The Saturday Read – The National Book Award ‘Long List’

This past week The National Book Foundation announced the ‘long list’ of nominees for The National Book Award to be announced on November 16. The books nominated fall into four categories: Fiction, Non-Fiction, Poetry, and Young People’s Literature.

A quick review of the titles provides a cultural snapshot of the issues we face as individuals and society as a whole. ‘The Saturday Read’ this week offers a list those nominated in the  fiction and non-fiction categories.

The fiction nominees includes an Oprah Book Club pick, my favorite of the past year, and an anticipated new novel to be released in October.

In non-fiction, racism is a common topic; echoing the theme of last year’s ‘required reading’, 2016 award winner, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ ‘Between the World and Me’. The nominees in this category remind us why we read non-fiction: to listen, to understand the world in all its complexity, and to make thoughtful decisions about our future.

Fiction

Chris Bachelder, The Throwback Special (W. W. Norton & Company)

Garth Greenwell, What Belongs to You (Farrar, Straus and Giroux/Macmillan)

Adam Haslett, Imagine Me Gone (Little, Brown and Company/Hachette Book Group)

Paulette Jiles, News of the World (William Morrow/HarperCollinsPublishers)

Karan Mahajan, The Association of Small Bombs (Viking Books/Penguin Random House)

Elizabeth McKenzie, The Portable Veblen (Penguin Press/Penguin Random House)

Lydia Millet, Sweet Lamb of Heaven (W. W. Norton & Company)

Brad Watson, Miss Jane (W. W. Norton & Company)

Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad (Doubleday/Penguin Random House)

Jacqueline Woodson, Another Brooklyn (Amistad/HarperCollinsPublishers)

Non-Fiction

Andrew J. Bacevich, America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History
(Random House/Penguin Random House)

Patricia Bell-Scott, The Firebrand and the First Lady: Portrait of a Friendship: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Social Justice (Alfred A. Knopf /Penguin Random House)

Adam Cohen, Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck (Penguin Press/Penguin Random House)

Arlie Russell Hochschild, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right (The New Press)

Ibram X. Kendi, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (Nation Books)

Viet Thanh Nguyen, Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War
(Harvard University Press)

Cathy O’Neil, Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy (Crown Publishing Group/Penguin Random House)

Andrés Reséndez, The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Manisha Sinha, The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition (Yale University Press)

Heather Ann Thompson, Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy (Pantheon Books/Penguin Random House)

 

The Friday Poem ‘Fall Song’ by Mary Oliver

On Thursday those of us living in the Northern Hemisphere transitioned into fall. At the moment the sun was directly over the equator, the seasons changed. In celebration of change, the Friday Poem this week is Mary Oliver’s ‘Fall Song’.

Fall Song

Another year gone, leaving everywhere
its rich spiced residues: vines, leaves,

the uneaten fruits crumbling damply
in the shadows, unmattering back

from the particular island
of this summer, this NOW, that now is nowhere

except underfoot, moldering
in that black subterranean castle

of unobservable mysteries – roots and sealed seeds
and the wanderings of water. This

I try to remember when time’s measure
painfully chafes, for instance when autumn

flares out at the last, boisterous and like us longing
to stay – how everything lives, shifting

from one bright vision to another, forever
in these momentary pastures.

Mary Oliver, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and author, most recently of ‘Felicity’, a collection of poems

The mysteries of networking #5: Try it in reverse

Folks entering the job market for the first time are often hesitant to reach out to potential networking contacts. What do I have to give in return? is a common question. The answer may be to ‘network in reverse’.

Traditional networking is a commitment of mutual support over time. The majority of established professionals hold no expectation of immediate reciprocity when advising newbies to the job market.

Turns out, their expectations need revision; there’s quite a bit of knowledge to be shared by the most recent additions to the workplace. Just don’t be surprised when you get the call from someone twice your age asking, Will you mentor me?

That’s exactly what happened when The New York Times assignment editor, Phyllis Korkki approached social editor, Talya Minsberg.

Let’s start with a quick inventory of your skill set. What is the skill that has been burning a hole on your ‘to do’ list for the last six months? You know, that one thing you are a bit afraid of, but would catapult your career if you just spent some time learning?

Who do you know who can serve as a bridge to knowledge or provide a bit of training and support?

That’s basically the story of Phyllis and Talya, a ‘reverse mentorship’ initiated around the joys of technology, specifically Snapchat.

