The Friday Poem ‘Theme for English B’ by Langston Hughes

The headlines of the past week included coverage of the school teachers’ strikes in Oklahoma and Kentucky, and the 50th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Often these events seem remote, not touching our daily lives. But they do.

The Friday Poem this week is ‘Theme for English B’ by author and poet Langston Hughes.

At the time Dr. King emerged onto the national stage, Langston Hughes was more well known. Until 1960 the poet and civil rights activist maintained a close friendship, ending when rumors of Hughes being a communist sympathizer appeared to threaten the future of the civil rights movement.

Theme for English B

The instructor said,

     Go home and write
     a page tonight.
     And let that page come out of you—
     Then, it will be true.

I wonder if it’s that simple?
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.
I went to school there, then Durham, then here
to this college on the hill above Harlem.
I am the only colored student in my class.
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem,
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:

It’s not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I’m what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you.
hear you, hear me—we two—you, me, talk on this page.
(I hear New York, too.) Me—who?

Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.
I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach.
I guess being colored doesn’t make me not like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
So will my page be colored that I write?
Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white—
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
That’s American.
Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that’s true!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me—
although you’re older—and white—
and somewhat more free.

This is my page for English B.

Langston Hughes   ‘Collected Poems’   1994

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Image: Pastel Portrait Winold Reiss, National Portrait Gallery

 

Want to improve your communication skills? Spend the weekend at #bookfest

Want to improve your communication skills? I have two items to add to your ‘to do’ list: The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books and the ‘How I Got Here’ podcast.

How do these dots connect? Pulitzer prize winning author, Jon Meacham put it simply as a guest on the April 4th podcast:

“There is a direct connection between the number of great books you read and your own capacity to express yourself.”

Think about it. Now consider your catalog of reading materials over the past month. Could there be a connection with the difficulty you are encountering coming up with a business proposal in more than 140 characters/no emoji?

Time for a cultural intervention this weekend to jump start your personal ‘communication improvement project’.

Step one: Come to Los Angeles for the LA Times Festival of Books on the campus of the University of Southern California. Step two: Maintain the momentum with a subscription to the weekly ‘How I Got Here’ podcast.

The book festival is a two day event hosting authors, poets, and musicians discussing their work at moderated panels and outdoor stages. All the events are free and provide amazing access to those creating art in these interesting times.

As an example, my itinerary for the weekend includes a two panels on biography and epic history, four ‘indoor’ conversations with George Saunders, Roxanne Gay, Chris Hayes and Margaret Atwood, and an a cappella performance by the SoCal VoCals.

I doubt you will leave the venue without at least one new book (perhaps bearing an author signature) to continue your adventure in reading and improved communication.

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Next week on your commute or morning run listen to ‘How I Got Here’. The podcast, hosted by Georgetown University grads Tim Barnicle and Harry Hill, is a weekly exploration of the diverse career trajectories of various luminaries.

Imagine sitting for an hour with your career idol as they describe their path to success.

If you believe we learn from the wisdom of others, events and podcasts are a treasure trove of accumulated knowledge.

What are you waiting for?

 

 

 

The week@work – Olympic stories, author salaries, “what a feminist looks like” & the July jobs report

This week@work the athletes who go to work every day to pursue an Olympic dream are in Rio, Forbes announced their list of top earning authors, President Obama penned an essay on “what a feminist looks like”, and the U.S. labor market grew by 255,000 positions.

The major story of the next two weeks will take place in Brazil as the athletes of the world gather to compete in the XXXI Olympics. Journalists covered two athletes who have travelled diverse paths to reach Rio 2016.

 Kianoosh Hashemzadeh introduced us to equestrian, Lauren Kieffer, ‘An American Rider Trying to Beat the Boys in Rio’, for The New Yorker

“There are two Olympic-level athletic endeavors in which men and women square off head to head: sailing and equestrian sports. Eventing, an equestrian sport in which horse and rider compete in three phases—dressage, cross-country, and stadium jumping—has been called the most dangerous competition in the Olympics. That danger has never deterred female riders: they have competed alongside men since the field became open to them, at the 1964 Games, in Tokyo. Women do well in the sport, but they have struggled to reach its uppermost echelon: the current top-ten list of the Fédération Équestre Internationale, the sport’s governing body, is made up of eight men and two women. There are, however, six women in the following ten spots—and sitting at No. 12, eager to crash the old guard, is the top female eventing athlete in the United States, twenty-nine-year-old Lauren Kieffer.”

lauren kieffer.jpg“No woman has ever won an individual gold medal in the sport, and, while Kieffer’s focus is to bring home a team medal, an individual victory would be particularly sweet. Women are contenders in eventing, but few have made it to the very top. As Kieffer told me, “Someone has to beat the boys.”

