Welcome to the National Writers Union

The National Writers Union UAW Local 1981 is the only labor union that represents freelance writers.

Now, more than ever, with the consolidation of power into the hands of ever-larger corporate entities and with the advent of technologies that facilitate the exploitation of a writer’s work, writers need an organization with the clout and know-how to protect our interests. One that will forge new rules for a new era.

Combining the strength of more than 1,200 members in our 13 chapters with the support of the United Automobile Workers, the NWU works to advance the economic and working conditions of all writers.  Our members also directly benefit from the many valuable services the Union offers—including grievance assistance, contract advice, and much more—while actively contributing to a growing movement of professional freelancers who have banded together to assert their collective power.

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Special Announcements

02/04/2015 - 7:33pm

By Esther Cohen

I grew up in Ansonia, Connecticut, a small factory town outside of New Haven. In high school it was easier to get a job in New Haven, so I worked at the Yale School of Art and Architecture. My job was to file. I am the worst possible filer.

One day, the head of the department, a famous Russian architect, asked if I knew anything about books. I told him, “yes.” His book about white space— What is white space? I can’t really tell you—was the first volume I worked on. So it was ignorance and arrogance that launched my incipient career. 

Over these many years, I’ve continued to work on books the way some people knit, exercise or watch TV. I am not an academic, and I’m not especially knowledgeable, but books have become my life. I love them, and somehow I know how they work, how they are pieced together, how, even, to write one. The subject doesn’t much matter.

WE PUBLISHED BECKET IN HEBREW

For some years I worked in book publishing, as an editor, and later as publisher of a small company, based in New York and Jerusalem. Our books were in Hebrew, English and Arabic. (We published Beckett in Hebrew, so you can imagine the sales.) And I’ve had many jobs that had nothing to do with books. But there’s always been a book or two that I’ve worked on.

Sometimes people ask what a book doctor does. What’s the actual work involved. Think of any kind of doctor, say a general practitioner. A thousand things could be wrong, but they are always the same: flu, sciatica, sleeplessness, indigestion... People harbor ideas for years. Broad notions. Let’s say you want to write a book about mothers-in-law: A commercial book about the reality, the problem, and ways to make the relationship better. You take notes. And notes. But how to put them together, say what you really want to say, how to turn the idea into a book… This is what I know how to do.

Many people long to write a book, but don’t know how to begin. A few years ago America’s most successful commercial romance novelist Nora Roberts (we share an agent, and there the similarities end) was interviewed in the New Yorker about how she writes two books a year. Always. She gave the best possible advice. The secret, she said, is to put your ass into the chair.

And she’s right. I can help you once you’re sitting there, help you to figure out what you really want to say, and what process will work for you to get you from your idea—the idea you’ve had forever—to a real book that you can hold in your hands, or pull up on Kindle.

ON TREES! ON RECIPES! ON NIGERIA!

For those who need nurturing and support through the process, I help them begin and then, the harder part, continue on to the final page. Most people are furthered along by having a clear process, by sending me pages on Tuesday every week, and by knowing that by Thursday, I’ll write back about their pages On trees! On recipes! On poems about Nigeria!

Some people have an unruly manuscript that is all pages and no narrative. I put those pages together so that they make sense. Some people obsess about whether or not to find an agent, how to write a query letter, how to understand the process. And today, because we have so many options for books, because there are so many choices for self publishing, some people want to know what would be the best option for them. Should they self publish? And if they do, how can they find readers? Having many options is wonderful and frightening. Most of us need help knowing how to negotiate the complicated path.

A few years ago I wrote a novel about this called The Book Doctor. The chorus, in the form of query letters is, I Want to Write a Book. You are not alone; most of us do.

Esther Cohen sends poems most days from esthercohen.com. She’s a cultural activist, writes as much as she can, and lives in a rent-stabilized apartment in New York City with her longtime husband, Peter Odabashian, a documentary filmmaker.

Photo Courtesy: the author; WritingSisters.com


 

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02/04/2015 - 7:30pm

(Left to right) Sue Katz, Susan Chernilo, Barry Hock, Charles Coe, Bill Martin, Barbara Mende, John Hodge and Barbara Beckwith.

