A Review: Balancing Commitment and Craft in Political Fiction

WNBA-NYC Chapter Event: Balancing Commitment and Craft in Political Fiction
The political fiction panel speakers, left to right: Céline Keating, Elizabeth Nunez, Tiphanie Yanique, Ellen Meeropol, Marnie Mueller.



Introduction by Andrea Baron, VP Programming, WNBA-NYC
Over 100 people attended our November 5th panel discussion on Political Fiction at Pace University in New York City. The Dyson College departments of Pace Publishing, Women’s and Gender Studies, and English departments co-sponsored the event, and the many students in the audience set the tone for a lively discussion of the traditions and inspirations for political fiction, as well as the challenges facing women writers.

Our authors discussed the challenges of writing political fiction — framing language, developing character, and structuring plot to dramatize conflicts of class, race, gender, and politics while avoiding the pitfalls of authorial intrusion and didacticism.

The panel included six accomplished novelists: Ellen Meeropol, author of House Arrest ;Marnie Mueller, author of My Mother’s Island;   Tiphanie Yanique, author of Land of Love and Drowning: A NovelElizabeth Nunez author of Boundaries; and Céline Keating, author of Layla. The panel was moderated by writer and teacher Susan Breen, author of The Fiction Class.




Alex Grover, a current Pace MS in Publishing graduate student who attended the event, shares his insights about the panel and what the authors had to say: 

Duty against the Norm: How Five Authors Write Political Fiction in Order to Change Their World

By Alex Grover

Why aren’t more books tackling tough and ambiguous subjects?

That was my question after having the privilege to attend a powerful panel hosted by the WNBA-NYC called, Balancing Commitment and Craft in Political Fiction. The five novelists—Céline Keating, Elizabeth Nunez, Tiphanie Yanique, Ellen Meeropol, and Marnie Mueller—in a discussion moderated by Susan Breen talked about their united cause in not only giving voice to important, impactful movements but also giving themselves voices as women. As Yanique stated early in the conversation, “to be a woman writer, even today, is a political act.”

The novelists first discussed their books as examples of the niche political fiction genre, including a story of growing up as a white non-prisoner in a Japanese internment camp, a mindful revision of The Tempest, and a discovery of self-identity during the feminist movement of the late 60s and early 70s. Why did they write these books? For Mueller, it was wanting “to know my background, what my parents did during World War II.” For Nunez, it was a way to articulate how those who appropriated her culture in the past had generalized and transformed her people into something they weren’t. In writing Prospero’s Daughter, Nunez “talks back to Shakespeare.”

Breen, an author herself and an instructor at Gotham Writers’ Workshop in Manhattan, then asked the panel, “What is political fiction?” At its core, it’s “tersely political material,” said Mueller, “strung together with a plot.” From Meeropol’s experience, “Real political fiction should be partisan, but should ask the reader to take a stand.” As Yanique put it, writing political fiction meant “consciously writing against a particular kind of patriarchy.” No matter the interpretation of the question, the panel met at an agreement that all novels, no matter their structure, are political to some degree. “If you have a book that exclusively features white people in a white suburb,” she said, “that’s still political. That’s still making a statement. It’s just that that statement doesn’t go against the status quo.”

On writing and craft, the authors gave advice for those who wanted to pen their own novels. While a novel may be a vital tool in influencing our society, it must also be entertaining. “We are wrapping you up and pulling you in,” Nunez said, comparing the process to a sequence from Charlotte’s Web where a fly allows itself to be captured by the titular spider. “You don’t know you’re being eaten.” From implanting “zingers” in a work to using mystery as a vehicle for political subversion, as Céline described in her own observation of the genre, authors must still keep the audience’s attention.

As powerful as their statements were, the panelists recognized that there are barriers that must be overcome in the publishing industry. Considering minority writers, Nunez talked about how a publishing house will say they publish black writers, yet those writers are still gathered in marginal imprints, or ghettoes as Nunez referred to them, and not exposed to mainstream audiences. As Nunez asked when considering the problem, “Are we not human?”

The evening with these authors was an exploration of the underpinnings of contemporary thought, a writing workshop, and a challenging view of current publishing paradigms. Some standards of writing we consider to be normal are not. As Yanique asked, “There’s not one gay person in Maine?” She was referring to an unnamed and popular author that actively influences our perception of the times. Considering the many social issues of the present still unresolved, the panelists recognized their moral obligation—and accepted.