Phyllis shared her story, ‘Schooled by a Mentor Half My Age’.

“How on earth did I become an “older worker?”

It was only a few years ago, it seems, that I set out to climb the ladder in my chosen field. That field happens to be journalism, but it shares many attributes with countless other workplaces. For instance, back when I was one of the youngest people in the room, I was helped by experienced elders who taught me the ropes.

Now, shockingly, I’m one of the elders. And I’ve watched my industry undergo significant change. That’s why I recently went searching for a young mentor — yes, a younger colleague to mentor me.”

She found that ‘reverse mentor’ in Talya who was ‘Seeing Age With a New Lens’.

 “A few months ago, Phyllis Korkki, an assignment editor at The New York Times who sits a few cubicles away, approached me with a question that gave me pause. “Will you mentor me?” she asked.

I gave her what I imagine was a blank stare, and responded, “Wait, what?”

Phyllis is a longtime Times employee, an accomplished journalist and an author. So the fact that she was approaching me for mentorship was unexpected.

She wanted to do what she was calling a reverse mentorship. She wanted to challenge herself and learn something new, something outside her comfort zone, she said. She wanted to learn how to use Snapchat.

Snapchat is a popular social mobile app that features, among other things, stories that live for just a day. And she came to me because a large part of my role has been guiding editorial strategy in the brave new world of stories that disappear in 24 hours.

So of course I was happy to meet with Phyllis one on one.

But a mentorship? I was honored, albeit a bit perplexed.”

It was at this nexus of generational knowledge transfer, that the two connected in an informal ‘reverse networking’ relationship that has benefited both, and serves as a model for an ‘older brain’/ ‘younger brain’ mind meld.

Phyllis realized the benefit of utilizing a new application @work, as well as the learning experience itself.

“It was exhilarating to see my progress — and embarrassing to witness my missteps, like putting my finger over the camera at the close of the cat cafe video. (But have you ever tried to record yourself while trying to keep a cat on your shoulder?)”

Talya, the mentor, observed Phyllis’ first venture into Snapchat’s geofilters and emoji.

“Eventually, Phyllis took to the official New York Times Snapchat account to broadcast three stories. And three times I waited with bated breath to watch those stories, feeling like a teacher in the back of a classroom waiting for a student to give a big presentation. Each time, she got better — and I was eager to tell her about it in person.

When I gave Phyllis a glowing review, she kept saying, “Really? You like it?” I think we both recognized the moment as a milestone in the reverse mentorship. We both felt success.”

And  that’s the ultimate benefit of a mentoring relationship: both participants experience success.

Your assignment, this week@work, should you choose to accept it: go find your Phyllis or Talya and engage in the career energizing process of a ‘reverse mentorship.”

The week@work – the value of cross-functional experience, empowering introverts, economic recovery, and a new leader @librarycongress

It turns out that the path to leadership is paved not just by elite MBA degrees, but also with experience across a range of business functions. Once you arrive in the ‘C Suite’ it’s to your advantage to pay attention to the introverts in the room.

In other stories this week@work, evidence shows an increase in middle class incomes, there’s a new Librarian of Congress, and can you remember Oprah’s first book club pick 20 years ago?

Generalize or specialize? That is the question Neil Irwin answers in ‘A Winding Path to the Top’ for The New York Times.

“How does a person get to be the boss? What does it take for an ambitious young person starting a career to reach upper rungs of the corporate world — the C.E.O.’s office, or other jobs that come with words like “chief” or “vice president” on the office door?

The answer has always included hard work, brains, leadership ability and luck. But in the 21st century, another, less understood attribute seems to be particularly important.

To get a job as a top executive, new evidence shows, it helps greatly to have experience in as many of a business’s functional areas as possible. A person who burrows down for years in, say, the finance department stands less of a chance of reaching a top executive job than a corporate finance specialist who has also spent time in, say, marketing. Or engineering. Or both of those, plus others.”

Many corporations, in the past, had institutionalized ‘rotational assignments’ in a variety of business functions under the aegis of ‘leadership development programs’. When ‘shareowner’ value became the primary measure for CEOs, these internal employee development initiatives were shut down. But the need for cross-functional expertise never went away.

“To be a C.E.O. or other top executive, said Guy Berger, an economist at LinkedIn, “you need to understand how the different parts of a company work and how they interact with each other and understand how other people do their job, even if it’s something you don’t know well enough to do yourself.”

