Some literary news: Edith Wharton, contract killing, and sexual harassment. Don’t worry, none of these things are related.

My new Tumblr is a wonderful time suck because now I follow all the lit mags and websites I can find and therefore get breaking news like Vogue doing a spread on Edith Wharton that includes an apparently very good essay (haven’t read it yet) and a gorgeous photo spread of Edith Wharton and friends, with the friends played by people like Junot Diaz, Jonathan Safran Foer and Jeffrey Eugenides, all dressed in dapper clothing that I wish men still wore (and also Elijah Wood… but who cares).

I think this is pretty cool. Except Roxane Gay makes a very good point on her Tumblr (we’re all Tumblring!) that there are FEMALE writers they could have cast as, you know, Edith Wharton or any of the other females in the spread, but they didn’t. And why?

That’s it for the good/fun literary news. If you’re in a positive mood and want to stay that way, I suggest you stop reading.

In very upsetting news, Abdulrahman Zeitoun, the Katrina hero of Dave Eggers’s 2009 non-fiction novel Zeitoun, was arrested on charges of soliciting the murder of his ex-wife, son, and another man. This just breaks my heart that a man who once set out in a boat to save anyone he could find, who founded a charitable organization (along with Eggers) that helped rebuild New Orleans, could be changed so much as to assault his wife and allegedly contract her murder. Zeitoun was such an extraordinarily moving story, in part because of the relationship between Zeitoun and his wife Kathy. But the story never ends on the last page of the book. Sometimes, I wish it did.

In further distressing news, the incredible literary journal American Short Fiction is possibly folding after 21 years, following the resignation of two of its head editors. The reasons for their resignations are not explained, but this is very sad news indeed. And this news, along with the hot mess of a sexual harassment scandal going down at Oxford American that resulted in the firing of the magazine’s founding editor, Marc Smirnoff, as well as the managing editor, Carol Ann Fitzgerald, has me wondering:


Probably I shouldn’t relate whatever is happening at American Short Fiction to the shady goings-on at Oxford American because that casts ASF in a bad light, and there is no reason to suspect a scandal at ASF of the magnitude and skeeziness of the one at OA, although there must be something going on there that made two editors resign. My listing them together is only because I am distressed that two of the best literary journals in the country are falling apart. (OA isn’t folding, but this sort of thing has got to shake stuff up something serious.) I’m especially sad about ASF. It is really one of the best journals out there, and its ending is a damn shame.

Hey all the other literary magazines: please PLEASE you guys, keep your shit together.

But back to the Oxford American. The two fired editors put together an incredibly long document detailing the events leading up to their termination, the abrupt and hush-hush way it was all carried out, and a very passionate (to put it nicely) and personal defense of themselves that includes texts and photographs. I have to say, I don’t know what to make of it. I read the thing in its entirety yesterday, which took about two hours, because I am a crazy person and also unemployed, so I have time to do these things.

I read it because I wanted to believe that the man who thought up and founded Oxford American twenty years ago couldn’t be a sleazy, handsy sexual predator, that he would have more respect for women than that, that it was all some sort of weird mistake. But after reading it, it seems pretty clear that yeah, actually, he is.

On the website, Smirnoff admits to using “G-rated sexual innuendo,” hugging, and touching his interns’ heads, shoulders, and feet (FEET?!), but he does not seem to think that there is any problem with that. Smirnoff admitted in an interview with the New York Times that he did, indeed, ask an intern (who he later fired and who then filed the sexual harassment complaint) to hold hands with him while they were alone in his car, and then asked her to accompany him to his favorite make-out spot. He further claimed that his interactions with his staff were always “paternalistic and nonsexual” (how can sexual innuendo be nonsexual?) and that “[his] intent with regards to that humor is just as important.”

Let’s take a moment to think about what sexual harassment is.

Take your time.

Yes, exactly.

I could say more. Originally, I did, and then I discovered I was just angrily ranting (with some witty asides), so I went on a paragraph-deleting spree. Because really, it kind of speaks for itself, doesn’t it?

Smirnoff and Fitzgerald’s website does shed a bit of a questionable light on the termination proceedings, I’ll admit, but it’s hard to know what’s fact and what’s speculation, so you can go read it and come up with your own opinions. (If you have two hours to spare.) It reads like a soap opera, I’ve got to tell you, full of conspiracies and back-stabbing and name-calling, secret interoffice romance and drunken flirtation and even two lavish parties and a private jet. I shit you not. Not so sure this website is going to do Smirnoff a huge service. Also, there’s only so many times you can quote Shakespeare in reference to your own life before you start coming off as way too full of yourself. Fact.

But in all seriousness, it’s horribly sad that such things can occur in the offices of such a long-standing and respected magazine. (Or, you know, at all.) Because this is despicable, guys. I’m stunned that people still think this sort of behavior is okay.

As an Alabama native who later lived in Nashville and New Orleans, I’ve got a soft spot for all things Southern, and I’ve always liked Oxford American for being the smart lit and culture magazine it is and for bringing positive attention to the South when so much of the attention we get is negative. I sincerely hope the magazine survives and continues to be a quality publication. We’ll just have to wait and see.

In conclusion, this was a very depressing blog post. I’m sorry. But, you know: life.


One thought on “Some literary news: Edith Wharton, contract killing, and sexual harassment. Don’t worry, none of these things are related.

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