More than 60 nervy New Englanders showed up for the Boston Chapter’s book party in late January. Every year, the chapter celebrates members’ books published over the previous 12 months (click here to see a PDF of the books). This year’s 24 titles included novels, short stories, poetry, memoir, history, photojournalism and guides. Publishers ranged from Scribner, Norton and Simon & Schuster, to small and independent publishers, to the radical/Marxist/anarchist PM Press. Sue Katz brought depth and verve to her mistress of ceremonies’ duties, and six authors read brief excerpts from their books. Guest speaker William Martin, best-selling author of historical novels including Harvard Yard, Back Bay and The Lincoln Letter, spoke about what his genre does that biography and history books may not: Allow us to feel how people from past eras—famous or not—lived and faced the dramatic challenges of their times. During the three-hour event, writers and book lovers enjoyed delicious food, bought books, bid on silent auction items, and reveled in being part of a union that backs authors who write for love and money.

Photo Courtesy: Boston Chapter


 

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01/18/2015 - 8:37pm

January 17 is the 100th anniversary of the union anthem "Solidarity Forever." See NWU member Jonathan Rosenbloom's excellent article on the history of the song and the author here: http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/17542/solidarity_forever

 You can also find it on Labor Notes.

 


 

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01/15/2015 - 8:53pm

By Marivir R. Montebon

New York, January 13 – Today was the second and final meeting between NWU and visiting writers and playwrights from the Zhejiang Provincial Writers Association of China. Today’s meeting was hosted by the CUNY Murphy Institute’s US-China Exchange Project.  It was an insightful sharing, where in the advent of globalization, the Chinese people and government are making efforts to protect native Chinese cultures, dealing with farmer migration to the cities, and coping with digital technology through an enriching literature.

Project director Diane Frey welcomed the four writers from the Zhejiang Province: Zang Jun, a commentator and vice president of the Zhejiang Provincial Writers Association; Zhu Xiongwei, novelist and vice president of the Ningbo Writers Association; Wang Liansheng, also a novelist and vice president of the Hangzhou Writers Association, and Wang Tianqiang, translator and director of the Zhejiang International Cultural Association.

Over the two days of meetings, the NWU delegation included President Larry Goldbetter, NY Chapter Chair Tim Sheard, Calvin Ramsey, Chris Rhomberg, Wun Kuen Ng, Terry Schwadron, Marivir Montebon, Mauricion Niebla, Roy Murphy and Yusef Salaam. Today’s meeting also included CUNY professors May Ying Chen and William Herbert

Some of the questions explored were: Are Chinese writers well paid? How is China coping with globalization and urban migration? Is science-fiction used as a vehicle to raise social issues?

Mr. Wang Liansheng said that science fiction stories are very popular in China, similar to Star Wars in the U.S. He noted that social issues are mostly dealt with by other writers. Zhu Xiongwei noted that tens of millions of rural workers have migrated to the cities in the past twenty years, creating "nostalgia" for Chinese culture and tradition, as well as a huge market of online readers. He said that the central government is protecting native cultures by funding local events and spaces (such as temples) and cultural practices so that these art forms remain accessible. "The rural culture is the foundation of Chinese society. The society will be ruined if the culture is uprooted. The rural culture is like the dreamland of the Chinese people," he said in English translation. 

Wang Liansheng said that some writers have as many as 20 to 30 million readers, and they are very well paid. His novel was made into a TV series in his province. As many as 30,000 online writers cater to the migrant readers. 

China is one of the world's largest economies with 1.3 billion people, the world's largest population. 

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01/08/2015 - 8:37am

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12/12/2014 - 5:08pm

GOODBYE & HELLO

By Larry Goldbetter

I’m sad to report that Akil Pinckney, the longest-serving NWU employee (14 years), is leaving us to pursue his acting career full time. Everyone of you has likely interacted with him at some point. Serving as our membership-and-benefits coordinator, as well as our bookkeeper, he’s always treated everyone with the utmost care, patience and respect. A decade ago, during the mayhem of embezzlement, followed by the administratorship, he provided consistency in the national office. In 2011, when we faced a serious leadership crisis, Akil was instrumental in helping us rebuild our financial database reports and seeing us through the storm. 

