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    Most freelance book critics are making less than minimum wage.

    Dan Sheehan

    June 20, 2024, 4:53pm

    FSP Book Critics working group

    Since September 2023, the book criticism working group of the Freelance Solidarity Project (a union of digital media workers, organizing to raise labor standards across the industry) has been collecting data on freelance rates. Its findings, published earlier this month, are pretty damn bleak.

    Essentially, most book critics without staff jobs are making far less than minimum wage.

    The working group asked dozens of writers and freelance book critics to share what they’ve been paid for book criticism, as well as the length of time each project took them, and out of the 91 reports received, 26 writers reported being paid less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 for their work.

    In response, FSP has launched a social media campaign to share the findings, raise awareness about poor pay for freelance critics, and advocate for a base rate of $1.00 a word.

    At the beginning of May, FSP (which is part of the National Writers Union) also published a damning report on the wave of retaliation Western media workers have received for for speaking up against or critically covering Israel’s war on Gaza. 

    Kudos to everyone involved in this group for all of their vital work.

     

     

    Illustrations by Colleen Tighe

    A definitive ranking of Brat Pack movies.

    Brittany Allen

    June 18, 2024, 2:18pm

    This week, the ex-teen heart-throb, ur-“Nice Guy,” and award-winning travel writer(!) Andrew McCarthy made his documentary debut at the TriBeCa film festival. Brats—the film in question, now on Hulu—documents the rise and fall of the enfants terribles who defined the ideal teen in Reagan’s America, and maybe your more troubling romantic interests.

    Though NPR called McCarthy’s movie “searching, earnest, frequently self-important and occasionally clueless,” I saw the doc as a calling to revisit some old, problematic friends. Is the pack as charismatic as memory serves? And what were their best offerings?

    *

    Before I get to judging, it’s worth defining terms. What was the Brat Pack? Experts disagree. It’s either a trio of blockbusting Molly Ringwald vehicles, or any commercial film starring teens made between 1981 and 1989. It’s either John Hughes’ entire oeuvre, or every movie made with these these twelve actors. As McCarthy himself said in a recent guest essay for The New York Times, “There has never been a precise accounting of which actors constituted the Brat Pack, but that is largely beside the point.” Um, okay. I mean, you’re the boss.

    For my (unscientific) purposes, here are some obstructions: a Brat Pack movie is here defined as canonized, fantastical coming-of-age fare starring at least two members of the recognized “pack.” There must be a plot arc involving class tension, in which the preppier kid is vaguely malevolent. At least one of the main characters must have a disappointing father. And all accessories must be insane.

    Now, from worst to first…

    Molly Ringwald and Michael Schoeffling. Universal Pictures/AP Photo

    5. Sixteen Candles (1984)

    This one’s pretty difficult to watch these days, between the distressing ferns of Gedde Watanabe’s and Haviland Morris’ ill-used characters. (To parrot Eric Duggans in NPR, “For fans of color like me, there was always a double edge to the success of Brat Pack-style films.” CC: women, queer people.)

    In the corner of silly qualms, it is also true that Jake Ryan is the least compelling object of affection…ever put onscreen? With all due respect to Mr. Schoeffling, I challenge you to apply one single adjective to this kid. Our spunky Samantha (Molly Ringwald) deserved better.

    On the redeeming hand, we have fun character performances from the extended family. The hat game isn’t bad, either.

    Molly Ringwald and Jon Cryer. Paramount, Laurel Moore.

    4. Pretty in Pink (1986)

    Once again, it’s the accessories that elevate this rather pat spin on Cinderella. Though Andrew McCarthy is charismatic elsewhere, as lover boy Blane he smizes too much. As Micah Norris put it in a withering 2016 re-review for Vanity Fair, “Blane is a Wasp without a stinger. He’s a non-alcoholic beer, an unsalted pretzel. ” I tend to agree. Also, for filling me with unrealistic expectations re: speed-sewing and mall jobs, I must dock additional points.

