Thursday, August 1, 2013

Public Engagement - Go Speed Racer

Yesterday, I received an email from Rebecca Sharpless, Associate Professor of History at Texas Christian University.  It began (shared with permission):
Dear David Perry,

Thanks to you, I have now published in the New York Times.  Last Thursday, when I was debating on whether to weigh in on the Paula Deen flap with her cook, my best friend sent me the link to your piece in the COHE.  So when I wrote to the editor and he asked when I could have 850 words to him, I took a deep breath and said, "Tomorrow morning."  
Here's her essay. It sets the current Paula Deen story in a historical context of southern white women exploiting African-American food culture. Sharpless has a book, Cooking in Other Women’s Kitchens: Domestic Workers in the South, 1865-1960, which gives her the kind of deep knowledge of the subject that only a scholar can have. That she found a way to share that knowledge more broadly, to explore "how we got into this mess," as I like to put it, is exactly the kind of engagement for which I am advocating most strongly.

As my story illustrates, getting published has required some luck, good timing, and learning how to write more quickly. The speed required is particularly challenging.
Like many academics, I like to linger over my writing, but that's not how the journalistic world works. I have had to submit essays on breaking news that were "good enough" rather than perfect.
- See more at: http://chronicle.com.ezproxy.dom.edu/article/My-Initial-Public-Offering/140407/#sthash.DHav5cz9.dpuf
In my Chronicle essay on public writing, I stressed speed, writing, "As my story illustrates, getting published has required some luck, good timing, and learning how to write more quickly. The speed required is particularly challenging. Like many academics, I like to linger over my writing, but that's not how the journalistic world works. I have had to submit essays on breaking news that were "good enough" rather than perfect." In fact, I felt my own piece on Paula Deen from when the story on her alleged racism first broke wasn't quite written fast enough to find a home on a major site, so I just put it on the blog.

So this is an exciting concrete outcome. But speed isn't always necessary. On Monday, I've had confirmed, The Nation will publish an essay of mine on disability and police violence. I researched this one more deeply than others, sent it to them in May, tried to get it into the magazine, but finally we've decided to put it online. It's not hitting a news cycle, but trying to shape awareness of a buried issue. My piece on the Ottoman legacy at stake in the Turkish uprisings was rejected 4 times, the last time by CNN, as being off-cycle. Then the violence swelled up again (regrettably), and CNN quickly asked for it back.

At any rate, congrats to Rebecca Sharpless for the terrific essay and I'm honored to have played any part in inspiring you to write fast and send it in.

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