Writers need to promote other writers. It’s a tough game, this writing thing. You labor over each piece, trying to get the phrasing, meaning, and tone right. You seclude yourself from others, so you’ll have the time and space to create. And then you throw your hard work out there and ask people to judge it, hoping a) they’ll find it worthy and b) that it’ll be read in the first place.
Like other artists, writers are masochists of a sort. So we need to stick together and help each other out wherever possible.
Which brings me to Leonard Pitts. To be sure, Pitts doesn’t need my help getting his material over. He’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Miami Herald, who is syndicated nationally.
But I’ve admired his work for a long time, and it’s not just because he’s a liberal columnist. It’s true that I agree with about 90% of what Pitts writes. But his politics are not the only reason I read him.
Leonard Pitts is one of the most skilled columnists writing today. His pieces are extremely well crafted. He sets up his argument (often employing Swiftian absurdism), develops it carefully, and is a master of the final-sentence zinger — that literary tactic of summing the whole essay up in a single sentence that hits the reader in the gut and forces him or her to ponder what’s just been read. If you have any aspirations of writing essays or columns, you should be reading Leonard Pitts.
(You should also be reading George Will. I agree with only about 15% of Will’s subject matter, but there are few writers today who can construct as cogent and as erudite an argument as Will.)
Sunday, Pitts veered away from his usual construction, though. Rather than offering his unique insight into the subjects of racism, politics, and American culture, he offered someone else’s. Michelle Alexander’s 2010 book, The New Jim Crow, which argues that the so-called War on Drugs unfairly targets blacks over whites, is being released in paperback. Pitts finds the book, in his words, “troubling and profoundly necessary.” He believes Alexander’s assertions are correct, and he believes we all need to consider them.
So he’s giving her book away for free. Pitts has bought 50 copies of The New Jim Crow in paperback, and he’s giving them away to readers who request them and promise to read them. To participate, send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line, “I want it. I’ll read it.” You have to include your mailing address in the body of the email, so he can get it to you. At the end of this month, he’ll draw 50 names and mail them the book.
I haven’t read Alexander’s book, nor do I know enough about the material to comment on how accurate her claims are. But Leonard Pitts is an excellent author I admire. He’s trying to get someone else’s book over, so we can have a deeper conversation about racism in 21st-Century America. So I’m doing my bit to publicize the opportunity he’s offering.
I encourage to you read Pitts’ column I linked above and decide for yourself if you want to know more. My thought is this: when a writer feels strongly enough to promote another writer’s work, it’s worth paying attention.