Developing multiple areas of expertise provide a pragmatic workplace foundation for the aspiring entrepreneur, the Fortune 500 CEO, and the variety of public and private leadership opportunities in between.

You learn the language, make life-long career connections, and maintain contact with your customer.

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Location seems to influence opportunities as well. Take note, all you folks who hesitate to relocate.

“Beyond the results on job functions, the data from LinkedIn shows some trends for which the explanations aren’t completely obvious. For example, former consultants who lived in New York or Los Angeles had higher odds of ending up with a top job than people in other large cities like Washington or Houston. A former management consultant with 15 years of work experience in six different functions and an M.B.A. from a top school had a 66 percent chance of becoming a top executive if he lived in New York compared with a 38 percent chance in Washington.”

Bottom line, moving out of you career comfort zone, whether that means function or city, holds long-term implications for career success.

The second story this week@work comes from the print edition of The Economist, ‘Shhhh! Companies would benefit from helping introverts to thrive’.

Most companies worry about discriminating against their employees on the basis of race, gender or sexual preference. But they give little thought to their shabby treatment of introverts.

The recent fashion for hyper-connectedness also reinforces an ancient prejudice against introverts when it comes to promotion. Many companies unconsciously identify leadership skills with extroversion—that is, a willingness to project the ego, press the flesh and prattle on in public.

What can companies do to make life better for introverts? At the very least, managers should provide private office space and quiet areas where they can recharge. Firms need to recognise that introverts bring distinctive skills to their jobs. They may talk less in meetings, but they tend to put more thought into what they say. Leaders should look at their organisations through the introverts’ eyes. Does the company hold large meetings where the loudest voices prevail? That means that it is marginalising introverts. Does it select recruits mainly on the basis of how they acquit themselves in interviews? That could be blinding it to people who dislike performing in public.”

Jim Tankersley reported for The Washington Post Wonkblog, ‘Middle class incomes had their fastest growth on record last year’.

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“Middle-class Americans and the poor enjoyed their best year of economic improvement in decades in 2015, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday, a spike that broke a years-long streak of disappointment for American workers but did not fully repair the damage inflicted by the Great Recession.

Real median household income was $56,500 in 2015, the bureau reported, up from $53,700 in 2014. That 5.2 percent increase was the largest, in percentage terms, recorded by the bureau since it began tracking median income statistics in the 1960s.

In addition, the poverty rate fell by 1.2 percentage points, the steepest decline since 1968. There were 43.1 million Americans in poverty on the year, 3.5 million fewer than in 2014. The share of Americans who lack health insurance continued a years-long decline, falling 1.3 percentage points, to 9.1 percent.

“The highest income growth was in the bottom fifth” of workers, “which is very welcome news,” said Lawrence Mishel, president of the liberal Economic Policy Institute think tank. Furman, of the White House, credited wage-boosting policy initiatives for some of that increase: “The fact that millions of workers have gotten a raise, as states have raised minimum wages, has definitely had an effect there,” he said.

All told, the gains brought median incomes nearly back to their levels before the recession, after adjusting for inflation, though they remain below 1999 levels. Bureau officials said the 5.2 percent growth rate was not statistically distinguishable from five other previous increases in the data, most recently the 3.7 percent jump from 1997 to 1998.”

On Wednesday, Carla Hayden was sworn in as the 14th Librarian of Congress“Hayden, the first woman and the first African American to lead the national library, was nominated to the position by President Barack Obama on February 24, 2016, and her nomination was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on July 13.”4532.jpg

Baynard Woods covered the appointment for The Guardian, ‘Carla Hayden: new librarian of Congress makes history, with an eye on the future’.“Even though librarianship is one of the four what they call feminized professions – social work, education nursing, and librarianship – where 85% of the workforce is female, there haven’t been an equal amount of women in the leadership positions,” Hayden said in an interview.

Hayden is also only the third Librarian of Congress to actually have training as a librarian.

“There have been lawyers and politicians, historians, scholars, librarians, and I think at this time it’s not a detriment to have a librarian be librarian of Congress,” she said.

The librarian of Congress oversees the world’s largest library system. As the name indicates, one of the main roles of the library is to assist Congress in the research it needs in order to pass bills. It also oversees the US copyright system, names the poet laureate, and preserves historical documents and books.