On a personal note, Akil and I comforted each other when each of our moms died, and we’ve shared a valued friendship in both good times and bad. Over the years, I hope I was half as helpful to him as he was to me. As we raise a glass to 2015, join me in a toast to Akil, who has served us well. We wish him everything he hopes for.

In recent weeks, we hired Marlena Fitzpatrick-Garcia as our new membership/office manager. In her last post, she served as Spanish language industry relations and organizing manager at Screen Actors Guild, now SAG-AFTRA. As you may have deduced, she is bilingual; that’s helped her play a significant role in membership recruitment and servicing, as well as office management and campaign development for SAG.

At Columbia University’s Media and Idea Lab, Marlena worked on a variety of digital projects and is versed in digital technology, social media, and our CiviCRM membership software. She also collaborated on literary events at the Bronx Writers Center. We anticipate a smooth transition from Akil to Marlena, and trust that she will make significant contributions in the coming year.

 


 

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12/12/2014 - 5:07pm

2014: A YEAR IN REVIEW

By Larry Goldbetter

Independent freelance writers continue to move from the margins to the mainstream. In fact, contingent workers will exceed 40 percent of the US workforce by 2020 as traditional full-time jobs with benefits become harder to find, according to an Intuit 2020 report. Our members are part of a growing wave of contingent, precarious workers—the precariat—who for the moment do not have collective bargaining, and are seeking alternate ways to win respect and financial security for our work.

Our main job is to build a fighting union that can represent all freelancers, in all genres, on all platforms.

WHERE DO WE STAND TODAY?

·   A new database is in place with streamlined operations to better serve our membership;

·   The new website will go live in early 2015. In redesigning it, we elicited input in developing a website wish list, especially from chapter and division chairs;

·    More than 300 members are currently enrolled in recurring dues payments that don’t lapse;

·   We issued more than 60, two-year International Federation of Journalists’ press passes/memberships in 2014;

·   We initiated the Spanish-language writers project;

·   We received the final payment for the most recent group of the Heart & Soul writers, totaling more than $127,000 in back payments in all;

·   We are developing new activists and leaders; a partial list includes:

o Amanda Wilson, DC: Website and social media

o Mauricio Niebla, NY: Spanish-language writers project

o Pamela K. Johnson, SoCal: NEC Sgt.-at-Arms and NWUsletter editor

o A larger 8-member NWU CAP committee

o Toni Good, Madison, WI: Forming a new chapter; attended Region 4 Women’s Conference

o Southeastern Michigan/Detroit Chapters: Took part in Netroots 2014 and marched against the water shutoffs

·   NWU member Jon Hoadley was just elected to the Michigan State Legislature from Kalamazoo, putting NWU in the middle of one of the major battles to derail the Right-to-Work (for Less) express.

·   We increased our social media presence to more than 1,750 Facebook “Likes” and greatly improved our Twitter presence;

·   We managed to significantly reduce spending despite rising fixed costs;

·   Social Justice Activism: We marched against the police murders of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, and took part in the massive People’s Climate March;

·   We took in an additional $15,000 by providing 30 O-1 Visa Consultation letters

    All of this (and much more) adds up to an increase of about 200 members this year. And while all this is to the good, none of it is permanent. It’s still very fragile, and if we don’t fight even harder and smarter to keep moving forward, it can begin to slip away. We still have enormous challenges before us:

      -Google Books, Orphan Works, Copyright reform and the Amazon-Hachette struggle;

      -Establishing a base pay scale, with the help of many others, for those who write for for-profit online publishers.

      -And, as always, in building a community of writers who can help one another and advance together.

The challenges are great, but we’re in better shape to face them. On behalf of the National Executive Board, I wish you a happy and healthy holiday season.

See you back on the barricades in 2015!