    But for the presences of Harry Dean Stanton (Dad box—check!), Annie Potts(!), and that most malevolent prep of them all, James Spader, I admit this to the top five. The costume jewelry befuddles, and the soundtrack slaps.

    I’m still unpacking what this clip did to me.

    Most of the Brat Pack. From Moviestore Collection/Rex USA

    3. St. Elmo’s Fire (1985)

    It may alarm you to learn that this film features a group of recent graduates navigating infidelity, parenthood, and the acquiring and losing of the kind of power broker jobs that answer to “the Senator.” To put things in perspective: If everyone in this movie was 38, it might make sense today—minus the Georgetown real estate? But they are all supposed to be 22. So minus abundant points for the creation of unrealistic post-grad expectations.

    But despite the Degrassi-levels of trauma plot-stacking, I love this movie for the fact that it follows friends. It’s in the ensemble mode that the Brat Pack really shines.

    I also love Demi Moore’s apartment. Has anything ever been so pink? I am here to tell you that something has.

    Some of the Brat Pack. Universal Pictures/Photofest

    2. The Breakfast Club (1985)

    The Breakfast Club lingers, in that cheesy after-school special way, for its attempts to acknowledge difference rather than smooth it over. (Make-over scene notwithstanding.) Maybe it’s damning by faint praise to note that this film at least tries to explode the stereotypes that the previous three movies embrace. But I’m still a little moved by The Geek’s confession. Sue me!!!

    This film is also ur-bratty in its commitment to my admittedly random criteria. I mean, everyone’s got Dad beef in this one.

    1. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

    Arguably, this one should be disqualified because it…doesn’t include any members of the Brat Pack? (In his infamous profile in New York magazine, David Blum classified Matthew Broderick as a “Not Quite There” hanger-on.) But there’s no evading the just critic. As the most specific fantasy, Ferris’ big day evades cliches. This is not even a movie about love triangles. It is, instead, an ode to Chicago, and an anti-work manifesto. Which makes it the real and righteous winner.

    Top five forever. No further questions, case closed.

    *

    As Brats only attests, the Brat Pack movies have at times been taken too seriously by swathes of impressionable young. I know the pack was once a world to me. But that’s why I’ve found it soothing to relegate these films to the just-for-laughs aisle, where founding myths go to sleep. Today we knock the pictures back with a grain of salt, yes. But it turns out you can still admire those hats.

    Here’s McCarthy again, on the whirlwind years that produced these people, their times:

    …the great French film director Claude Chabrol said to me, “My dear boy, the truth today is not the truth tomorrow.” For so long I didn’t understand what he meant, but perhaps now I do. Something that had cast such a long shadow over me, that I felt had obscured my identity and even clouded who I had perceived myself to be, had transformed into something like a blessing.

    This Heat Dome, I hope you’ll be blessed by visits with old friends.

    What does it mean that Barnes & Noble is buying Denver indie Tattered Cover?

    Drew Broussard

    June 18, 2024, 2:02pm

    After several tumultuous years, there’s light at the end of the tunnel for Denver’s Tattered Cover bookstore. Denverite reports that the troubled local chain (TC has six stores in the Denver area) accepted a $1.8 million offer from Barnes & Noble that would keep all of the stores open under the Tattered Cover name and keep their staffs employed. The sale will be finalized later this summer.

    To misquote the Bard: “Such welcome and unwelcome things at once, ’tis hard for a bookseller to reconcile.”

    There are definitely things worth celebrating here, chief among them that a bunch of booksellers—hard-working, brilliant, always-underpaid booksellers—will get to keep their jobs. And despite the store’s disastrous past five years, which were largely spent running from one self-inflicted wound to another, the death of Tattered Cover would have left a massive hole in the Denver literary scene. But not all bookstores are created equal and Barnes & Noble deciding to muscle into the indie space in this way is a chilling reminder of the dark-old-days when B&N was the bad guy.

