creative:impact - Wittily writing about current affairs with irony and wit
Humor is the antidote for the world’s imperfection. Amanda Uhle, publisher of McSweeney’s and a freelance journalist, relies on her talent, plus a healthy dose of satire to tackle many of the most “untouchable” issues out there. She is also devoted to developing the voice of youth. Hear how she does it when she joins "creative:impact" host Deb Polich of Creative Washtenaw.
Creative industries in Washtenaw County add hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy. In the weeks and months to come, 89.1 WEMU's David Fair and co-host Deb Polich, the President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, explore the myriad of contributors that make up the creative sector in Washtenaw County.
ABOUT AMANDA UHLE:
Amanda Uhle is Executive Director and Publisher of McSweeney’s, known for its award-winning quarterly literary journal, humor website and eclectic book publishing program as well as children’s art & storytelling magazine Illustoria. She is co-founder, with Dave Eggers, of The International Congress of Youth Voices. For more than 11 years, Uhle was executive director 826michigan, a nonprofit tutoring and writing center for school-aged students in Detroit, Ann Arbor, and Ypsilanti. Trained as a journalist, she writes independently and is sometimes host of the author interview radio program and podcast, Living Writers. She remains involved with numerous youth writing organizations in Michigan and around the world, supporting their fundraising and programming as a volunteer consultant. Her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, Newsweek, Think Progress, LitHub, and other publications and is forthcoming in the Delacorte Review.
McSweeney’s, founded in 1998 by author Dave Eggers, is a San Francisco-based independent publisher with a worldwide reach. We are known for our unmistakable voice and our large, discerning, devoted audience who trusts us to introduce them to new ideas and essential voices. For twenty-three years, McSweeney’s has published innovative fiction, nonfiction, poetry, humor, and more, while cultivating talented emerging writers and visual artists and a growing, vibrant community of readers and supporters. We publish books, Illustoria children’s magazine, a daily humor website, and McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern. Our literary journal is a three-time winner and eight-time finalist for the National Magazine Award for Fiction, whose 2019 judges cited our “assured spirit and commitment to surprise.” Few words could better capture the ethos of what we do and why we’re here.
International Congress of Youth Voices
"Trump still texts me constantly, like a bad ex-boyfriend" - Washington Post - December 16, 2021 at 9:04 a.m. EST
"Rush Limbaugh taught me to be a feminist" - Washington Post - February 18, 2021 at 2:27 p.m. EST
"Kids Are Wonderfully Weird. They Need Spaces That Celebrate and Encourage That" | Opinion Newsweek - ON 3/5/20 AT 12:36 PM EST
Deb Polich: Welcome to creative:impact on WEMU, eighty nine point one FM. I'm Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, and your solo host for the show until David returns from medical leave. Thank you for listening each week as we welcome creative guests and explore how their creative businesses, products, programs, and services impact and add to Washtenaw County's quality of life, place and economy. I'm very excited to introduce our guest today. Amanda Uhle is yet another one of Washtenaw County's creative national influencers. Amanda is the executive director and publisher of McSweeney's and a freelance journalist whose work appears regularly in the media, such as The Washington Post and Newsweek. Amanda, welcome to creative:impact.
Amanda Uhle: Thanks for having me, Deb. So nice to talk.
Deb Polich: So excited. We've known each other for quite some time, and I've just admired your career. So McSweeney's, you know, first, I'm a fan. Although I don't think I can do it justice by describing it, how do you describe McSweeney to people?
Amanda Uhle: I would love to describe it. I think, you know, many, many people, most people who know us, know us by our daily humor website. We run, we call it Daily Humor Almost Every Day at McSweeney's dot net.
Deb Polich: That gives you an opportunity, if you skip a day.
Amanda Uhle: It does, because we're a small nonprofit, ultimately. But, millions of people read our humor site every day. And, certainly, a satire website. You know, we skewer current events pretty regularly and, you know, it's a wonderful portal, I think, into the rest of what we do, which honestly has smaller audiences. But the work is equally important, and it leans a little bit more on the artistic side. So, we also publish about 10 books per year. And then, we have a literary magazine called McSweeney's Quarterly, which is redesigned each time by artists. So, it's a book, but it's also sometimes not a book. Sometimes, it's a box of fiction and art, presented artfully in different ways. And then, we, furthermore, publish Illustoria Magazine, which is a storytelling art magazine for kids.
Deb Polich: Wow. So, you mentioned that McSweeney's is a nonprofit. You know, I'm going to expect that when you're studying journalism, that, except for maybe National Public Radio, there wasn't mention of nonprofit media models. Why did McSweeney's choose to do business as a nonprofit, and does that model offer you any benefits?
Amanda Uhle: It really does. So, we were founded in 1998 by the author, Dave Eggers, and he started the website in a sort of different form, also primitively designed, sort of basic, but then also the literary journal. And he started it just as a traditional company. It was a limited partnership.
Deb Polich: OK.
Amanda Uhle: That was 23 years ago. So that McSweeney's spent its first roughly 20 years as a so-called for profit. But, in truth, you know, we always, always for 23 years have made decisions based on editorial bravery and artistic values, rather than on a profit and loss statement. So, McSweeney's was not usually profitable, and we found that what we needed was to engage our community of donors and supporters, as well as, you know, earning revenue from selling books. So, that's our model now, and it really does allow us to be, I think, even bolder in our editorial choices, even stronger in our convictions about what we want to publish. We don't have to publish things just to make money. We can publish things that are bold and brave and important and beautiful on their own merits.