If you’ve seen the Visa commercial that has been running during the NBC Olympic coverage, you may recognize the name Yusra Mardini, a member of the refugee team competing at the Olympics.

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Charly Wilder profiled her heroic story from her training facility in Berlin for The New York Times, ‘She Swam to Escape Syria. Now She’ll Swim in Rio’.

“Yusra Mardini, an Olympic swimmer, was an hour and a half into her first training session of the day, butterfly-kicking down the length of a pool with a yellow rubber duck balanced on her head.

Last August, Mardini and her sister Sarah fled war-torn Syria and embarked on a harrowing, monthlong journey through Lebanon, Turkey and Greece, up through the Balkans and Central Europe, to Germany, narrowly dodging capture and death. When their crammed dinghy broke down between Turkey and Greece, she and her sister, also a swimmer, jumped into the water and helped guide the boat to safety.

Mardini’s story came to public attention in March when she was identified by the International Olympic Committee as a candidate to compete on a new team of refugees, made up of athletes who are stateless or would otherwise be excluded from the Games. She was thrust into the spotlight, celebrated by the news media as a fresh-faced example of Germany’s so-called welcome culture — a story of uplift at the center of the global refugee crisis.”

Robert Kitson updated the story from Rio after the first day of Olympic competition, ‘Yusra Mardini delights with butterfly heat win for Refugee Olympic Team’

“For those minded to complain about minor irritations in Rio such as humidity in the aquatics centre or a few nibbling insects, the 18-year-old’s story should serve as a timely reminder of life’s more pressing issues.

The venue may have been far from full and her heat loaded with competitors entertaining nil hope of reaching the final but Mardini was the most popular of winners in a time of 1min 9.21sec, just over a second faster than her nearest heat rival. Afterwards she could scarcely contain her joy: “Everything was amazing. It was the only thing I ever wanted was to compete in the Olympics. I had a good feeling in the water. Competing with all these great champions is exciting. I’ve only been back swimming for two years so we’re only now getting back to my levels of before.”

The next story this week@work is for all of you commuting to work, considering a career change. Forbes announced their annual ranking of the world’s highest paid authors this week and new to the top ten was commuter, former journalist and ‘near broke’ novelist, Paula Hawkins.

Natalie Robehmed reported on ‘The World’s Highest-Paid Authors 2016: James Patterson, Jeff Kinney and J.K. Rowling Top Ranking’.

“These well-heeled wordsmiths earned a combined $269 million over the last 12 months, proving that the written word isn’t dead–although television and movie adaptations often help drive sales.

Patterson topped our list for the third straight year, earning $95 million pretax, while children’s author Jeff Kinney placed a distant second, earning $19.5 million.”

hawkins.jpgThe only newcomer to the ranking: Paula Hawkins. After “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and “Gone Girl,” her novel “The Girl on the Train” is the latest literary phenomenon with a calculating female character to hit the bestseller list. It sold 11 million copies worldwide; a movie version hits theaters in October.”

President Barak Obama wrote an essay linking his upbringing by strong women, his role as a father of two girls, and the nomination of Hillary Clinton, to describe “This Is What a Feminist Looks Like” for Glamour magazine.

“In my lifetime we’ve gone from a job market that basically confined women to a handful of often poorly paid positions to a moment when women not only make up roughly half the workforce but are leading in every sector, from sports to space, from Hollywood to the Supreme Court. I’ve witnessed how women have won the freedom to make your own choices about how you’ll live your lives—about your bodies, your educations, your careers, your finances. Gone are the days when you needed a husband to get a credit card. In fact, more women than ever, married or single, are financially independent.

malia-sasha-obama.jpg…the most important people in my life have always been women. I was raised by a single mom, who spent much of her career working to empower women in developing countries. I watched as my grandmother, who helped raise me, worked her way up at a bank only to hit a glass ceiling.

So I’d like to think that I’ve been pretty aware of the unique challenges women face—it’s what has shaped my own feminism. But I also have to admit that when you’re the father of two daughters, you become even more aware of how gender stereotypes pervade our society. You see the subtle and not-so-subtle social cues transmitted through culture. You feel the enormous pressure girls are under to look and behave and even think a certain way.

…we need to break through these limitations.” 

Finally, this week@work, the U.S. Labor Department released the July 2016 jobs report. Jeff Cox covered the news for CNBC.

“Job creation crushed estimates in July as the economy added 255,000 positions, according to the Labor Department.

The headline unemployment rate held steady at 4.9 percent, though a more encompassing measure that includes those not actively looking for work and those working part-time for economic reasons moved up a notch to 9.7 percent. Though still mired near generational lows, the labor force participation rate ticked up one-tenth to 62.8 percent as those counted as not in the labor force decreased 184,000 to 94.3 million.

