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A Literary & Poetry Column
By Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Nostalgia and My Precious Freedom of the Press
Nostalgia has set in. It started earlier this year when I saw a movie about a shop in San Francisco that repaired and sold old typewriters. This week I saw The Post. I could almost smell the printer’s ink. And the longing I felt for renewed respect for what the press does for our democracy was palpable.

Then only a few days later I received a copy of a book called Stop the Press: How the Mormon Church Tried to Silence the Salt Lake Tribune by an old pal of mine in every sense of the word—James W. Ure. We both started learning our craft as “reporters” for our high school newspaper, The Thunderbolt, an apt name for a bunch of young muckraking journalism apprentices bent on making out school (the world, to us!) a better place. It happened to be nonfiction published by Prometheus about the newspaper that gave me my first professional job in journalism, The Salt Lake Tribune. Its crack marketing department had dubbed it “A Great Pulitzer Prize Winning Newspaper” for its coverage of a devastating earthquake in Alaska in the 1950s. Jim’s book is about, in spite of the US separation of church and state, tried to silence its voice which was probably the only alternative voice in the State of Utah—a contrarian voice in a state where conservatism ruled and the newspaper they own, The Deseret News, is under their jurisdiction.

Those readers who happen to be conservative may think that is not a problem. Newspapering is a business, after all, and in a capitalist society, businesses are competitive. Some win, some lose. If they aren’t journalists or lawyers or constitutionalists they may not be familiar with the First Amendment.

However, I think they should be just as devout about protecting both power and the freedom of the press as I am, because all of us are writers. As writers, we all enjoy the protections of that amendment. We can choose to write what we want. Put our opinions in a book or on the web—from academic studies to erotica if we so choose. We can rant. Do satire (which I was once told by a British journalists Americans don’t really understand!). Say exactly what we think about anyone as long as they are public figures or can prove that what we are saying is fact and not libelous. That is why Michael Wolf’s new book, Fire and Fury, is supported by its reputable publisher, Henry Holt. And despite their distribution booboos, it sold out in its first and second days on bookstores’ shelves. According to Publishes’ Weekly, it was the “hottest book of the year.” To their credit, Holt is standing by its author in spite of the political kerfuffle and printing as many books and shipping them as fast as they can to fill their orders for one million books. If they are smart—will print using digital presses as well as offset so they miss as few sales as possible.

Perhaps the longing I feel for the days when Wolf’s right to report a story he feels the public should know can never be universal. But I hope writers everywhere (and readers who benefit from the choices available because of this freedom) will stand up for Michael—and my friend Jim. For their right to write, so to speak. Regardless of whether their beliefs—political, religious, or gender-related may be. Freedom has always been something that runs both upstream and downstream. When we shut freedom down, we may suffer when someone who agrees with us no longer has that right or when the tables turn and we are the ones being shut down


Tips and Tidbits

(Each month in this box, Carolyn lists a Tidbit that will help authors write or promote better. She will also include a Tip to help readers find a treasure among long-neglected books or a sapphire among the newly-published.)

Gift for Writers:

Everyone is a writer these days. Maybe my multi award-winning The Frugal Editor will remind them of the skills they already have, help polish them to give them more confidence, and give them some new ones that will help them enter an industry without fear. They will probably love knowing that lots of rules that stifle our creativity aren’t rules at all, that we get to make style choices. Emphasis on the word choices.

Gift for Readers:

My newest book is a full book of poetry. Jim Cox, Editor-in-Chief of Wisconsin Bookwatch says, “[Carolyn Howard-Johnson is] an exceptionally skilled wordsmith, her poetry will linger in the mind and memory long after the book itself has been finished and set back upon the shelf. Very highly recommended for community and academic library Contemporary American Poetry collections . . .” Find Imperfect Echoes at Amazon & B&N. And, yes, I’ll admit that it may have poems in it that you don’t agree with it. And maybe it will have some you do! Cover art by Richard Conway Jackson who is serving twenty-five years to life in a California State prison for receiving stolen property.


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