Hayden first came to national prominence in 2003 when she spoke out against certain elements of the Patriot Act as the head of the American Library Association. Attorney general John Ashcroft attacked Hayden for sowing “hysteria” about the provision of the act that would allow the government to search library and bookstore records.

Hayden shot back.

“We are deeply concerned that the attorney general should be so openly contemptuous of those who seek to defend our Constitution,” she said. “Rather than ask the nation’s librarians and Americans nationwide to ‘just trust him,’ Ashcroft could allay concerns by releasing aggregate information about the number of libraries visited using the expanded powers created by the USA Patriot Act.”

At the time, there was political risk in such statements, but Hayden said she never considered that.”

In history@work this week, September 17 marked the 20th anniversary of Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club. Do you remember the first pick? Jacquelyn Mitchard‘s ‘Deep End of the Ocean’.201603-ep521-own-watn-9-949x534.jpgOprah’s Book Club quickly became a hugely influential force in the publishing world, with the popular TV host’s endorsement capable of catapulting a previously little-known book onto best-seller lists.

When Oprah’s Book Club first launched, some in the publishing world were skeptical about its chances for success. As The New York Times noted: “Winfrey’s project—recommending books, even challenging literary novels, for viewers to read in advance of discussions on her talk show—initially provoked considerable skepticism in the literary world, where many associated daytime television with lowbrow entertainments like soap operas and game shows.” However, the club proved to be a hit with Winfrey’s legions of fans, and many of her picks sold over 1 million copies. (She earned no money from book sales.) Winfrey’s ability to turn not just books but almost any product or person she recommended into a phenomenon came to be known as the “Oprah Effect.”

Celebrate this week@work with a selection from Oprah’s long list of book recommendations.

 

Photo credit: Carla Hayden by Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

The Saturday Read ‘Wild Man: Patagonia’s conflicted philosopher-king’ by Nick Paumgarten

The Saturday Read this week is journalist Nick Paumgarten‘s profile of the “tiny terror”, Yvon Chouinard, founder of the outdoor clothing and gear company, Patagonia.

If you are not familiar with Patagonia, “Our Reason for Being” provides a concise tutorial.

“Patagonia grew out of a small company that made tools for climbers. Alpinism remains at the heart of a worldwide business that still makes clothes for climbing – as well as for skiing, snowboarding, surfing, fly fishing, paddling and trail running. These are all silent sports. None require a motor; none deliver the cheers of a crowd. In each sport, reward comes in the form of hard-won grace and moments of connection between us and nature.

Our values reflect those of a business started by a band of climbers and surfers, and the minimalist style they promoted. The approach we take towards product design demonstrates a bias for simplicity and utility.

For us at Patagonia, a love of wild and beautiful places demands participation in the fight to save them, and to help reverse the steep decline in the overall environmental health of our planet. We donate our time, services and at least 1% of our sales to hundreds of grassroots environmental groups all over the world who work to help reverse the tide.”

“Wild Man” is the story of how Chouinard’s career evolved over time, rooted in love and respect for nature. It’s an entrepreneur’s journey, with cameo appearances by familiar names: journalist Tom Brokaw, The North Face founder, Doug Tompkins, Royal Robbins and Tom Frost.

Nick Paumgarten’s first connection to Patagonia came in 1992 when he “had a job answering phones at Patagonia’s mail-order office, in Bozeman, Montana…As far as qualifications, I was another city kid, but I’d been out in nature a bit and was, in descending order of aptitude, a skier, whitewater kayaker, backpacker, mountain biker, and fly-rod flailer. I had come of age poring over the Patagonia catalogue, with its action shots and exotic locales, and I already had Yvon Chouinard right up there with Jack Kerouac and Jimi Hendrix on my list of great Americans. Plus, I liked the idea of getting good gear at a discount.”

When Paumgarten decides to leave the job early, he gets his first inkling of Patagonia’s corporate culture.

“I quit the job before I was supposed to, in order to go on a ski trip. Of the two women who’d hired me, one was angry and the other understanding. Their reaction embodied an intrinsic schizophrenia at Patagonia. Chouinard had always encouraged his employees to cut work and go surfing when the swell came in. But it was also a company trying to claw its way out of a hole.”

Patagonia survived the economic challenges of the early nineties with layoffs and loans “from a friend and from some Argentines who wanted to get their money out of the country.”