Hourly wages also moved higher, increasing by 8 cents or an annualized pace of 2.6 percent, while the average work week edged up to 34.5 hours.”

Photo credits: Lauren Kieffer – Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post, Yusra Mardini – Michael Sohn/AP, Paula Hawkins – The Daily Beast, President Obama – The Daily Mail

 

 

 

The Saturday Read ‘Max Perkins: Editor of Genius’ by A.Scott Berg

How many of you have turned your senior thesis into a career?

In 1971, recent Princeton graduate, A. Scott Berg began the seven-year process of expanding his college research into the biography of book editor Max Perkins. Earlier this month, a 38 year long journey, from the first film option of the 1978 National Book Award winning biography, ended with the opening of ‘Genius’ in theaters.

The Saturday Read this week is ‘Max Perkins:Editor of Genius’, a story that defines the role of a professional mentor as the narrative unfolds.

Allison Silver interviewed the author in 1981 for an article on the relationships between biographers and their subjects.

“Scott Berg’s biography ”Max Perkins: Editor of Genius” grew out of a fascination, bordering on fixation, for F. Scott Fitzgerald. At Princeton, Mr. Berg wrote his senior thesis on Perkins’s relations with Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe and Fitzgerald during the 1920’s. Mr. Berg realized there was a book in the life of the Scribner’s editor, and felt he was the one to write it. On graduation day, 1971, he told his roommate, ”I’ll take three months to research it, three months to write it and then another three months to get it published.” Mr. Berg remembers this philosophically. ”I was only six years off.”

Berg introduces Perkins at age sixty-one, in 1946, as he enters a storefront on Forty-third street in Manhattan, to speak to a group of students enrolled in an extension course on book publishing. “All were eager to find a foothold publishing and were attending the weekly seminars to increase their chances.”

“Maxwell Everts Perkins was unknown to the general public, but to people in the world of books he was a major figure, a kind of hero. For he was the consummate editor. As a young man he had discovered great new talents – such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Thomas Wolfe – and he had staked his career on them, defying the established tastes of the earlier generation and revolutionizing American literature. He had been associated with one firm, Charles Scribner’s Sons, for thirty-six years, and during that time, no editor at any house even approached his record for finding gifted authors and getting them into print.”

For many years this biography has been a ‘bible’ for aspiring editors. In this time of book publishing ‘disruption’, when editors have become an endangered species, it’s worth the readers’ time to travel to post WWI New York, when a different type of disruption was taking place as the novels of Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Wolfe began to appear on book shelves.

Let’s return to the 1946 extension class, as Berg continues his first chapter.

‘”The first thing you must remember,” he said, without quite facing his audience: “An editor does not add to a book. At best he serves as a handmaiden to an author. Don’t ever get to feeling important about yourself, because an editor at most releases energy. He creates nothing…A writers best work…comes entirely from himself…Because in the end an editor can get only as much out of an author as the author has in him.”‘

This advice, shared with folks pursuing a career in publishing, could be edited for any contemporary management text to define the modern day mentoring relationship.

“Beginning with Fitzgerald and continuing with each new writer he took on, he slowly altered the traditional notion of the editor’s role. He sought out authors who were not just “safe”, conventional in style and bland in content, but who spoke in a new voice about the values of the postwar world. In this way, as an editor he did more than reflect the standards of his age; he consciously influenced and changed them by the new talents he published…

The successful editor is one who is constantly finding new writers, nurturing their talents, and publishing them with critical and financial success. The thrill of developing fresh writing makes the search worthwhile, even when the waiting and working becomes months, sometimes years, of drudgery and frequent disappointment.”

The biography offers a chronological timeline of relationships with the icons of early twentieth century American literature: Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Wolfe and Ring Lardner. It also includes his nurturing of emerging women writers in the 1930s: Marcia Davenport, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, and Taylor Caldwell. In the final chapter, we meet two of the last authors Perkins edits in 1946 and 1947: James Jones, author of ‘From Here to Eternity’ and Alan Paton, author of ‘Cry, the Beloved Country’. Max Perkins died on June 17, 1947.

How do you turn you senior thesis into a career? In the 1981 interview with Allison Silver, Berg shared his secret.

“During his first months of research, the scope of his work broadened every day until, by the end of that summer, he says, ”I made a private pact with myself then that I would work on the book until I finished it.” Mr. Berg remembers deciding ”that I was not going to be a slave to arbitrary dates; because, in truth, I owed Max Perkins more than that. Suddenly I went into twilight-zone time.”

This attitude toward deadlines has remained with Mr. Berg. He recommends that anyone involved in a long project should ”move to Los Angeles, because the seasons don’t change and you’re not aware of the passage of time. To this day I cannot account for three months between May and September, 1974.”