He lives in Austin, TX, with his family.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

"Narratives That Twist and Shimmer": Kirkus Reviews Reports on The Whole World at Once


"The characters dream intensely, waking in terror, and the stories themselves have a dreamlike intensity heightened by Pringle’s lyrical voice. [. . .] Readers willing to immerse themselves in sorrow, and sometimes in narratives that twist and shimmer before taking definite shape, will find reflected in these stories the unsteady path of coming back to life—or not—after loss." Continue reading at Kirkus Reviews. 



The Whole World at Once will be officially released this May.



Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Have you read this poem by Audre Lorde?

This is what my partner asked me this morning.
So I did.
Now, I say to you, Have you read this poem by Audre Lorde?

Audre Lorde

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Christmas Began at 1104 South Linwood


My mother, 1939
It is holiday time, and so I'd like to re-share this Christmas interview with my mother from several years ago, about her childhood in 1940s Evansville, Indiana. Please enjoy.

Since I interviewed my mother a few years ago, hers has become the most popular post on What She Might Think. Because of this and because I won't see her this Christmas, I wanted to interview her again. 

To prepare, I searched online for images of the house where she grew up in the 1940s and '50s, and where I would spend many of my Christmases through the 1980s and '90s.  

I located the house on google maps, and stood in front of it in a virtual world. A junk car was parked outside. A destitute grocery cart was kicked up on the curb. The tree blocked most of the porch where a swing once hung and my grandmother's plants grew in heavy planters, and where I roller-skated back and forth one visit. The house like a gravestone, a wind-block for someone else's faded flowers.

Built in 1915, only a few years after my grandmother was born, my grandparents' house was first my great-grandfather's, Great-Grandpa Steffee. Evidently, when my great-grandmother died of tuberculosis, my grandmother decided that, as my mother says, great-grandfather "couldn't boil water", and so she insisted that she, her husband (my grandfather) and their young family move in with him. 
holly flourish

Q. Often, I feel like many of my Christmas memories take place in Evansville, and I don't know if that's because we went to visit your parents every Christmas or because I would imagine Evansville when you told me stories of your life. Do you have a similar experience in that you have memories of Christmases that your mother would tell you about? What were Grandmother's Christmases like, as far as you know? Do you remember her telling any stories about them? What about your father?

My mother, her father, her grandmother
A.  . . . Mother. . . We did not talk big time in the family. The most talking we did was when we were doing dishes. If we wanted to embarrass mother, we'd ask embarrassing questions. Neither parent talked much about their past. I think mother's past was like ours. The Depression started in '29 when Dad was about to graduate high school, but I think things were already bad. No, Dad didn't talk about that anymore than he talked about World War II.

I remember you talking fondly of your childhood Christmases. I remember you saying you would get an orange in your stocking every year, and I think you also got candy. It seems that one year you got a doll but weren't very impressed with her: I think you'd wanted something else. Can you describe your Christmases more? 

Probably the expectation of everything-Christmas was as wonderful, if not more so, than the actual opening of gifts.  According to Mother, my dad started our tradition of opening our gifts on Christmas Eve. Then, while we slept that night, Mother filled the stockings with the above fruit, candy, and tiny gifts wrapped in the previously used wrapping paper from Christmas Eve.  I'm sure we went to Grandma Ryan's house on Christmas Eve (before the late-night worship 
service at church) or Christmas Day.

Part of the preparation was going to Dalton's grocery store a block away--before supermarkets were 'invented'--to choose a scrawny, short-needled pine tree for our Christmas tree.  Each tree was set in a block of wood (also prior to tree stands) and usually had one side with branches fuller than the other side--the one we put against the window so we wouldn't have to look at it! Mother also managed to buy or gather additional greenery to...

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Pushcart Prize Nomination: The Wandering House

Good news! Awst Press has nominated my story, The Wandering House, for a Pushcart Prize. This will be my fourth nomination, and the third story in my forthcoming collection to receive the honor of nomination.

Thanks to Awst for their continued support and hard work! You can purchase the story as a standalone chapbook from Awst for $6.50 (including S&H). Link here: http://awst-press.com/shop/erin-pringle-toungate/print 


Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Pre-order now available for The Whole World at Once

My newest collection of stories, The Whole World at Once, is now available for pre-order through the publisher's website (West Virginia Press/Vandalia Press). 



Summary

Set within a backdrop of small towns and hard-working communities in middle America, The Whole World at Once is a collection of intense stories about the experience of loss. Pringle weaves together spellbinding tales amidst shadowed and foreboding physical and emotional landscapes where each of the characters is in motion against her surroundings, and each is as likely as the next to be traveling with a ghost. A soldier returns home from multiple tours only to begin planting landmines in the field behind his house; kids chase a ghost story up country roads only to become one themselves; one girl copes with the anniversary of her sister’s disappearance during the agricultural fair, while another girl searches for understanding after seeing the picture of a small boy washed onto a beach.

In language that is at once both stark and rich, we enter the lives of the characters deliberately, in slow scenes—time enough for a bird to sing as a man and a girl, strangers, fall to their knees—that are inevitable yet laced with the unpredictable. Dark, strange beauties, all of the stories in The Whole World at Once follow the lives of people grappling with what it means to live in a world with death.

*


You can also read reviews, the table of contents, and more. 

Friday, July 29, 2016

Pioneertown Publishes Oblong, IL Poems

Postcard  of Oblong, Illinois
from Penny Postcards from Illinois
pioneertown. has published a selection from my memoir that revolves around Oblong, Illinois, the village where my father grew up in the 1940s, many years before my arrival in the 1980s.

You can read the pieces here or copy/paste this link into your browser:
http://www.pioneertownlit.com/oblong-illinois

The pieces are from my memoir, tentatively entitled The Girl's Made of Bone. 


Saturday, July 2, 2016

Compassion, Writing, and Running--Not in That Order

Photograph by Erin Pringle-Toungate.
CC license, please attribute accordingly
The fine people over at Howlarium recently asked writers about meditation, compassion, and writing as part of their series in which writers respond to, in my experience, complicated thoughts. As I've begun training for a half-marathon, having never been a serious runner, and as I'm experiencing the feelings that come with having a toddler who, quite often, finds my advice not simply incorrect but mildly reprehensible, this was my response:

http://www.howlarium.com/

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Whole World at Once

I'm pleased to announce that my next book, The Whole World at Once, a collection of stories, will be published by West Virginia University Press/Vandalia Press in Spring 2017. 

Friday, March 4, 2016

When Words Lead to Words, An Interview by Awst

For the past several weeks, my fiction has been featured at Awst Press.  Today, the feature closes with an interview about my chapbook, The Wandering House, which is now available to purchase through Awst.  Some additional topics in the interview: grief, folktales, and the rural Midwest. In other words, what I write about.  The interview was done by Liz Blood.
Artwork by Christa Blackwood; cover design by LK James for Awst