 


 

 

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12/12/2014 - 5:07pm

By Ann Hoffman

NWU now offers you help finding and using health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and the extra support doesn’t cost you a penny more.*  The second Open Enrollment Period began in mid-November. For those of you who don’t have health insurance, you can now sign up for it. For those of you with coverage, now’s a good time to reevaluate your policy.                                            

 If you purchased insurance through the marketplaces last year, you’ve likely received your re-enrollment notice. Individual consumers in qualified plans have until Monday, December 15, to pick a new plan with coverage starting January 1, 2015. Otherwise, you’ll be automatically re-enrolled in your current plan, which could cost you more than in 2014. It pays to shop around to get the best deal for next year.  

NWU has joined the AFL-CIO’s Working America Health Care and Union Plus to help you access and evaluate the best plan for you under Obamacare. A broker will help you shop around, but he or she will not EARN a commission based on the policy you choose. The broker will also be able to tell you if you qualify for subsidies or tax credits.  

If your current plan is the best option, you can renew it. If you find a better plan , you can sign up for it. Either way, if you go through the Working America Health Care program to sign up, you will get additional support at no cost to you*. A medical can help answer questions about your coverage, recommend treatment options; suggest doctors/specialists and more and help negot MEDICAL BILLS.

Remember, the Affordable Health Care act is the law; you must have health insurance coverage or risk paying a fine: (In 2015, you’ll pay the higher of these two amounts: 2 percent of your yearly household income. Or $325 per person for the year, and $162.50 per child under 18. The maximum penalty per family is $975, according to https://www.healthcare.gov/fees-exemptions/fee-for-not-being-covered/)

Find out more about getting health insurance through the NWU at (855)-698-8627 or WorkingAmericaHealthCare.org/NWU.

* Unfortunately, Working America Health Care is not available in Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Vermont or West Virginia.

Ann Hoffman is the first vice president of the NWU.

NOTE: THE NWU SUPPORTS SINGLE-PAYER MEDICARE FOR ALL AS THE BEST PRESCRIPTION FOR FREELANCERS AND EMPLOYEES.  IF YOU WANT TO HELP NWU FIGHT FOR SINGLE PAYER IN CONGRESS AND IN THE STATES, EMAIL KEITH BAGWELL, NWU CAP COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN, AT KBAGWELL50@GMAIL.COM.

ALSO, THE NWU CONTINUES TO OFFER GROUP DENTAL AND VISION COVERAGE THROUGH CIGNA AND VSP.  NWU MEMBERS ALSO MAY OBTAIN A FREE PRESCRIPTION-DRUG DISCOUNT CARD FROM THE NATIONAL OFFICE. HTTP://NWU.ORG/DENTAL-AND-VISION-INSURANCE

 


 

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12/05/2014 - 5:19pm

By: Garrett Buhl Robinson

Over the last two years, I’ve spent nearly every day sitting on the sidewalk selling my books. I researched the laws and regulations; registered myself as an independent business; and then set up my stand with a little sign extending the invitation: “Meet the Author.” Though shelf space is minimal, I’ve got the best showroom in the world: the bustling streets of Manhattan, where the square footage is immeasurable, and the foot traffic endless.

Originally from Alabama, I lived out West for nearly two decades. At various locations in Oregon, California and Alaska, I worked numerous jobs. They ranged from construction to food service, and from furniture sales to salmon canning. All the while, I wrote and studied independently.

The impetus to launch my own bookstore in New York City began...

Some years ago, after I turned 40 and realized that if I planned to move to New York City, I’d better get a move on. I’d had a few poems published, but literary agents and publishers seemed out of reach. Then I made the daunting decision to bring my books to the publishing capital of the world. I still hoped to meet people in the industry, but I also determined that if it came down to it, I would sell my books on the street.

Along the way, there’ve been numerous setbacks. In the summer of 2012, for example, I overextended myself financially and was forced to choose between buying another shipment of books and paying my rent. I ordered the shipment and moved into a shelter. After five months there, I managed to rebuild my resources and find another room to rent in Brooklyn, where I’ve resided the past year. Despite the challenges, I now eek out a living through book sales.