Deb Polich: So, exactly as so many passion projects are, you know, great content and then also done because there's such a great mission. You know, you mentioned Dave Eggers, and for those who may not know, he is the best-selling author of such award-winning books as "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius," "What is the What," "Zeitoun," and "The Circle." And, from the outside, it seems like you and Dave have a really great partnership. But I wanted you to take us inside, which I'm sure that that partnership shows, too. But how do you decide whose work and what McSweeney's publishes?
Amanda Uhle: Oh, certainly. Well, you know, it's a pretty inclusive process, and I think that that's one of the things that has been expanded and formalized in our nonprofit hood, which is actually pretty new. You know, that's one of the things that was formalized after I took the took the reins at McSweeney's in about 2018. But we have a broad network of editors that we work with, not just on our staff. Our staff is only about six full-time people, so we're pretty small.
Deb Polich: Mm hmm.
Amanda Uhle: But we do have an editorial group. And so, we have an editor of our quarterly, who receives submissions and works with other editors to sort of formalize things for books. Books usually come to me, but I never decide alone. So, we work with our entire staff and then a number of other editors that we trust. Our readers give us input because it is a community organization in that way. It's national, but we definitely sort of spread out the decision-making power that way.
Deb Polich: This is creative:impact on WEMU eighty nine point one. Our guest is Amanda Uhle. She is the executive director and publisher of McSweeney's and a freelance journalist whose work appears regularly in media such as The Washington Post and Newsweek under such titles as "Trump Still Texts Me Constantly like a Bad Ex-boyfriend."
Amanda Uhle: I didn't know how you were going to do that, huh?
Deb Polich: Well, "Kids Are Wonderfully Weird. They Need Spaces That Celebrate and Encourage That." And then "Rush Limbaugh Taught Me to be a Feminist." You know, you mentioned humor. There's such irony and satire and much that you do for the magazine, but also the kind of goes over into your own publications, your own writing.
Amanda Uhle: The world is funny. I mean, I don't think I'm a particularly funny writer, but I do like to note just the funny things and we're in a funny--I mean, a scary time--but a funny time in a world where these contradictions and what people believe and, you know, how we see ourselves are, I think, worth pointing out.
Deb Polich: So, what kind of response do you get a piece from a piece like "Trump Still Texts Me Constantly?" Is it what you hope for when you write it?
Amanda Uhle: I don't know. You know, I don't write it for responses, but I do get a lot of responses, and I receive a lot of really nice emails and letters. I also receive a fair amount of kind of ugly email that I don't read all of. But I can tell if it's ugly, you know, before--
Deb Polich: That's got to take discipline.
Amanda Uhle: Yeah. I mean, you know, what do I expect? I can't. I'm not complaining about it. I think that, you know, if you write about hatred toward women and misogyny on the internet, you might get some coming back.
Deb Polich: Yeah.
Amanda Uhle: That's how I see it, and it doesn't bother me too much. But, yeah, people respond to it. And it's really heartening to see that, you know, the readers are out there and listening a little bit.
Deb Polich: So, have you ever pitched a story to a national media source that was too provocative or too out there? And what do you do? Do you just turn it into one of your Living Writers podcasts or something that publishes it elsewhere?
Amanda Uhle: Well, I certainly don't get told yes every time.
Deb Polich: OK.
Amanda Uhle: I have an idea. So that was, I think, everyone who's ever written or tried to publish knows that rejection is a big part of the plan. Yeah, I mean, I certainly don't aim to be provocative in what I publish and what I write. But I guess sometimes I am.
Deb Polich: Well, that's that bravery that you speak of.
Amanda Uhle: Yeah.
Deb Polich: So, you know, those wonderfully weird kids you write about--on your own and with Dave Eggers--you lead or mentor, a number of youth-based programs and projects. You know, what do you offer those kids, and what really do you get in return?
Amanda Uhle: Well, working with, I think you probably mentioned before, I was director of 826Michigan, which is a local, nonprofit writing center here for years and years, and that work of establishing a volunteer-led work with young writers and communities is, I think, some of the most important work there is. And, yes, Dave and I work to support organizations all over the country and all over the world that are doing that kind of work. You know, allowing young people to simply practice writing, I think, it gives a gift back to all of us in the future, ensuring that young people have that dexterity with writing, that confidence, that ability to say I am a writer, or I am good at writing. That's, I think, all that we're really trying to do with those programs is help build that confidence and comfort level with writing with young people. And the benefits are enormous. I mean, there are benefits in the moment if you're a volunteer, if anybody listening wants to volunteer with 826Michigan, I encourage it. But the benefits are that young people will do what you do, Deb, and what other artists and writers in our community do--work to articulate who they are and what their ideas are, and that can only make the world stronger and better, I think.
Deb Polich: Well, knowing that your voice is worth hearing and expression is possible is so empowering to anybody, and thank you for leading that kind of work here at 826Michigan and across the world. So, Amanda, what's up next on your horizon? We just got a half a second left, or maybe a little bit more than that. But what's up next? Anything new?
Amanda Uhle: Well, I'm excited we always have new things coming out. So, there's our website, of course. But then we've really seen our subscriptions for our literary magazine take off this last year and to Illustoria, which is our kids art magazine. And so, we just have seen those subscriber numbers grow, and we can't wait to do more in the year ahead.
Deb Polich: That sounds terrific. That's Amanda Uhle, executive director and publisher of McSweeney's and a freelance journalist, whose work appears regularly in media across the country. Learn more about Amanda, McSweeney's, her Living Writers podcast, and find links to a few of her articles at WEMU dot org. Please join me next week for another creative Washtenaw guest. I'm Deb Polich, President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw and your solo host for Creative Impact until David returns. This is your community NPR Radio Station 89 one WEMU and WEMU HD One Ypsilanti.
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