[Last week, I had the chance to attend a national meeting of the Scholars Strategy Network, a vital public scholarly organization of which I’ve been a Member for almost four years. So this week I wanted to share a few sides to my work with SSN, leading up to a weekend post on that national meeting and SSN’s expanding role in Trump’s America!]
On SSN and the moment that changed everything in my career.
As of November 2010, the same month when I began this blog, I began trying to write op ed pieces for newspapers on histories that I believed were missing from contemporary debates over issues like immigration and diversity in America. Over the next four years I drafted and re-drafted a number of such pieces, waiting for moments when the particular issue would rise to the top of the news cycle once again and then sending the pieces out to various newspapers’ op ed pages. I apologize to any editors if I’m forgetting them, but as best I can remember I not only never got any of those op eds published (that I know for sure), but also never received a reply of any kind to any of those submissions (other than the automatic form-reply sent upon initial submission). While I didn’t entirely give up on the possibility (indeed, I kept revising and re-sending the pieces when suitable occasions arose), I have to admit that it started to feel like a minor and largely quixotic pursuit within the overall frame of my career, a way to pretend (I wouldn’t have used that particular word at the time, but I’m trying to reflect as honestly as I can) that I was aiming for public scholarly connections and audience beyond those that this blog or my books or other publications could reach.
In November 2014, thanks to the Scholars Strategy Network, and specifically to its then-Media Director (now Executive Director) Avi Green, that all changed. President Obama was preparing to deliver a prominent, televised speech on his immigration (and Dream Act)-related Executive Order, and I was preparing a new version of my immigration histories op ed (now based in part on the many book talks I had given for The Chinese Exclusion Act: What It Can Teach Us about America ). But this time I shared the piece with Avi first, and—after ruthlessly and crucially forcing me to cut it down and make it more engaging—he encouraged me to place it with Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall’s website on all things American politics and society. With the help of Avi’s contacts there, my revised immigration op ed, “No, Your Ancestors Didn’t Come Here Legally,” was published on TPM Café; the piece would go on to receive more than 110,000 views, land at #4 on the list of TPM Café’s most viewed posts from 2014, and become the first of more than two dozen biweekly pieces of mine for TPM (and a model for the pieces I’ve written and continued to write for numerous other websites, including my most recent ongoing work as a blogger for the Huffington Post).
There’s a lot that I could say about that moment and what it meant for me, but I think my main takeaway would have to be that it, and thus Avi and SSN, helped me realize for the first time the unique and vital role that short-form online writing can play in a 21st century public scholarly career. Despite my four years of blogging experience, I had mostly to that point been thinking about op eds as shorter versions of my other print publications, and thus had been sending them to print media like newspapers. For TPM, and with Avi’s help (as well as that of Nona Willis Aronowitz [especially] and David Kurtz, the TPM editors with whom I worked during my tenure there), I began to think about online public scholarly pieces as their own genre, one somewhat parallel to posts on this blog but with a voice, style, and emphasis on audience engagement all their own. Moreover, those evolutions in my voice and style became significant parts of my most recent book and, even more so, the book on exclusion and inclusion that I’m beginning now. To put it bluntly, I don’t know that any aspects of my public scholarly career over the last 2.5 years would have been possible without SSN and that TPM link—and I know that they would have been greatly impoverished at the very least.
Next SSN post tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Thoughts on SSN, or other organizations or efforts you’d highlight?
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