Of the five books I market, my greatest accomplishment is Martha, a book-length, lyrical poem about performance dance. I’ve also published two collections of poetry and two novels. My second novel, Zoë, is a coming of age story about a young man hitchhiking and riding freight trains across the U.S.; he describes his adventures in letters to his girlfriend, Zoë. I recently adapted the story into a musical, which I perform on the streets of Manhattan. My third novel, Nunatak, centers around a young man who works one summer in a salmon cannery in Alaska amid a motley cast of characters. 

Promoting my wares al fresco can be challenging at times, but it also makes for great material. In the summer, when people tell me it’s too hot to sit outside and sell books, I say: “All the more reason we need the refreshment of literature.” In the winter when people comment about the cold, I praise the “warmth of poetry.” And last winter, when the city turned into tundra, I made snow-people. This provided me with a captive audience. Admittedly, they were an extremely frigid crowd, but I read them poetry until they melted. 

Quite often, I encounter the skeptical question, “Are you self-published?” Without hesitation, I respond, “Absolutely—just like Walt Whitman and Henry David Thoreau.” In pursuing this path, I’ve joined ranks with some of the greatest literary luminaries in the history of civilization. 

Fortunately, the stigma of the “vanity press” has begun to fade. In time, it may even become a beauty mark. Self-publishing has become more feasible and practical with the emergence of Print on Demand (POD) companies such as CreateSpace, Xlibris and Lulu.  Also, the social media platforms provide marketing tools for the general public that are unprecedented. This enables a proliferation of communication through literature that may be comparable to the development of the Gutenberg Press. In this case, instead of providing more books for the public to read, these developments allow more authors to cultivate an audience. This enriches literature with a greater diversity of voices. 

The expansion of self-publishing may strengthen conventional publishing, as well. The industry can recruit authors who’ve already demonstrated an ability to speak to the public. This will boost their success rate with the writers they sign. The developments may also allow writers to organize in ways that are not subservient to shareholders and, instead, are oriented towards the writers and readers while working for the integrity of the literary arts. 

Dismiss me as a romantic, but I believe that the greatest value of literature is the artistry of the work and the substance of the content. After all, the prestige of a brand-name publisher, an enticing cover, and book-jacket blurbs, are all intended to accomplish one thing: Entice the public to pick up a book and read it. At that point, it’s the reader and the writing, and when the author touches a reader’s life, that is poetry. 

Garrett Buhl Robinson adapted his second novel, Zoë, into a musical. Listen carefully when you walk New York City’s streets, and beneath the roar you may hear him singing. www.garrettrobinson.us

Photo: Robinson reads his work. Photo credit: Emily Aronica.


 

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12/05/2014 - 10:09am

 

INK ON MY FINGERS

In this interview with Carolita Johnson, a cartoonist for The New Yorker, she shares about her experiences as a writer and an illustrator; side gigs she takes to keep the lights on; and her other long-running career in the fashion industry.

NWU: How are rights different for visual artists than they are for writers?  
CAROLITA JOHNSON: They’re not really that different. Writers can often make a better living than most cartoonists. Most writers at the New York Times don't need a day job, for example. But most of the cartoonists at The New Yorker, from my generation, have to have another source of income. Some of the luckier ones among us write for TV; I’m not sure if that really qualifies as a day job or just a darn good gig. Others of us teach cartooning or illustration. One cartoonist told me about working at an STD clinic, and another made his living engraving tombstones. There are those who work in retail, and even a few who are doctors. 

Even as a cartoonist for The New Yorker, I've had to work nights for a few months at a call center, selling season tickets to the Washington Philharmonic, I think it was. I also earn some of my income trying on clothes for patternmakers—as a junior medium—in Manhattan’s Garment District, which is pretty good work, but I'm getting too old for it, and will soon have to find something else. Anyway, that's all to say that even the most successful cartoonists at the best publications can't ever rely on their income from cartooning. Unless they live with their parents or have a rich spouse.