Alex Grover (@AlexPGrover) is a graduate assistant at Pace University Press. He has written articles for Quirk Books and Apiary Magazine and has work published in Strange Horizons (forthcoming) and Acappella Zoo. He is currently participating in NaNoWriMo.

Media Magic


20140906_222835Rebecca Nicolasa Mbanugo is a student in Pace University’s MS in Publishing program, and is currently enrolled in Magazine Production and Design, taught by Andrea Baron. 


A short walk away from Rockefeller Center and Time Inc. lies a facility of the second largest magazine printer in the world, Quad Graphics Media Solutions Center. Professor Andrea Baron’s Magazine Production and Design class visited Quad at its Manhattan location on October 14th, 2014.

After receiving our visitor name tags at the reception desk, we were ushered into an impressive and well-lit conference room where a pleasing array of refreshments and complimentary pens and pencils bearing Quad’s name awaited us. Between bites of cookies and sips of soda and water, we pored over the pages of Quad’s portfolio and examined finished copies of some of the popular publications Quad works with, including Vogue, Seventeen, and Entertainment Weekly. Over the course of our nearly three-hour visit, our two presenters, Imaging Operations Manager Steve Stoma and Media Solutions Sales Representative Eric Johnson, took us on a visual and walking tour of the varied forms of media magic that Quad specializes in.

Quad is a national network of facilities that offer its clients a range of print, digital, and video-based media solutions, including dynamic imaging and augmented reality (AR). Emphasizing high quality and fast turn-around times, it operates according to three tenets: create, optimize, and connect. After the publisher creates artwork such as magazine layouts and covers, Quad takes that product and optimizes its content, enhancing color to achieve the best possible reproduction quality. Quad also connects content to the physical and digital channels of tablets and the Web. Operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Quad processes over 200,000 images and 90,000 pages of content annually.

The majority of the properties handled at the Manhattan location are magazines, many belonging to such publishers as Condé Nast and Hearst Magazines. We saw firsthand that the work of transforming each title into the alluring, polished products we encounter at the newsstands is quite a fascinating and meticulous process. Specific calibrations for color are checked on a daily basis and color-controlled monitors and booths equipped with proper lighting are used to view images. It is not uncommon for the teams in the customer service and retouching departments to work well into the night, checking hard and soft proofs for color, and digital blue lines for content layout. Continuous rounds of correction occur until each client is fully satisfied. Indeed, like the mythical elves at Santa’s workshop, the staff at Quad works diligently, seeming to fashion magic out of thin air.

Having had an enjoyable glimpse behind the scenes, we left Quad armed with new knowledge and a few souvenirs.

Condé Nast Makes the Move to 1 World Trade Center

In an insightful article for the New York Times, Charles V. Bagli describes Condé Nast’s recent move to Lower Manhattan:

1 World Trade Center“For two days last weekend, moving trucks shuttled a total of 2,800 orange crates crammed with files, photographs and books from a Times Square office tower downtown to the tallest skyscraper in North America, 1 World Trade Center.

“It was the first wave in the migration of what will be 3,400 editors, writers and advertising executives at 18 magazines from Condé Nast moving to the World Trade Center, confirming both the long-awaited reconstruction of the complex and a shift in the culture downtown.”

He goes on to chronicle the powerhouse magazine publisher’s re-location from Madison Avenue to Midtown in 1999, which then inspired the revitalization of Times Square.  The move to the World Trade Center keeps with Condé Nast’s history of staying on the cutting edge, as we see technology, advertising, and media companies replacing large financial institutions.  Condé Nast’s presence will undoubtedly breathe new life into the downtown culture, and we should expect to see luxury retailers, art galleries, and restaurants continue to pop up.

Vanity Fair CoverWhile the magazine publisher’ s Midtown locale was known for its unique cafeteria designed by Frank O. Gehrey, the same aesthetic will not be replicated at 1 World Trade.  However, prominent editor Graydon Carter, who has been the chief overseer of Vanity Fair for the past 22 years, was given a generous budget and the opportunity to hire an interior designer for his swanky corner office.

Mr. Carter recently appeared  on “CBS This Morning” to promote the release of Bohemians, Bootleggers, Flappers and Swells, a book that was published in honor of Vanity Fair‘s 100th anniversary.  See the full interview below:


To read the full New York Times article, click here.

To purchase the book, published in hardcover October 30, 2014, click here.