“It was hard,” Chouinard said. “I realized we were just growing for the sake of growing, which is bullshit.”

“The company, he worried, was straying from its hard-core origins. “I was faced with the prospect of owning a billion-dollar company, with thousands of employees making ‘outdoorlike’ clothing for posers,” he said early in 1991, in a speech to the employees, in which he outlined his misgivings and his new resolutions. These subsequently appeared in the Patagonia catalogue, as a manifesto, under the heading “The Next Hundred Years.”

This ‘long read’ is a primer for the aspiring entrepreneur. It’s a vivid narrative of the progression of one man’s career from childhood dreams of being a fur trapper, to climber, private detective, surfer and blacksmith; proving there are no straight career paths. Its also a lesson in failure, resilience and a realization over time that success can be a double- edged sword.

“Eco-conscious fun-hoggery, as an ethos, a culture, a life style, and an industry, spans the world, and even rules some corners of it. Chouinard is its best-known avatar and entrepreneur, its principal originator and philosopher-king, and is as responsible as anyone for guiding it from the primitive tin-can and hobnail aesthetic of the mid-twentieth century to the slackline and dome-tent attitude of today. He has made it more comfortable, and more glamorous, to be outside, in harsh conditions. His influence is way out of proportion to his revenue footprint. He has mixed feelings about all this—some apprehension about the world he has made. He celebrates the spread of an ecological consciousness but laments the disappearance of danger and novelty, and the way that the wilderness has become a hobby, or even a vocation. He disdains ski areas (“They’re golf courses”), the idea of professional climbing (“I just don’t like the whole paid-climber thing”), and the proliferation of extreme sports as programming and marketing (“Red Bull’s in the snuff-film business”).”

Malinda Chouinard, Yvon’s wife and business partner, was a pioneer in ‘on-site daycare’ and in 2012 her efforts resulted in Patagonia becoming “the first California business to become a B Corp.”

“Malinda is principally responsible for making the company a notably humane place to work. Many there cite the advantage of having day care on site. In 1985, Malinda created (and has since put aside a vast patchwork of space for) what became known as the Great Pacific Child Development Center, to which I didn’t give much consideration, until I got a tour. A staff of twenty-eight oversees some eighty kids, on sprawling grounds of more than twelve thousand square feet, roughly half of it outdoors, among the fruit trees. A recent baby boom had led to another expansion, which displaced the H.R. department to a trailer. “We’ve raised fifteen hundred kids so far,” Chouinard told me. “None of them have been in prison—that I know of, anyway.”

Chouinard’s management style?

“I’m just the owner.” He called his executive style “management by absence.” He used to read business books and study various executive styles and corporate structures, here and abroad, but he prefers to take his lessons from nature—from ant colonies, for example. “There’s no management,” he said. “Every ant just does his job. They communicate and figure it out. It’s like a Navy seal team. The whole team has to agree on what the mission is.” It’s also true, however, that Chouinard’s occasionally whimsical notions send the ants scurrying. Absent or not, he’s still the big ant.”

There are multiple gems of wisdom interspersed throughout the profile. When asked “if the prospect of death bothered him”, he shared his secret to a good life.

“Nah, I’ve always considered death to be a part of life,” he said. “Tell you the secret to a good life: always be the oldest one in the room.”

 

 

Photo credit: Patagonia annual report

The Friday Poem ‘The Land of Counterpane’ by Robert Louis Stevenson

There has been quite a bit of ‘health@work’ news this week as one of the major candidates for U.S. President took a couple of sick days away from her campaign.

In the spirit of taking a respite to heal, enter the imagination of writer and poet Robert Louis Stevenson.

The Land of Counterpane

When I was sick and lay a-bed,
I had two pillows at my head,
And all my toys beside me lay
To keep me happy all the day.

And sometimes for an hour or so
I watched my leaden soldiers go,
With different uniforms and drills,
Among the bed-clothes, through the hills;

And sometimes sent my ships in fleets
All up and down among the sheets;
Or brought my trees and houses out,
And planted cities all about.

I was the giant great and still
That sits upon the pillow-hill,
And sees before him, dale and plain,
The pleasant land of counterpane.

Robert Louis Stevenson  from ‘A Child’s Garden of Verses’ 1913

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A college degree in sports? No.

An essay published in The New York Times print edition yesterday argued for the establishment of a college degree in sports as a means to bring athletics closer to the academic mission of a university. I disagree.