NWU: What's different in creating a cartoon—which is a certain form of narrative—from writing an article? 
JOHNSON: The creation process is similar, unless it's an article based on heavy research. Ideas come to you, you write them down to work on them later. What’s different is that cartoons are rarely edited once they’ve been submitted and bought. Maybe someone will say, “add more people,” or “that jacket should be buttoned on the other side because it's a man,” but that's pretty much it. Writing with an editor can be a long, painstaking process, but I enjoy the editor-writer relationship. There's more interaction, which is kind of nice for someone like me who works alone in my room. My editor is my first audience, and I always appreciate her/him. I say "him/her," although I've only had women editors so far.

NWU: How did you get into creating cartoons?
JOHNSON: Apparently I've always drawn cartoons! I'd forgotten this until my first new cartoon was published in 2003, and my old school friends came out of the woodwork with cartoons I'd drawn in class for their amusement. I even had a strip, called Snurfuls, about a shaggy dog, which my dad reminded me about. But I'd forgotten all about that by the time I came back from over a decade abroad traveling, trying lots of things, and just basically getting what they call, "a life."

I spent most of that time in France, with six months in London at first, then six months in Madrid in the middle. I was modeling and had to travel for a month or two at a time to Milan or Tokyo. To renew my visa in France, I had to leave every three months and get my passport stamped, so I'd take a bus or train to Amsterdam or Madrid, where I had friends who'd let me crash for a weekend. 

I would do any job I could get. For a while I did mosaics for a mosaic studio in Clichy, but got fired when my papers didn't come through. Another time, I babysat an old lady on her caregiver's day off—using her bathtub to wash my clothes and hair as soon as she fell asleep. I lived in a garret with no heat or hot water at the time. I typed 80,000 words a day for a translator for a couple years, until I got ganglion cysts. For all those years I had a gig twice a year at Jean-Paul Gaultier as a showroom model, the shortest one there. That put me through school, since my part time work never could have, and I made the money last for months at a time, living very modestly in varying degrees of Spartan comfort. I always say JPG was my college scholarship.

The second five years in, I spent at a French university. (In desperation I lied about my residence status, and for some reason they didn't catch up to me until I was on the verge of a doctorate, which I really had no business pursuing anyway.) I was lucky that a few of my key teachers were impressed enough by my glamorous gig that they let me be absent for almost two weeks every semester. Although, I was also a very good student.

When I went back to New York, I was a studio manager for a photographer and later his wife, a big stylist at Italian Vogue. I worked as a hostess in restaurants in Paris and in New York, saving up for my first computer. Then I got a software-testing and network-installing job in Paris for two years. Here's a piece on all the jobs I had.

So, when I came back to the States after 11 years, I met a New Yorker cartoonist. He encouraged me to try cartooning as a profession—something I'd never thought to do. He was also the first person I'd ever met who made a living from cartooning. To me he was like a mythical beast. I really liked him, and just wanted to go out with him. I didn't even take the cartooning that seriously at that time, but I did think it would be good practice to submit 10 cartoons a week, raise my productivity, and learn to meet deadlines. I was surprised when I sold a cartoon in the fall of 2002.

NWU Did you go to school for it?
JOHNSON: No, my parents made me go to art school, but they wanted me to be a "commercial artist." I took fashion design at Parson’s in New York City in rebellion. Then I studied Modern Letters  (comparative literature) in France. The fashion degree came in handy for my day job over a decade later. I don't think there were cartooning courses in colleges back when I was in college, but there certainly are now. Tons of them, everywhere. I might even try to teach one myself.

NWU: Did you grow up reading The New Yorker?
JOHNSON: My parents are strictly right-wingers, not The New Yorker type, so I never heard of the magazine until I met the cartoonist who got me to do cartoons for them. We live together now and compare cartoons. We tell each other if we think the other's cartoon is funny or not, but we're not competitive. Sometimes, when only one of us sells a cartoon, the other will pay for lunch at Keens Steakhouse in Manhattan. It's always great when we both sell. But more often than not, Michael (Crawford) sells and I don't, or neither of us do. That's when we both walk around the house griping for a while, and then we get back to work.

Once in a while, we switch cartoons for fun: I'll redraw one of his, and he'll redraw one of mine, just to see if it'll sell that way, but so far no luck. Or sometimes I'll give Michael an idea for a job if a client calls for lots of ideas. And sometimes he'll help me with my perspective or architectural details, because I'm not good at those things. But as far as drawing goes, personally, I don't like collaborating on drawings with people. I just don't like drawings with mixed styles unless it's purely for fun, like at a party or something.