500 Days of Action for the Millennium Development Goals: An Interactive Conversation Between UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Malala Yousafzai

Dena Mekawi is a current Publishing graduate student at Pace University, and also holds the position of Youth Representative for the Women’s National Book Association. This article was included in the WNBA’s October Newsletter. 

One of the most memorable conferences I attended as a Youth Representative was on August 18, 2014, with special guest Malala Yousafzai. Secretary general of the United Nations, Bank Ki-moon, and education advocate and co-founder of the Malala Fund, Malala Yousafzai joined the audience for an interactive conversation about the Millennium Development Goals. Questions were asked from young people about how we can all play a part to achieve the MDGs, from boosting education, eliminating poverty and hunger, empowering women and girls to protect the environment, improving maternal health, and combating infectious diseases. Amy Robach moderated the discussion, news anchor with ABC’s Good Morning America (GMA).

Screen Shot 2014-10-27 at 2.22.23 PMMalala spoke out again a year after her first speech at the United Nations, where she shared her near death experience being shot by the Taliban. This year she is back sharing her story on how she never gave up on her beliefs on education, and she wishes every child the same opportunity. First way to do this is to advocate to our community, she demands that we need to make sure every child is going to school, also to do work on the ground and overseas. She discusses how Malala Fund is slowly making a difference worldwide. Malala says that education has brought change to the community; she encourages everyone to change the concept of bravery. Before Malala was abducted she had a passion for learning and was campaigning for education rights. Malala says, “If a girl isn’t getting an education, I can see her future getting married at the age of 13- 14, and that’s all her life, she would never realize that yes she’s a human being and has an identity, and she should be accepted in society, and she should be treated with equal rights. She would never know these things without education.” Malala explains that from her experiences, that a child doesn’t want anything but just a pen and a book.

Amy Robach asked Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon how the crisis worldwide would impact the MDG goals. Secretary General explains how we are seeing many dedicated committed young leaders like Malala and like everyone else. Secretary General says, “One may think I’m just a young girl or young boy, I don’t have any power, but each one of you can make a difference. You are the rear voices; we must walk with the young people.” Malala states, “The strength of a woman does not depend on her physical strength but rather on her skills and education.” Malala explains how we need to believe in the power of our voices, and her message is to highlight the issues and address them.

As a student living in New York, I do feel lucky to have access to education. However after witnessing Malala’s struggle and hearing her fight for educational rights, allowed me to really reflect on all the things we might take for granted. We need to translate our blessings into advocacy for youth and women worldwide that are waking up everyday praying for quality education, clean water, ending of violence against women, gender equality and every other human rights that they should be living by. We need to take control of our society and use our voices to represent millions globally, we need to use social media to start movements and implement change day by day. I do see a brighter future; because of the strong young leaders that are taking control I hope to see more girls like Malala fighting for what they believe.

logo_wnbaAs the current UN DPI/NGO Youth Representative for the Women’s National Book Association, not only did I have the privilege to attend this moving and inspirational discussion, I was given the opportunity to take a picture with Malala, and shared a moment with her that was memorable, and one that I will truly cherish forever. This young girl is living proof that every single person with a powerful story, and with a strong belief can make a difference. We need to stand up for what we believe, and keep fighting towards equality and women’s rights.


The United Nations Live & On-Demand

I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb (Little, Brown and Company, 2013)

Shelf Awareness Children’s Review: Malala, a Brave Girl from Pakistan/Iqbal, a Brave Boy from Pakistan

A Computer Lab Just for You!

There’s a certain kind of thrill that accompanies the arrival of a new computer. The keys are fresh and respond with light taps, applications open without hesitation, and the body of the computer shines with factory newness.


This summer, the publishing lab was overhauled, and brand new iMac computers were installed for the use of any Publishing student. Loaded with an expansive set of applications, you can use the lab to write a book review, research, or work on design projects for hours (which is possible, thanks to the comfy chairs!). When you’ve finished a project (or you’ve got a plane ticket home to print off) you can use either the color or black and white printer.

The lab is open:

  • Monday: 10am-9pm
  • Tuesday-Thursday: 10am-6pm
  • Friday: 9am-6pm

So stop by and utilize the resources made available to you! The lab is also a place you might meet publishing students who may not be in your classes, so it’s worth visiting. The Publishing department is very proud of the lab, and we want you to know of the resources that are available to you in order that your experience in the program will be the best it can be. Multi