Last week in Albuquerque, a senior who *failed his English class, and had missed three times the allowed number of days in a semester, realized he’d dug himself into a hole. His politically influential parents complained that no one informed them of his problems (not true) and, because policy hadn’t been followed, he should walk the stage with his classmates.
Over the objections of both the teacher and the school’s principal, a higher-up administrator changed his grade.
As a parent, I’m furious for so many reasons about this. As a community citizen, my anger spawned action. I wrote to members of the Albuquerque Public School Board of Education and the Mayor. I called and spoke with the NM Secretary of Education. I’m in touch with the local teacher’s union. My husband and I are seriously considering starting a blog, website or petition called "overhaul APS" to provide feedback to a school system we believe aspires — at best — to mediocrity while claiming excellence.
All of this has me thinking about personal responsibility . . . and taking action.
I hear and read a lot of complaining in our literary world:
1. No one understands the brilliance/marketability of our manuscripts.
2. Agents are rude.
3. The publishing industry is screwed up.
4. Editors don’t edit or know what they’re doing.
5. Reviewers don’t know what they’re doing.
6. Newspapers and magazines don’t support literature.
7. Nobody’s reading.
8. Libraries are under-funded and closing.
9. Readers don’t buy new books anymore.
10. Writers have to market their own work.
11. Writers market their works too much.
12. Independent bookstores are closing.
13. Nothing good gets printed anymore.
14. Even though there are more books, there are less real choices.
15. I can’t make a living at this profession.
. . . Wow. All these excuses.
Where do our responsibilities — as writers and readers — rest?
The obvious answers for writers are:
1. to write the best material we can.
2. to hand in our manuscripts/short stories on time.
3. to entertain.
4. to provoke discussion or thought.
Do our responsibilities go beyond that?
Should we concern ourselves with turning around the industry? For example, should all writers boycott Simon and Schuster until the publisher rethinks its new position on rights? Should we educate readers about their choices and the potential lack of them as fewer and fewer publishers become bigger and bigger? Should we advocate for libraries, encourage literacy, support the advertisers on book review pages so that they keep paying for those sections in print publications? Should we explain to consumers how the publishing industry works — advances and royalties and unfunded book tours — so that readers understand that their purchases really do matter?
I don’t know.
That’s why I’m asking you.
And, readers . . . what are your responsibilities in this dance?
* the picture of the hand is from THE ITHACAN.