I still mostly only read the cartoons in The New Yorker—ha ha—unless I'm on a long subway ride to the beach. Then I read the magazine from cover to cover, until the sun goes down. It's a great publication.

NWU: What's your favorite New Yorker cartoon from over the years?
JOHNSON: Gotta say that the first one that comes to mind is Barsotti's "Fusilli, you crazy bastard!", but I have other favorites, depending on the day. It's too hard to choose just one. There are so many good ones. But I think almost every cartoonist you meet will point to "Fusilli, you crazy bastard!" as at least one of their favorites.

NWU: How do you work? What's your work space like? 
JOHNSON: For cartoons, I work on letter-size paper. I do my rough drawings on resume paper, so that if there's any rush, they can be used as final drawings. Unless I'm in a real rush, or low on ink or the proper materials, I draw my roughs almost as carefully as a "finish." I only redraw if I'm not happy with the drawing. I use a lightbox only for reproducing a drawing that I think is perfect except for some major flaw that makes it need redrawing, otherwise I prefer to sketch in non-repro blue, then ink it in. I used to use water with a little ink in it for grays, but I discovered black watercolor when I noticed other cartoonists had much nicer shadows and black contrasts.

My workspace consists of a drafting table and an office desk, but I can work with very little for cartooning. I write at my office desk, so I try to keep the computer there—away from the drafting table. That way I don't get distracted while I draw. For writing, it's easy not to get distracted. Once I start, I just forget everything.

NWU: What need does creating cartoons fulfill, and what need does writing articles fulfill? 
JOHNSON: I think I became much easier to get along with when I started doing cartoons for The New Yorker, mainly because all my observations and pet peeves were sublimated into funny or odd little cartoons, instead of complaints to my friends, family, the world. Cartooning is almost like emotional and behavioral therapy.

Writing is different. I've always tried to write, even as a child. I never could, though, until computers came along. I remember trying as a child, many times, but then giving up. My thought process is aided by the computer, by cut and paste, and by multiple records of the same story. The computer freed me from my writing handicaps. My typing is fast, lets me keep up with my disorganized thoughts. And words are very important to me. I don't just love putting them together or seeing beautiful sentences; I need to do this. So writing is just an outgrowth of a love of reading and writing, really. I was a big reader as a kid, and I'm an even bigger reader now. I think I'd write no matter what. 

NWU: Will you continue to do both, do you think, given that conditions for writers are not as good? 
JOHNSON: I think the wording of that question proves that writers have no idea how good they have it! Or at least how just-as-not-good things are in the other creative professions. Cartoonists do not have it "as good" as writers, or vice versa. Sure, as a New Yorker cartoonist, I'm one of the few privileged cartoonists who work under a decent contract, with my copyright intact, and my work respected.  However, cartoonists in general do not have it good at all. We're asked to work for free just as writers are. And cartoons are just unpaid-for spaces in magazines and newspapers, and more and more they're being dropped from publications. I even pretty much had to persuade a local newspaper to take my cartoons for free! It's a point of pride for me to be in my local paper, but unpaid print space is tight. 

As long as I find things funny in life, I'll sit down and draw cartoons about them, as a matter of desire and habit. I can't really stop myself. I do my own webcomic sometimes, for free. (Oscarinaland.com). And I like to illustrate my own essays. So, yeah, I'd continue to do both until some philanthropic urge possesses me to go dig ditches in a third world country, or feel I can be more useful doing something else. But for now, this is my contribution to the world. 


 

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Union News

03/11/2011 - 8:45am

NWU member Ted Fiskevold and Mark Froemke from the Twin Cities, are going On the Road Through the Working Family Class Warfare Zones of the Midwest.  This union travelblog will take you to the class war battlefields of Madison, Indianapolis, Columbus and back to Madison, with stories and photos.  If you like what you read and see, pass the link on to your union, activist, and political friends and their blogs, Facebooks and online newsletters.