    In the ’90s and early ’00s, Barnes & Noble (and its corporate brethren like Borders) were muscling out indie bookstores whenever and wherever they had the chance. You’ve Got Mail, the classic tale of indie booksellers triumphing over capitalist greed (okay I guess it is also a love story), was partly inspired by B&N’s arrival on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and the company’s predatory tactics generally helped clear the field just in time for Amazon to swoop in and put the entire bookselling industry in danger.

    But as the New York Times put it in 2022: “Today, virtually the entire publishing industry is rooting for Barnes & Noble—including most independent booksellers.” The change in tune was, yes, rooted in an enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend response to the existential threat that is Amazon—but it was also led by James Daunt, who saved Waterstones in the UK from bankruptcy in the early 2010s and then swooped in to do the same with B&N in 2019 and has spent the intervening five years waging a fervent PR campaign to convince us that B&N is our friend after all.

    Daunt, who founded one of London’s most notable bookstores under his own name in the ’90s, has prioritized the bookselling part of owning a bookstore chain and much ink has been spilled over his decision to let B&N stores run themselves more like indies. Which is all well and good! I think Daunt is good at his job and I like Waterstones, and Daunt Booksellers, and even some of the new/newly-refreshed Barnes & Noble stores. And there are plenty of places around the country whose only access to a bookstore comes via a Barnes & Noble. But whether one of the Daunt-run bookstores is taking orders from the corporate office or running their own inventory, they’re still a corporate entity—and the distinction between B&N and indie bookstore is an important one to maintain.

    Assuming that the sale goes through, Tattered Cover will no longer be an independent bookstore. Even if everything about the chain—the decor, the staff, the bookmarks—remains the same, the incontrovertible fact will remain that they are now owned by a corporate conglomerate whose recent past was dedicated to running indie bookstores out of business. This kind of consolidation might seem innocuous on the surface but even if it remains that way, it is speeding up our slide towards mono-culture. It’s a damn shame that Tattered Cover was misled by two successive generations of owners following the retirement of longtime owner Joyce Meskis in 2015 and perhaps the store’s closure would have led to a new crop of indies sprouting up like new growth after a cleansing forest fire—but I fear that wouldn’t have been the case. And so booksellers and indie bookstore lovers are left to celebrate this small victory while watching ever-more-warily the wolf who we’ve made common cause with, in the hopes that it won’t turn and gobble us up next.

    Rachel Cusk! Francine Prose! Thom Gunn! 27 new books out today.

    Gabrielle Bellot

    June 18, 2024, 4:03am

    It’s another Tuesday, and—against the depressing impulses of doomscrollers to begin each day with bad news—I fortunately have good news to offer: there’s a veritable salmagundi of new books out today in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. In fact, I have no less than twenty-seven to suggest checking out, with an especially strong showing in nonfiction.

    Below, you’ll find highly anticipated fiction from Akwaeke Emezi, Rachel Cusk, Joseph Earl Thomas, Juliet Escoria, Andrew O’Hagan, Matt Young, and many others. Frederick Joseph has a new poetry collection on offer. And in nonfiction, Francine Prose offers up a personal look at a significant, yet tumultuous literary period; Michael Nott explores the queer life and poetics of Thom Gunn; Trudier Harris examines the inescapable figure of Bigger Thomas from Richard Wright’s seminal novel, Native Son; Tiya Miles has a new book centered around Harriet Tubman’s dreams, philosophy, and beliefs; and more.

    It’s a little treasure trove of tomes. I hope you’ll check out some, or many, of these great new books!

