Magazine article New Internationalist

Hunger Unpublished. How Mark Axelrod Lined Up Some of the World's Finest Writers on One of the World's Biggest Issues, and Still Couldn't Get Them into Print

Magazine article New Internationalist

Hunger Unpublished. How Mark Axelrod Lined Up Some of the World's Finest Writers on One of the World's Biggest Issues, and Still Couldn't Get Them into Print

Article excerpt

Hunger unpublished

How Mark Axelrod lined up some of the world's finest writers on one of the world's biggest issues - and still couldn't get them into print.

IN 1992, AS THE SUN SET on President Bush and rose on President Clinton (two sides of the same star), I had witnessed the situation in Somalia with both consternation and perplexity. Being a mere purveyor of words, I really had no idea of what I could do to help remedy that horror, or any other horror whose focus was hunger. But sitting on a sofa, watching the nightly news and feeling impotent to effect change is not the principle on which remedial action gets taken. What could I do that would get me off the couch and into the universal melee?

Eventually I came upon the idea of organizing and editing a collection of fiction, poetry and essays by writers from all over the world, using a publisher who would donate the profits to a foundation whose mission was to help remedy the burden of hunger. My goal was to interest writers who had either experienced or understood the debilitating effects of hunger and who could express that.

And so I set myself the task of writing to as many writers as I could to see if they would contribute. Over the course of four years I have written to over 200 of them and received positive responses from Martin Amis, Margaret Atwood, Christine Brooke - Rose, JM Coetzee, Maryse Conde, Ariel Dorfman, Raymond Federman, Eduardo Galeano, Allen Ginsberg, Gunther Grass, Alasdair Gray, Lucia Guerra, Wilson Harris, Thomas Keneally, Maxine Hong Kington, Doris Lessing, Alejandro Morales, Giose Rimanelli, Marcio Souza, Wole Soyinka, Ben Stoltzfus, Ronald Sukenick, Luisa Valenzuela, Gerald Vizenor and Elie Wiezel.

There were a lot of missing writers - noble and Nobel Prize winners - who did not wish to participate. But I had a dozen or so of the world's finest writers, all of whom were committed to contributing prose or poetry of some kind. All I needed was a publisher whose interest in social responsibility was forthright and sincere.

I first contacted Grove Press, thinking that such a distinguished publisher of noble causes would surely be interested. And they were. For a time. Until the day came when they informed me that 'the collection would not make much money'. I didn't think that making a lot of money - at least for the publisher - was the point. But I was wrong. Profitability was the point. How naive. And in my naiveteI marveled at the loss of the pro bono spirit of publishing. No 'kinder, gentler' humanists there. I discovered bottom - line guys and dolls whose quest for the absolute seemed to hinge on a 'new' collection of Aesop's Fables or a redesigned cover of Tolstoy or Trollope. …

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