The way to integrate athletics into the academic mission of the university is to ensure student-athletes have every opportunity to earn the college degree of their choice, engaging in all aspects of the academic enterprise: academic advising, interaction with faculty, collaboration with fellow students, and internships.

University of Colorado professor Roger Pielke Jr. asked “Why Not a College Degree in Sports?” Drawing on previous arguments, Professor Pielke suggested an inherent bias on campus against athletics.

“Widespread prejudice and legitimate resentment against athletics remains in academia, and no wonder. The $6.9 million annual salary of Nick Saban, the head football coach at the University of Alabama, is equal to the combined average salary for nearly 100 assistant professors at the school, according to the most recent data available. And beyond such economic disparities, class distinctions of 19th-century England still shape thinking about sport: Classical music is valued by high society, while sport is for the masses.”

Many have voiced concerns about the consequences of the money being thrown at ‘big time’ athletic programs and it’s appropriate to question a football coach’s salary that far exceeds a university president’s compensation.

But what is missed, always, is the student-athlete. And this is where I disagree with Professor Pielke’s proposal.

Students choose a college or university based on a number of factors: ‘fit’, financial assistance, choice of major, access to faculty, availability of internships, and career aspirations. The student-athlete’s choice includes all of the above, plus the chance to compete in their sport at the highest level.

Suggesting student-athletes enroll in a sports degree program, administered by an athletic department, fortifies an existing boundary; discouraging student athletes from developing key relationships with university academic advisors, faculty, administrators, and non-athlete students.

The college experience serves as a bridge to workplace reality. Isolating student-athletes eliminates access to ‘real world’ campus connections critical for career success.

If a student wants to pursue a career in sport, there are a variety of options in the liberal arts, journalism, business and law.

Rather than reinforce the existing ‘athletic department silo’ with a new curriculum, we can initiate these changes today:

A student-athlete should be able to select a major and complete their degree without influence or interference from their coach.

Practices should not conflict with class schedules.

A student-athlete should have access to all career planning activities including internships, networking events, and on-campus recruiting interviews.

A student-athlete should never have to choose between an academic commitment and their sport.

Coaches should venture beyond the venues of comfort and take opportunities to network with faculty.

We don’t need an ‘academic athletic department’. We need the adults on campus to refocus the debate without prejudice to the students.

 

 

The Saturday Read ‘New York Fashion Week: An Oral History’

‘The Saturday Read’ this week is an online interactive feature from the September 8, 2016 New York Times ‘Thursday Styles’ section, capturing a multi-media moment in fashion history as the baton is being passed to the next generation of designers. Ruth La Ferla brings us ‘Our Stories’, an oral history from fashion icons Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, Carolina Herrera, Michael Kors, Issac Mizrahi and Alexander Wang.

This one is for all of you who are first to the newsstand for the September issues of Vogue and Harpers Bazaar, hoping to find a few classical wardrobe elements to update your look for fall. Designer outlets may be the closest most of us get to the runway, but many aspire to a career in one of the global capitals of fashion.

“As New York Fashion Week approaches its 75th year (the first official shows, massed under the heading of Press Week, were held in 1943), with 151 shows spread over nine days, many designers are questioning the future of this semiannual gathering. “We are facing the end of an era,” the designer Diane von Furstenberg said in a recent interview. “But there is nothing nostalgic about that. The future will be more exciting.”

The future may well be exciting, but for many in the industry, the past is one to savor and celebrate. Here, a crowd of fashion notables reflect on their experiences: the good, the bad, the awkward and the forever memorable.”

From their “first shows”, through the “unforgettable moments”, “growing pains”, “the glamour girls” and the “dark days” as AIDS devastated the industry, the top designers, models and fashion commentators share their success, and the mistakes along the way to being installed as icons. If you believe we learn from the wisdom of others, this interactive experience is required reading/viewing.

Here’s a sample.

ZAC POSEN

“In February 2002, when I showed my first collection, I did the setup preshow in my parents’ living room. I had done the collection with small seed money that was generally lent by friends, family and with my savings from the lemonade stand that I had started as a kid on Spring Street.”

ALEXANDER WANG

“Our first fashion week show, for fall 2007, was in a Chelsea warehouse. It was hectic backstage. I remember our casting director freaking out because all the models and dressers (who also happened to be my best friends) were eating greasy pizza, and the director was like, “Where’s Alex?” I was right there eating pizza, too. I guess I didn’t know any better.”

