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What Role Should Publishers Play in Political Activism?

By Edward Nawotka, Editor-in-Chief

stack of six booksToday marks the three year anniversary of the failed Green Revolution in Iran, an occasion we mark by pointing to the global success of Zahra’s Paradise, a wildly popular graphic novel about a protester who disappears. Over the year’s we’ve looked at several stories that discuss the various ways in which publishers have become politically active, including

Very often, politics and publishing can’t help but mix. At some imprints, it’s even entire point, as discussed in our feature about the UK’s Telegram Books, “Publishing as Politics, Publishing with Purpose.” Of course, this also raises the question of where a publisher should also draw the line.

Pamphleteering, propaganda and agit-prop have long been a part of the publishing process. It’s here to stay. So long as publishers stick to their ideals — whatever they may be — and are true to their audience, we can live with that. But as soon as the feeling creeps in that the publishers are being bought-and-paid for to become part of a larger political machine, it becomes far more troubling. All all too often it seems publishers are creeping closer and closer to that line.

So tell us, what do you thing: what role should publishers play in political activism?

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  1. Cristina Sanchez
    Posted June 13, 2012 at 6:20 am | Permalink

    A “political” perspective is as inherent to human thought as any other feeling or perspective.
    To discard politics of book contents is as much as ruling out romance, misery, anguish or any other human element of our lifes.
    I am not meaning panphlets as political texts, but politics is “traversing human life, now as ever it has.

  2. Posted June 13, 2012 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    As a non-profit publisher with an ostensibly political mandate–we support struggling or under appreciated writers who speak to environmental and social responsibility, Native American issues, etc.–we believe that all literature is political. Silence itself is political. We primarily publish nuanced literary-quality fiction, poetry, and narrative nonfiction, not screeds or propaganda pamphlets, but we believe that work which does not reach out and attempt to weigh in on the issues of the day, at least minimally on the level of the personal, does not reach a standard of “literary quality.” All great literature takes a stand.

  3. Posted June 13, 2012 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    It depends on what your role as publisher is. It would be improper for a university press, for instance, to become an organ of any political movement; its main purpose is to publish scholarship of the highest quality, irrespective of whatever political point of view it may express. By contrast, a publisher like South End Press or Zed Books or The Monthly Review Press has a political goal as part of its rationale for being a publisher, and I see nothing wrong with this. Even an organ of state, like International Publishers used to be in publishing the works of Engels and Marx, can perform a useful service; the volumes in its Collected Works were fabulously well done and extremely cheap.

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