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.

Publishing Program to Host Chinese Executives for Three-Week Seminar

By Professor Andrea Baron

For three weeks in May and June, the Publishing Program will host 16 executives from Phoenix Publishing and Media Group, the largest printing and publishing company in China.  The group will participate in a series of seminars where they’ll hear presentations and exchange ideas with key industry leaders in the U.S.

Professor Baron and Professor Lian

The visit is part of an ongoing partnership between PPMG and the Pace Publishing program to organize the exchange of ideas, information and business opportunities. Starting in 2006, the Publishing Program broadened its international scope in several ways.  In addition to the PPMG program, there was an agreement with Wuhan University in China.  This includes the exchange of faculty members, who spend a semester in NY, as well as participation by our faculty in an annual digital publishing conference in China.  These experiences have added a lot to our understanding of the Chinese and the international publishing industry for the students and faculty who participated.

The past years’ sessions with the PPMG group were extremely valuable in sharing information, and have also been successful in helping them develop partnerships with US publishers and printers.

This year’s sessions will focus on developments in print technology for book and magazine publishing, digital printing and cross-media workflows, and the expansion of environmental initiatives. The publishing landscape is changing rapidly and, as print publication volume decreases, printers have branched out, developing new services for their customers.  These include digital supply chains, digital prepress services and print applications, and new tools such as web portals, e-commerce, and cross-media applications.  We’ve also seen demand increase for environmental initiatives and energy usage reduction and carbon neutral techniques in paper and print manufacturing.  All of these issues are critical to the survival and success of our industry.

A group of PPMG Executives listening to a lecture during the May, 2011 training

We have an array of speakers lined up who represent top national leaders in their fields, and who are currently addressing these challenges.  They will include digital vendors, publication printers, book and magazine publishers, paper manufacturers, and international organizations.  Pace publishing faculty members Andrea Baron,  David Delano and David Hetherington will also give presentations to the group.  The seminar sessions are being organized by Professor Baron with translation provided by Professor Lian.

The activities will also include site visits to Hearst Magazines and Time Inc. for demonstrations of their newest digital workflows and media management systems. The group will also tour the headquarters of Bloomberg Financial and attend the Book Expo America trade show during their visit.

Last year’s sessions were marked by lively discussion and exchange of information.  So many things have changed in the space of this year that we’ll be looking forward to discussing up-to-the-minute developments as we learn about the new directions in the publishing industry in the US and China.


The guests in the group and the organizations they come from are as follows:

Zuo Yumei, Director, Phoenix Publishing & Media, Inc.

Zhang Hao, Postdoctoral, Phoenix Publishing & Media, Inc.

Xu Chenmin, Vice General Manager, Jiangsu Phoenix Xinhua Printing Co., Ltd.

Mei Xiaofang, Department Manager, Jiangsu Publishing & Printing Materials Corporation

Zhang Rongming, Vice General Manager, Jiangsu Phoenix Yancheng Printing Ltd.

Wang Zhiguo, General Manager Assisitant, Jiangsu Phoenix Digital Printing Co., Ltd.

Xu Ling, Director, Phoenix Education Publishing, Ltd.

Zhang Jing, Director, Phoenix Science Press, Ltd.

Zhong Min, Director, Phoenix Vocational Education Books, Ltd.

Qiu Li, Director, Phoenix Juvenile & Children’s Publishing, Ltd.

Wu Yonggang, Manager, Jiangsu Phoenix Printing Production, Ltd.

Xia Nan, Vice Manager, Nanjing Amity Printing Company, Ltd.

Kong Dawei, General Manager, Jiangsu Gaochun Printing Company Co., Ltd.

Wang Hong, General Manager, Suzhou City AO Advertising Co., Ltd.

Ma Xuquan, General Manager, Xuzhou Xuquan Print Co., Ltd.

Zhang Hao, Vice General Manager, Nanjing Bills & Securities Printing Co., Ltd.

Link of the Week: Society for Scholarly Publishing

Bernie Stukenborg is a publishing professional who has worked in journal production and publishing for twenty years. He has been involved in the Society for Scholarly Publishing for nearly twelve years and has chaired the SSP Membership Committee, where he has been an active participant, for the past six years.  Mr. Stukenborg’s passion is helping publishers address business and production challenges – this he does via his sales role with Dartmouth Journal Services, a Sheridan Group company. Due to his commitment to the Society, he wrote a piece for the blog telling us about the organization. Enjoy!


Thank you to Andrea Baron for the opportunity to enter the Pace MS Publishing blogosphere!  After a very stimulating cup of coffee with Andrea and reading many entries in your dynamic blog, I am thrilled to find a vibrant community of students and professionals interested in a wide range of publishing forms and flavors.  Please allow me to introduce you to a related community – the Society for Scholarly Publishing (SSP).

SSP is a group of 1,000+ members who are passionate about scholarly communication – editors, compositors, publishers, printers, online hosts, librarians, mobile app developers and many more – from those who are brand-new in the field to seasoned executives who are leaders of large and prestigious organizations.  Our members work in nonprofit societies, professional publishing companies and other commercial enterprises, universities and pharmaceutical companies – anywhere scholarly content is created, refined and disseminated.