DONNA KARAN

“The turning point came in 1985 when I left Anne Klein. At the time I said to my bosses, “I have this vision for a little company.” Women in those years were wearing shirts and little ties to the office. I asked myself: “Where is the sexuality? Where is the comfort? Where are the clothes that go from day into night? How do you travel with your wardrobe in one bag?” And that’s how the Seven Easy Pieces came about.”

ALEK WEK
Model in the 1990s

“When I started modeling, people kept saying, “Oh, she’s so different, she’s bizarre,” like I wasn’t quite normal. Of course there was a racist element to those conversations. People were beating around the bush. But if I focused on that, I don’t think I would have stayed in fashion. Being viewed as different only gave me more incentive. I wanted people to know that your features or your color don’t make you less beautiful. My motivation was deeper than me just putting on makeup and clothes and doing shows.”

SIMON DOONAN

“All those people perished, and now many young people maybe don’t even know that Perry Ellis was an actual person. Many young African-American designers would be inspired to know how many great African-Americans had careers at the time.

These people didn’t all just get on a bus and drive off somewhere. They died excruciating deaths, some in the hallways of hospitals without help or support. In many instances, their families rejected them. I distinctly remember people who didn’t have a funeral or memorial. I had a friend who was buried in an unmarked grave.

It’s always troubled me that these supertalented original thinkers weren’t adequately memorialized.

They were Patrick Kelly, Angel Estrada, Isaia, Clovis Ruffin, Halston, Antonio Lopez and Juan Ramos, Tina Chow, Tim Hawkins, Robert Hayes and Laughlin Barker. And the photographers: David Seidner, Barry McKinley, Herb Ritts, Bill King and so many more. They were window-dresser friends: Bob Currie, Michael Cipriano, Bob Benzio, Stephen Di Petrie. The list goes on.”

 

 

The Friday Poem ‘Calling Him Back from Layoff’ by Bob Hicok

The Friday Poem this week captures a moment when a telephone rings and life changes for two American workers. ‘Calling Him Back from Layoff’ is poet and English professor Bob Hickok’s intimate portrait of the effects of economic downturn.

Written at a time when Detroit was the epicenter of job losses in manufacturing, the words continue to resonate today, as we address income inequality and the impermanence of the ‘gig’ economy.

Calling Him Back from Layoff 

I called a man today. After he said
hello and I said hello came a pause
during which it would have been

confusing to say hello again so I said
how are you doing and guess what, he said
fine and wondered aloud how I was

and it turns out I’m OK. He
was on the couch watching cars
painted with ads for Budweiser follow cars

painted with ads for Tide around an oval
that’s a metaphor for life because
most of us run out of gas and settle

for getting drunk in the stands
and shouting at someone in a t-shirt
we want kraut on our dog. I said

he could have his job back and during
the pause that followed his whiskers
scrubbed the mouthpiece clean

and his breath passed in and out
in the tidal fashion popular
with mammals until he broke through

with the words how soon thank you
ohmyGod which crossed his lips and drove
through the wires on the backs of ions

as one long word as one hard prayer
of relief meant to be heard
by the sky. When he began to cry I tried

with the shape of my silence to say
I understood but each confession
of fear and poverty was more awkward

than what you learn in the shower.
After he hung up I went outside and sat
with one hand in the bower of the other

and thought if I turn my head to the left
it changes the song of the oriole
and if I give a job to one stomach other

forks are naked and if tonight a steak
sizzles in his kitchen do the seven
other people staring at their phones

hear?

Bob Hicok  ‘Insomnia Diary’ University of Pittsburgh Press, 2004

insomnia-diary

Listen to Bob Hicok read the poem for ‘Poetry Everywhere’

 

The week@work – end of summer, Wells Fargo issues an apology to artists, start-ups adapt, cycling is the new networking, and the August jobs report

In news this week@work: Wells Fargo placed advertising in advance of ‘Teen Financial Education Day’ implying the worth of career aspirations in the sciences rank above those in the arts, Silicon Valley start-ups are adapting  to anticipate a market downturn, networking has moved from the bar to the bike (that’s a good thing), and the U.S. unemployment rate remained unchanged at 4.9%.

Late Saturday morning I checked my Twitter feed and found this from novelist Caroline Leavitt. Forget post-tropical cyclone Hermine, this was the Labor Day weekend’s perfect storm.