    *

    Little Rot - Emezi, Akwaeke

    Akwaeke Emezi, Little Rot
    (Riverhead)

    “Multimedia polymath and gender-norm disrupter Emezi…examines taboo and trauma in their creative work…Emezi can be counted upon for an ambience of dread and a feverish momentum.”
    The Millions

    Parade - Cusk, Rachel

    Rachel Cusk, Parade
    (FSG)

    Parade pulls off a brilliant, stark and unsettling feat….It pursues and deepens [Cusk’s] lifelong interest in the relationship between art and life in a narrative sequence that also explores fraught alliances between men and women, the nature of gender and the complications involved in losing a parent….While Cusk’s painter concentrates on painting the world upside down, Cusk keeps turning it inside out.”
    The Observer

    God Bless You, Otis Spunkmeyer - Thomas, Joseph Earl

    Joseph Earl Thomas, God Bless You, Otis Spunkmeyer
    (Grand Central Publishing)

    Spunkmeyer is a staggering literary achievement, one of those rare books that breaks and remakes the very idea of the novel. With unflinching courage, luminous spirit, and a virtuosic flow, Joseph Earl Thomas has written a Joycean Ulysses inside a Philly E.R., bodying forth the voice of a true American original.”
    –Roy Scranton

    1974: A Personal History - Prose, Francine

    Francine Prose, 1974: A Personal History
    (Harper)

    “In this, her first memoir, Prose succeeds where many before her have failed, enlivening—without demonizing or idealizing—the valiant, creative, idealistic movement that almost brought capitalism down. The era Prose profiles under the title 1974 produced crucial social advances, and did collateral damage to those, such as Russo, who were driven mad by the effort required. Fortunately…that period also yielded the best book yet by the wildly prolific, astonishingly talented Francine Prose.”
    Los Angeles Times

    Thom Gunn: A Cool Queer Life - Nott, Michael

    Michael Nott, Thom Gunn: A Cool Queer Life
    (FSG)

    “The great achievement of Nott’s biography is that it shows how poetry influenced Gunn’s life and how his life influenced his poetry, discussing, for instance, how reading Shakespeare and Stendhal made Gunn feel ‘as if anything were possible’ and how he intended his 1971 collection, Moly, to be ‘an invitation to discuss homosexuality and LSD.’ The result is a triumphant celebration of a larger-than-life writer.”
    Publishers Weekly

    Bird Milk & Mosquito Bones: A Memoir - Mattoo, Priyanka

    Priyanka Mattoo, Bird Milk & Mosquito Bones: A Memoir
    (Knopf)

    “I was enchanted by Mattoo’s Bird Milk & Mosquito Bones, a remarkably vivid, moving epic of displacement and its aftermath. With brio, insight, and great warmth, this exceptional debut offers, as art can, a lasting home.”
    –R. O. Kwon

    We Alive, Beloved: Poems - Joseph, Frederick

    Frederick Joseph, We Alive, Beloved: Poems
    (Row House)

    “In We Alive, Beloved, a marvelous and heartrending collection of poetry, Frederick Joseph unabashedly confronts some of our most pressing issues with grace and incisiveness. These poems are truth balms. Allow them to trouble your soul. Then soothe it.”
    –Robert Jones, Jr.

    You Are the Snake: Stories - Escoria, Juliet

    Juliet Escoria, You Are the Snake: Stories
    (Soft Skull)

    You Are the Snake expounds upon Juliet Escoria’s original and charming voice. Examining girlhood, desire, and yearning, Escoria’s stories are jolts of electricity that call to mind Mary Gaitskill, Elle Nash, or Julia Armfield, often pulling you in in just a few quick moments.”
    –Sam Franzini

    Devil Is Fine - Vercher, John

    John Vercher, Devil Is Fine
    (Celadon Books)

    “In John Vercher’s profoundly moving Devil Is Fine, an unforeseen and unwanted inheritance of a long-forgotten plantation haunts a mixed-race man with the ghosts of his past and his present while they play hide-and-seek with his sanity. Vercher plays the conceit to perfection in this taut, surreal novel as the legacies of colonialism, racism, and family trauma conspire to push a good man to the very reach of his limits.”
    –Ben Fountain

