About 50 protestors showed up outside the Atlanta Journal-Constitution today for a "read-in" organized by the National Book Critics Circle to protest the the dismissal of the newspaper's book editor Theresa Weaver. Protestors, who included area booksellers, novelist Joshilyn Jackson and the British essayist Alain de Botton, chalked "I’m a book lover, not a fighter" on the pavement in front of the paper’s offices. Emory University creative writing instructor Joseph Skibell read from his work; another protestor read a poem by Georgia poet-laureate David Bottoms, and others from Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer and Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird.
|WAGA-TV, Atlanta’s Fox 5, interviews Philip Rafshoon, owner of Outwrite Bookstore, located in Midtown Atlanta. Behind the reporter is Jeff McCord, owner of Bound to Be Read Bookstore, which is located in East Atlanta Village.|
Vivian Lawand, former director of Marketing and Public Relations for Atlanta’s all-but-defunct Chapter 11 bookstore chain, was impressed. "The media attention this is getting is also very encouraging," she told PW.
NBCC president John Freeman met with Julia Wallace, the editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and managing editor Burt Roughgon. He said he was told the paper remains committed to covering books and a features editor will be assigned responsibility for the section. "I’m not exactly sure how they plan to work it out without a book editor," Freeman told PW, "They also tell me they won’t have a traditional sports editor either, so it appears they’re doing some kind of editorial reorganization. At the very least, I think I convinced them to send an editor to BEA to talk to publishers."
For her part, Theresa Weaver told PW earlier this week that she has since applied for a writing position with the paper and will find out June 11 if she will get the job.
The campaign to save Weaver’s job began with an online petition, which has since attracted some 4,500 signatures, including more than 150 from writers such as Salman Rushdie and Richard Ford. It has since morphed into a larger "Campaign to Save Book Reviewing," supported by a series of essays posted on the NBCC blog, Critical Mass. Freeman has appeared on NPR’s Talk of the Nation to discuss the campaign and is scheduled to appear on WNYC’s Leonard Lopate show next week.
Robert Miller, president of Hyperion Books, is supportive of the effort. "With hundreds of thousands of books published every year, book reviews provide readers with guidance that they sorely need, he said. "In a world without book reviewing, only the authors who are already established will continue to sell. We need book reviewers to help us introduce readers to the authors of tomorrow."
|Authors Karen Abbott and Joshilyn Jackson reading each other’s books beside other protestors|
Author George Saunders, who was an early signer of the petition to save the book editor’s job at the Atlanta Journal Constitution, contributed an essay which argued that the decision of newspapers to reduce book reviews is a symptom of a larger trend toward anti-intellectualism in the culture. "Somehow we've taken to distrusting literature and, for that matter, all things cerebral or difficult or seriously critical," he told PW. "I'd argue that part of the reason we rushed into Iraq, for example, was that as a culture we've forgotten how to have a good, articulate, no-holds-barred argument that is able to invoke all levels of discourse: religion and morality and the whole nine yards - and not just materialist pragmatism or jingoism or the ritual incantation of catchphrases."
Freeman said he understands the financial pressures newspapers face, but argued that it’s in the newspaper’s self-interest to keep book sections. "What book sections do more than anything is foster reading. If newspapers have any hope to maintain their own readership, they would do well to promote books in their pages."