This is my final (maybe?) essay in my series More Confessions From an Educated Fool. I do need help, to keep me from self-publishing a third book, to make the leap into writing beyond the freelancing. I ask, but I don’t think I ask correctly. Or, maybe people just don’t like me. Anyway, the essay is less than 1,000 words. Please read.
Make no mistake. This post is a plea for help to reach the next stage as a writer, to get a book out into the world with some measure of success. I’d prefer not to go the route of the self-published manuscript this time, where the book has no chance to reach more than a few hundred people or maybe a couple thousand people. For those who are better positioned as writers, I’m not asking for your first-born child. However, if you have enjoyed my stories, my blog, or my published work over the years, maybe, put in a word with an agent if you have one? Or, maybe, if I ask you to read a chapter of my latest ms, that you read it and give me feedback? Or, maybe even, just the least bit of encouragement to hang in there?
My latest manuscript is titled Narcissism, American Style: Essays on Racism, Narcissism, and How to Get to a Post-Western World. (I do have an alternative title, Sage’s Gold.) It was originally supposed to be a series of essays on America’s narcissism, its origins, permutations, and the damage it has done and will do to the world if left unchecked. After I had published a piece in The Atlantic on the hidden psychological costs of college education for first-gen students five years ago, I did a heat check, put together an initial proposal and a cover letter, and sent out my idea to agents. Two immediately responded, but said no (or didn’t respond) after I sent them my initial drafts. Oh well!
Then, I started writing out the essays, all to figure out what direction this book should take. I had two epiphanies along the way. One, I needed to make my mostly US-focused book one that challenged the West, and that meant testing out parts of essays as articles. Two, I needed to figure out where this world is headed as long as the US and the West remain steadfast in leading and exploiting resources and lives.
That’s where all my articles with Al Jazeera come in. After years of mostly writing articles on education and Black and US identity, I mostly dropped looking at K-16 education reform and debates in 2017. Al Jazeera gradually gave me the platform to write about my topic for an international audience. And despite Al Jazeera’s flaws, it was an opportunity I needed.
But after a while, having figured out how to turn longer essays into digestible article- and op-ed-length chunks, the obvious question to me was, Who’s gonna offer me a contract for a collection of essays that were mostly published as articles internationally — especially in these elite New York streets? That was in the fall of 2018. It occurred to me that I could take another approach, to embed these essays as conversations about a post-Western and post-US world. That made me think of Derrick Bell and his best-selling allegories, published as the nonfiction books And We Are Not Saved and Faces at the Bottom of the Well. Bell demonstrated the necessity of critical race theory to describe the permanence of racism within the American matrix in both books. I needed to do something similar, an ms where systems of racist and class-based oppression had been destroyed as part of the climate-change apocalypse, but the narcissism of our current age lingered on in this new world order.
In early 2017, I had written a post where I envisioned a descendant of mine in Olivia, and what her post-Western and post-US world might look like. I sensed this could be useful in furthering my book idea. I began writing up allegories based on my vision of Olivia in 2018, and worked them out for most of 2019. I wasn’t sure I could completely mesh these allegories with the fuller version of my published pieces, or with those essays I hadn’t published. This was why I asked friends, colleagues, frenemies even, to take a look at earlier drafts. My PhD-ed colleagues mostly didn’t get it. My writer buddies told me they liked it, with two telling me “less is more.” Or, they were like, “Can you even sell this in today’s market?”
Then I fully committed. After separating the nonfiction essays from the allegories about Olivia’s world to rework them as standalones, I sensed in my bones that they needed each other. I spent much of 2020 writing and rewriting to bring the two halves together, but cutting and rewriting anything that didn’t fit. Once I got sections to the point of “this works,” I began contacting publishers, agents, and colleagues again. Some obviously liked what they read, but because Narcissism, American Style was now both nonfiction essays and speculative allegorical fiction, they didn’t “know how to sell this book.” It didn’t matter that I identified Bell, Patricia J. Williams, Kiese Laymon, Octavia Butler, and Erica Armstrong Dunbar (among others) who had successfully done what I am doing now in varying degrees with their books.
This is where I stand right now, about to make another run at finding a publisher this fall. I need any and all help I can get. I have previously reached out to folks who have agreed to read and critique, and then, nothing. Sometimes, I find myself trusting no one. The pandemic has made this mistrust worse. If people can’t consistently keep a mask on, how can I put faith in anyone to read my manuscript with care and honesty, assuming they actually read it at all? It would be one thing if I didn’t think my work was good enough. But even the most self-disparaging of writers knows when they’ve written something publishable, if not for themselves, then for the world. This is my Hail Mary. I pray someone will see or sense it, and respond.