Every day, a handful of our most prominent members write about “what’s hot and cooking in scholarly publishing” via our blog: The Scholarly Kitchen.  In 2010, it was nominated for a Webby in the Blog – Business category. Always thought-provoking, well written, and authoritative, it’s a great way to stay up-to-date with issues that concern everyone working in scholarly communications – you’re guaranteed to find a daily dose of highly caffeinated content to sip on throughout the day!

We meet face-to-face throughout the year, and our showcase is the annual meeting where, on average, over 700 people gather to discuss market trends, swap experiences with new workflows and share ideas about emerging business models.  Coffee breaks and evening receptions provide networking opportunities, a vital component to
the meeting, and collegial friendships spring up as members serendipitously meet, discover common ground, and become trusted professional contacts who continue to communicate after the meeting concludes. This year’s conference – Social, Mobile, Agile, Global: Are You Ready? – promises to be our best yet and will equip attendees to navigate the significant challenges that lie ahead in this rapidly changing culture.  If you are interested in obtaining a free day pass to the meeting, to be held in Arlington, VA (May 30 – June 1), please let me know, and I will facilitate this and be happy to host you for a day.

Other opportunities to connect in person include our spring, Library Focus Group where librarians panel discussions about topics that are current to scholarly publishing. In the fall, we host an innovation conference where we invite people from outside our niche to share case studies and stimulate discussions on intersecting business models, technologies and methodologies.

In addition to these many activities, members use their association with SSP to find and post job opportunities via our Job Bank, and there’s also a handy Scholarly Communications Internships page n our website where we provide links to multiple internship and practicum opportunities all over the country. And, as an SSP member, there are also numerous opportunities to get involved with the organization, for example, by serving on one of our 14 committees.

In my experience, you would be hard pressed to find a professional group that is more collegial, engaging and vibrant!  I invite you to join us, network with us and contribute to SSP throughout your scholarly communications career.  We will learn together as we navigate the sea of change that is streaming through the publishing world.

Feel free to contact me via email or LinkedIn with questions about how SSP can be a catalyst to your career and/or to discuss the benefits of Student Membership.  And don’t forget to let me know if you’re interested in a free day pass to this year’s annual meeting – I hope to see you there!

Summer Publishing Classes!

Did you know that registration for summer classes has already begun?  Taking summer courses is a great way to accelerate your studies, or to spread out your workload.  This summer, the program is offering some new and unique courses that we hope will be valuable to students and teach them marketable skills for the industry.

One new course is the Seminar on Books and Magazines:  Practical Applications of Product Management in Digital Media, taught jointly by two new adjunct professors, Christine Ford and Aaron Goldsmid.  Christine Ford is a Digital Product Manager at Condé Nast Publications, and also a member of the M.S. in Publishing Advisory Board.  Aaron Goldsmid is the Director of Discovery Products at Audible.com, an Amazon.com Company.  The course is offered in Summer Session I, on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5:30 – 8:40 pm.  Below is a description of this seminar course:

The book and magazine publishing industry has undergone tremendous changes in only a few short years. With the explosion of pure online content sites, interactive tools and ebooks, and media-centric mobile applications on the market, roles that were once more common in technology fields are now becoming standard in publishing houses as well. In the last few years we’ve seen a new role in particular emerge in publishing. Digital product management is no longer just for computer science or engineering majors working in software companies. With user experience, return visits, and content quality becoming the predominate drivers of successful digital media sites and apps, publishing companies are now turning to professionals with traditional liberal arts and publishing skills to help develop engaging media products.  Now the digital project manager – the person who oversees the creation of all of these content-driven sites, tools or mobile applications – often plays a key role in developing all of the kinds of features for publishing companies.  This course will help take the mystery out of technical product development and methodologies, give students hands-on, highly sought after skills, and bridge the gap in ways that publishing professionals can immediately put into practice. This course addresses, in both books and magazines, interactive media content.”

Another great course for students interested in magazines is Principles of Publishing: Magazines, taught by Professor Andrea Baron. Professor Baron has taught in the program for the last ten years, on top of her work with companies such as Condé Nast and The New Yorker.  To learn more about Professor Baron, check out our Faculty in the Spotlight interview with Professor Baron.  The course is offered in Summer Session II on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5:30 – 8:40 pm.  Below is a description of this magazine course:

This course is an introduction to the basic principles of magazine publishing for consumer, association, and business to business publications.  Students will explore the structure and functions of the publishing enterprise, as well as the unique attributes of magazines: editorial mission and principles, periodical design, marketing, and modes of production and distribution.  A variety of publishing business plans will be explored, as well as the changing pattern of revenue streams, from subscriptions and newsstand sales, to marketing ventures, branded products and the wide range of evolving digital initiatives.  Guest speakers from major publishers will provide insights into the industry.”

Go to MyPacePortal and register now to take advantage of these or other courses offered this summer!