    Caledonian Road - O'Hagan, Andrew

    Andrew O’Hagan, Caledonian Road
    (Norton)

    “A brilliant, barnstorming state-of-the-nation novel that blasts the doors off shady workplaces, pulls down the facades of high society, and knocks over the ‘good liberal’ house of cards. But Andrew O’Hagan is not only a peerless chronicler of our times. He has other gifts—of generosity, humor, and tenderness—which make this novel an utter joy to read.”
    –Monica Ali

    Bigger: A Literary Life - Harris, Trudier

    Trudier Harris, Bigger: A Literary Life
    (Yale University Press)

    “Bigger Thomas is unquestionably one of the most memorable figures in American fiction. Scrupulously charting his literary life, Trudier Harris richly illuminates the complex meanings of Wright’s masterpiece.”
    –Arnold Rampersad

    Night Flyer: Harriet Tubman and the Faith Dreams of a Free People - Miles, Tiya

    Tiya Miles, Henry Louis Gates (editor), Night Flyer: Harriet Tubman and the Faith Dreams of a Free People
    (Penguin Press)

    “Drawing on and extending accounts of Harriet Tubman’s life…Tiya Miles’s Night Flyer situates Tubman as a thinker, dreamer, and doer. An intellectual, physical, and spiritual force embedded in multiple worlds—ecological, geographical, familial, dream, and spiritual—acquiring and acting on knowledge drawn from each of them. Beautifully conceived and written, Night Flyer speaks powerfully of the worlds Tubman navigated and refused, and to our own perilous times.”
    –Christina Sharpe

    Rooted: The American Legacy of Land Theft and the Modern Movement for Black Land Ownership - Baker, Brea

    Brea Baker, Rooted: The American Legacy of Land Theft and the Modern Movement for Black Land Ownership
    (One World)

    “In her vigorous debut history…[Baker] writes evocatively about Black farmers’ relationship with the land and argues passionately for Black Americans to return to family farms (she’s unabashedly utopian on this point, and her frustration with Black people uninterested in rural life is palpable). Baker keeps tightly focused on the topic and writes in a conversational prose that casually draws on a wide range of thinkers. Educators in particular will find this invaluable.”
    Publishers Weekly

    End of Active Service - Young, Matt

    Matt Young, End of Active Service
    (Bloomsbury)

    “Young writes with howling musicality, bounding between Iraq and Indiana with the dexterity of a pro and the mania of truth. The effect is irresistible, hilarious, and poignant when least expected. At once a raw portrait of trauma and a takedown of macho brouhaha, End of Active Service delivers shock and awe on every page.”
    –Jakob Guanzon

    Four Squares - Finger, Bobby

    Bobby Fingers, Four Squares
    (Putnam)

    “Five stars for Four Squares! A beautiful and immersive story of often achingly relatable moments of being gay and longing for love during trying times. This journey of a writer seeking to perfectly capture imperfect joys of friendships and family—trying to put words to life’s sometimes indescribable experiences—is hopeful, insightful, and absolutely delightful.”
    –Byron Lane

    Sandwich - Newman, Catherine

    Catherine Newman, Sandwich
    (Harper)

    “[Sandwich] practically glows with family feeling….[It] has much in common with Ann Patchett’s Tom Lake, though Patchett’s novel doesn’t have an older generation, a key element here….The laughter begins on the first page…and the great lines and witty observations never stop.”
    The Washington Post

    This Earthly Globe: A Venetian Geographer and the Quest to Map the World - Di Robilant, Andrea

    Andrea di Robilant, This Earthly Globe: A Venetian Geographer and the Quest to Map the World
    (Knopf)

    “What happens when the whole world-picture changes rapidly and decisively?….The epochal voyages of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century tore up the traditional European map of the globe and its inhabitants. Andrea di Robilant’s wonderful book explores a succession of thrilling, often terrifying encounters with the other and reconstructs the career of the visionary collector who gave the public access to knowledge of how profoundly their world had changed.”
    –Stephen Greenblatt