According to Forbes contributing writer, Emily Willingham,“Wells Fargo rolled out an ad campaign this week that it almost immediately withdrew following on Internet outrage from a lot of angry artists and humanities professors. That may not sound that scary, but these folks know how to use words and emote.

The ads, using images depicting teens engaging in sciencey things, urge us to “get them ready for tomorrow” by ensuring that the aspiring ballerinas and actors of today become engineers and botanists of the future…

The message here is, of course, that the future is science. That becoming a ballerina or an actor is a dreamscape fairytale that has no place in a real world of cold hard cash and sciencey-sounding things like botany. Imagine if some parents buy into that ad’s message and try to push their budding ballerina into botany instead. The world loses an artist and gains a mediocre, uninterested botanist who’s given up her life’s dream? Lose–lose.”

This was not just a ‘business section’ story. Olivia Clement reported on Broadway’s reaction on Playbill.com.

“A new advertising campaign from Wells Fargo, an American banking and financial services company, has prompted outrage from the theatre community. The ads imply that it is more valuable for young people to pursue a career in the sciences rather than the arts.

A Wells Fargo brochure depicts a young man in a science lab. “An actor yesterday. A botanist today. Let’s get them ready for tomorrow,” reads the accompanying text. Another, depicting a young woman in a lab, reads: “A ballerina yesterday. An engineer today.”

Among those to express their disappointment and frustration at the campaign on September 3 were Alex Brightman, Ann Harada, Cynthia Erivo, Heather Headley and Benj Pasek—who took to Twitter to call out the company directly. “Apparently @WellsFargo doesn’t think that an actor or ballerina require any work at all. Shame!” read Erivo’s tweet.”

Wells Fargo apologized via Twitter late Saturday.

Anticipating the end of the boom, Katie Benner delivered a tech industry status report, ‘Warned of a Crash, Start-Ups in Silicon Valley Narrow Their Focus’.

“Last year, many tech executives, venture capitalists and entrepreneurs were convinced that a multiyear boom that had propelled young companies to great heights could no longer sustain itself.

The worst fallout may yet come, but many of the start-ups have hung on. Across Silicon Valley, engineers are still commanding annual salaries that average $136,000, according to Hired, a recruiting firm. Demand is brisk for $4 buttered toast, and office space rents remain near record highs. The biggest start-ups, like Uber and Airbnb, continue to land billions of dollars in funding. And investors are shoveling money into venture capital funds, which raised so much cash in the first half of this year that it rivaled the amount raised in all of 2015.

For all of the hand-wringing, “there just hasn’t been much of a downturn,” said Paul Buchheit, a managing partner at Y Combinator, a prominent start-up incubator that nurtured companies including Dropbox and Airbnb. “I don’t even see many companies going out of business.”

Wondering where you might meet one of those tech execs or VCs? This past week Sarah Max covered a story that has been growing globally over the past year, ‘Cycling Matches the Pace and Pitches of Tech’. In other words, cycling is the new networking.

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“Thinking he needed to take up a “California sport,” Greg Gretsch started cycling in 1988, when he moved to the Bay Area to work in marketing at Apple after graduating from the University of Georgia. He bought a 10-speed road bike and joined a group of other Apple employees for a standing noon ride.

Today, Mr. Gretsch, 49, is a founding partner with San Francisco-based Jackson Square Ventures, which makes early-stage investments in fledgling companies, including a social network and performance-tracking app for athletes call Strava. He rides an average of five days a week on paved roads in the Bay Area and on trails near his second home near Lake Tahoe. Cycling is primarily for exercise and escape, he said, but it has also been good for his career.

“Connecting with people is important to what I do, and you can learn a lot about a person, and from a person, on the bike,” said Mr. Gretsch, who founded three companies before going into venture capital in 2000 at a firm called Sigma Partners.”

On Friday, the U.S. Labor Department released the August jobs report. Camila Domonoske summarized the data for NPR.

“The U.S. added 151,000 new jobs in August and the unemployment rate held steady at 4.9 percent, according to the monthly jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Both those metrics fell short of expectations: Economists were expecting about 180,000 new jobs, and a slight dip in the unemployment rate, to 4.8 percent…”

Finally, this week@work, we celebrated the last weekend of summer.

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Photo credit: Boulder cyclists, Cliff Grassmick, Daily Camera