Monday, April 23, 2012

“It Contains a Little Too Much Realism”: Please Support WEJB/NSU!


I drink my coffee black, no sugar, espresso grind, and that’s the sort of journalism I write.

During the mid-to-late ‘90s, while teaching in community colleges and four-year schools in New Jersey and New York, I worked on a book on education. Big book. Too big.

After pitching my proposal without success for a couple of years, my literary agent told me he was retiring, and gave me the name of a husband-and-wife team. But they were neocons who were only interested in watered-down books by rich, well-connected neocons who knew nothing of the way things really worked in higher ed. I then pitched to a bunch of other agents, who sent me boilerplate rejections.

The package, as I recall, contained a cover letter, a formal proposal of what the book would treat, at least one sample chapter, an introduction, and a table of contents.

The introduction opened with the story of a gang assassination that was to take place in a classroom at my New Jersey community college, in 1993. The assassin entered in the middle of class, and walked around the classroom, silently eyeballing each student in turn, as the professor stood by, helplessly.

The target knew not to show up for class that day.

It wasn’t my classroom, but that of a young, white colleague, fresh out of earning his Ph.D. at one of those Midwestern land-grant universities, probably at most two generations removed from farming. He told me the tale, with the sense of violation and grief you’d expect from a rape victim.

I didn’t ask if the assassin was black or Hispanic; he sure as heck wasn’t white.

We’d never met before, and we never would again. Why didn’t he tell one of his full-time colleagues about it? I was a lowly adjunct. Full-timers never spoke to adjuncts as if they were human beings, much less shared confidences with them.

He knew of me, because people talked about me, some with affection, and others with scorn. Every day I committed the radical act of wearing a suit and tie to work. I wasn’t looking to make a radical statement; I was just trying to be professional.
I also ran a very strict classroom, but a classroom that was also full of warmth, humor, and the highest energy level any of my students had ever seen.

I found the name and address of the only literary agent in America who didn’t think being honest about race made you a Nazi, and pitched to him. He sent me his home phone number, and told me to call him.

When we spoke, the agent told me my proposal “contains a little too much realism.”

How can journalism be “too realistic”?

I don’t write for people who want fairy tales, whether they be Democratic fairy tales or the Republican variety. Our nation nears collapse, thanks to generations of fairy tale merchants.

Please make a generous donation to WEJB/NSU, so that I may be able to continue my work: Black, no sugar.

Thanks in advance.


Nicholas Stix

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Bully for you!