    The Nature of Our Cities: Harnessing the Power of the Natural World to Survive a Changing Planet - Galle, Nadina

    Nadina Galle, The Nature of Our Cities: Harnessing the Power of the Natural World to Survive a Changing Planet
    (Mariner)

    “Where we live has an immense impact on longevity, and as an advocate for healthy living, I understand the pivotal role nature plays in shaping our communities. Galle’s exploration of urban ecology and tech innovation offers hope for transforming our living spaces. I’m optimistic her work will guide us towards practical steps for a greener, brighter future, benefiting generations young and old.”
    Dan Buettner

    Adventures in Volcanoland: What Volcanoes Tell Us about the World and Ourselves (Original) - Mather, Tamsin

    Tamsin Mather, Adventures in Volcanoland: What Volcanoes Tell Us about the World and Ourselves
    (Hanover Square Press)

    “Using gorgeously evocative prose, Adventures in Volcanoland beautifully weaves together personal, cultural, and geological histories. It’s part action-packed research travelogue, part science of volcanoes, and part fascinating examination of the history of human interaction with volcanoes and the indelible impact of volcanoes on nature and societies. Deeply researched and compellingly composed, it’s a luminous literary journey that is at once intimate and galactic, timeless and urgent.”
    –Olivia Campbell

    Same as It Ever Was - Lombardo, Claire

    Claire Lombardo, Same as It Ever Was
    (Doubleday)

    “Lombardo loves her characters, taking time to peel back each of their layers through the time-lapse structure of the novel and her rich descriptions….A sure bet for fans of Richard Russo and Jane Smiley.”
    Booklist

    Make It Count: My Fight to Become the First Transgender Olympic Runner - Telfer, Cecé

    Cecé Telfer, Make It Count: My Fight to Become the First Transgender Olympic Runner
    (Grand Central Publishing)

    “In this intimate glimpse into her life and career, the author candidly shares her story of perseverance to overcome the hateful backlash from her path toward the Olympics, where eligibility rules prevented her from competing in the women’s 400-meter hurdles….An inspirational portrait of trailblazing sports excellence.”
    Kirkus Reviews

    The New Tourist: Waking Up to the Power and Perils of Travel - McClanahan, Paige

    Paige McClanahan, The New Tourist: Waking Up to the Power and Perils of Travel
    (Scribner)

    “In this lively and rewarding book, Paige McClanahan wrestles with the complexities of twenty-first century tourism, deftly exploring the joys and the real-world consequences of world travel. I highly recommend The New Tourist.”
    –Elizabeth Becker

    Playing with Reality: How Games Have Shaped Our World - Clancy, Kelly

    Kelly Clancy, Playing with Reality: How Games Have Shaped Our World
    (Riverhead)

    Playing With Reality is as surprising, and as delightful, as the many games it analyzes. From ancient games of chance to the latest advances in AI, Kelly Clancy has written the definitive account of how we—as individuals and as a society—learn through play.”
    –Steven Johnson

    Happy Apocalypse: A History of Technological Risk - Fressoz, Jean-Baptiste

    Jean-Baptiste Fressoz, Happy Apocalypse: A History of Technological Risk
    (Verso)

    “This book is a luminous enquiry into how society was remade to acquiesce in the risks presented by new medical procedures, new forms of lighting and industrial waste. Instead of fables of ignorance, a naïve belief in progress, or ridiculous opposition to the novel Fressoz shows how, in nineteenth-century France in particular, a powerful environmental consciousness was remolded through complex political and juridical processes to make possible the use of the new…[E]ssential reading.”
    –David Edgerton

    When the Clock Broke: Con Men, Conspiracists, and How America Cracked Up in the Early 1990s - Ganz, John

