How do you tell the story of Occupy Wall Street? An anonymous collective called "Writers for the 99%" is trying to do just that, creating a book for progressive publisher OR Books using a revolutionary writing method inspired by the movement's own democratic structure.
The book was announced yesterday, and OR Books co-founder, Colin Robinson, told The Huffington Post that their chosen writing method is both "terrifying and exhilarating." He spoke to us on the telephone from his home in New York.
Who are 'Writers for the 99%'?
I can't tell you at this point. They are a mix of people who are active in the occupation, and people who are supportive of it. Some of them are quite well-known writers.
Who approached whom?
We approached them. I've been going down to the occupation since it started, because it's such a great thing. I know a lot of people who are involved in it.
When did you think it was a good subject for a book?
About two weeks ago. It's going to describe what happened over the first month of the occupation. It's not an analytical book, it's too early to develop an analysis, I think. This is also not a neutral book, it's a book in support of the occupation.
While events are still fresh in people's minds, what we can do is put together their recollections on what happened. People's perception does change over time, which is one of the reasons for doing something so quickly. There's a kind of rawness to the fact that it won't have the benefit of hindsight to it.
We really want to give the feel of being involved in the action, and that extraordinary feeling of solidarity that you get when you go into the park. If we can convey that to an audience that hasn't been involved, then I think it will great in terms of helping to spread the action.
Is it going to be a guide on 'How To Occupy'?
I think that's going to be a large part of it. It's going to drill down into the daily detail of life in the square, which is a remarkable thing. They've constructed an alternative society in the middle of Wall Street.
I think the quotidian detail of what's happening there is very interesting - how the general assembly runs, how the kitchen runs, how they're running security, the medical center and the meditation center, all those things. We want to tell the story of how those developed, and to tell the stories of the people involved in them. I think, if this book's going to work, it's going to bring a lot of detail vividly to life.
What is the writing process?
We're going to do about two weeks of interviews with people who have been involved with the occupation, some carried out by people who have been in the occupation, and then we're going to spend two weeks with a team of writers, writing it as prose. We want to try and keep this as open and as participatory as we can, because that's the spirit of the occupation.
The shape of the book will be to some degree determined by the input of people at our meetings. It's not just going to be me sitting down deciding this is the structure of the book.
There will be discussion in open groups. We're going to try and operate it through the basis of consensus, the way the occupation does. You can't have consensus over every sentence of the book, obviously. But I think we can discuss it collectively and try to come up with an approach and a structure that the people who want to be involved in the book broadly agree on.
On the other hand, the occupation is a political movement, and this is a book, so you can't work in exactly the same way. In the end, a small group of people are gong to have to write it, because it's not going to be just reprinted interviews, it's going to be a narrative. To do that, you can't write by a committee.
Have you ever made a book in this way before?
No. (Laughs) It's an absolute nightmare. But I think there's something very exciting about it too. I'm a publisher, I've been doing progressive political books all my life, and I'm thrilled by Occupy Wall Street. I think it's one of the greatest actions that I've ever witnessed first hand.
So to try to bring the skills that we've got in editing and writing to help build the movement is something I regard as a great privilege. It's sort of exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.
How current will its content be?
We're talking about having copies of the book December 17th, which means we're going to have to have it typeset and ready to go to the printer in the first week of December.
We're very, very fast. We're quite different from other publishing companies, we only sell print on demand or eBooks via the internet. The rather protracted length of time involved in the conventional distribution system is not an issue for us, and because we're print on demand, we print much faster than conventional publishers.
Will you update the book as events develop?
We haven't decided that yet, but certainly our system of publishing allows us to do that very very easily, and we might do that. We'll just have to see how it goes.
Do you think that you will donate copies of the book to the ad hoc libraries that have sprung up as part of the Occupy demonstrations?
I do now! That's a great idea.
"Occupying Wall Street: The Inside Story of an Action that Changed the Course of America" (OR Books, $15 paperback/$10 eBook) will be published on December 17th. All profits will be given to the Occupy Wall Street movement.
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