    John Ganz, When the Clock Broke: Con Men, Conspiracists, and How America Cracked Up in the Early 1990s
    (FSG)

    “A searching history of a time, not so long ago, when the social contract went out the window and Hobbesian war beset America….Ganz makes a convincing, well-documented case that everything old is indeed new again. A significant, provocative work.”
    Kirkus Reviews

    Apprentice in Wonderland: How Donald Trump and Mark Burnett Took America Through the Looking Glass - Setoodeh, Ramin

    Ramin Setoodeh, Apprentice in Wonderland: How Donald Trump and Mark Burnett Took America Through the Looking Glass
    (Harper)

    “It is by now a truism of the Trump era that the 45th president rose to power in large part thanks to the persona he popularized on The Apprentice….Few readers will be surprised to learn that the character he played on the show…was more reality-TV invention than reality. But [Setoodeh]’s peek behind the scenes of…arguably the most consequential television show in history is still revealing….[Setoodeh] also offers new details about the experience of being a woman on the set.”
    The Atlantic

    We Were Illegal: Uncovering a Texas Family's Mythmaking and Migration - Goudeau, Jessica

    Jessica Goudeau, We Were Illegal: Uncovering a Texas Family’s Mythmaking and Migration
    (Viking)

    “This is not just a book about one family, or one state. At a time when history has become a primary battlefield in the culture wars, We Were Illegal models for us how to engage the darker chapters of our individual and collective stories, and shows us why we must. With unflinching honesty and deep empathy, Jessica Goudeau brings readers to a place of hard-earned hope. Thoroughly engrossing, this book is a gift to a divided nation.”
    –Kristen Kobes Du Mez

    The Indian government is planning to prosecute Arundhati Roy.

    Brittany Allen

    June 17, 2024, 1:21pm

    Arundhati Roy, the internationally recognized author and activist, is currently wanted by the Indian authorities. This comes after the Lieutenant General of Delhi granted police permission to prosecute the Booker Prize-winning novelist under a draconian anti-terrorism statute called the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. This statute allows the state to incarcerate a person before they’re given a trial.

    Though long in the crosshairs of India’s far-right administration for her outspoken critique of the BJP (Prime Minister Modi’s proto-fascist ruling party), Roy’s specifically being targeted for remarks she made in a 2010 speech.

    At a conference at the Little Theatre Group in New Delhi, Roy delivered a lecture critiquing India’s “extractive colonial economy,” and the state’s occupation and administration of Kashmir. Her critics at the time decried this as a call for Kashmiri secession.

    Kashmir has been the subject of heated and bloody political debate since Partition. Both India and Pakistan have claimed authority over the region—though per Article 370 in the Indian constitution, it operated as a semi-autonomous state before 2019, when Modi’s government revoked this status.

    In the years since, resistance to Indian rule has grown there. Roy catalogued this movement in her 2020 essay collection, Azadi: Freedom, Fascism, Fiction—which book takes its name from a Kashmiri resistance cry, and the Urdu word for freedom. Elsewhere, she’s enunciated a strong critique of Hindu nationalism.

    The liberal diaspora is rallying around their beloved national hero, who was believed to be above this kind of high-profile indictment. In The Guardian, India’s Communist party denounced the arrest order as “condemnable,” and noted its extra-suspicious timing: Indian courts are currently on vacation.

    The author and journalist Siddhartha Deb also asserted some bad faith suspicions on Democracy Now this morning. “This case is so convoluted, it’s hard to say where it begins and where it ends—and that’s the point,” she said. “The process is the punishment.”

    Many believe that Modi’s party resurrected the 14 year old charges as an attempt to assert cultural power after recent electoral setbacks stripped the BJP of its parliamentary majority.

    Under Modi’s reign, many culture workers and activists have been silenced or imprisoned for dissent.

    Along with Roy, Dr. Sheikh Showkat Hussain, a former professor at the Central University of Kashmir is also being targeted by authorities at this time.

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