 

You can join them by clicking: http://midwestuniontravel.wordpress.com/. Also go to  WeAreWisconsin.org for more information.

03/10/2011 - 11:01pm

Kathleen McElroy


National Writers Union/ UAW Local 1981

Folks from outside Wisconsin are contacting me and asking how to help with the battle to save collective bargaining for public employees in Wisconsin.

YOU CAN PROVIDE FINANCIAL SUPPORT

People of generally modest means, including many college students, are continuing the occupation of the Capitol and the daily picketing in resistance to the Governor's plans. Most teachers have had to have chosen to return to their classrooms, but many other union members remain, people from private sector unions and public unions including police and firefighters. There are many private citizens, often seniors. Those remaining in the capitol and on the picket lines need food, water, transportation and housing. The Wisconsin AFL-CIO is coordinating much of that support. No matter how small, financial support is welcome:

ONLINE: The AFL-CIO is accepting donations online through PayPal or any major credit card. Please go
to http://wisaflcio.org for the link.

CHECKS can be made payable to the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO Defense Fund, 6333 W. Blue Mound Rd., Milwaukee, WI 53213 (Please indicate the purpose, e.g. "Capitol protests" or "Madison rally", on your check.)

SEND FOOD AND WATER DIRECTLY TO THE PROTESTERS

These two close-by shops will supply food and water to those in the Capitol or on the picket line:

03/10/2011 - 10:56pm

Originally called International Working Women's Day, March 8 is celebrated the world over. It was established in 1911 (the same year as the Triangle Fire happened) by European and America socialists, and became forever identified with the activism and tragedy of the women garment workers.

Nearly 150 sweatshop workers, mostly Jewish and Italian immigrant women, died 100 years ago in the fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. Most of the deaths occurred among those working on the crowded 9th floor where the bulk of the sewing machines were located. People on the other floors were told of the fire and escaped outside, but for long crucial minutes, no one let the seamstresses know. By the time they became aware of the smoke, a guard had locked one of the two doors, a routine "anti-theft" action - i.e. act of owner greed - that cost many women their lives.

02/25/2011 - 3:57pm

The Controversial Lahore With Love Now Available on Amazon.com

NEW YORK CITY, Feb. 22, 2011 -- Ten months after Syracuse University Press pulled the critically acclaimed Lahore With Love: Growing Up Girlfriends Pakistani-Style from the shelves, Dr. Fawzia Afzal-Khan has self-published her fictionalized memoir, making it available to the public through Amazon.com.

Originally published in April 2010 by Syracuse University Press, Lahore With Love received glowing reviews in Booklist, FeministReview.org, and Pakistaniaat: A Journal of Pakistan Studies. Harvard University's Henry Louis Gates Jr. called it  "a tale that is marvelously compelling and endlessly entertaining, at once poignantly personal and richly political." Acclaimed Egyptian novelist and women's and human rights activist, Nawal el Saadawi writes, "Afzal-Khan's is a gifted dissident voice and I hope many people will read her beautiful memoir which challenges stereotypes, universal fanatic fundamentalism, and religious, political, and sexual taboos."

02/21/2011 - 1:44pm

 

In Wisconsin, tens of thousands of workers, teachers and students are fighting Gov. Scott Walker's plan to strip 200,000 public employees of their collective bargaining rights. Just as Reagan’s wholesale firing
of striking Air Traffic Controllers in the ‘80’s led to decades of attacks on private sector unions, what we are seeing in Wisconsin is PATCO II: The Public Sector. If Walker wins, the labor movement can look forward to even more setbacks for a long time to come.

02/18/2011 - 2:28pm

Dear Members:

The IFJ will no longer issue paper press passes, but is upgrading to a photo ID card. This upgrade by the IFJ office has resulted in a substantial cost increase to NWU and will result in an increase in our workload and price as well.

As we incorporate the new required changes, we will place all international press pass applications on hold. We will advise you of the new price and any other requirements for the international pass as soon as we have them.

The NWU press pass for use within the United States is still available.

Thank you for your patience. We look forward to issuing the new IFJ press passes as soon as possible.



In solidarity,
NWU

02/17/2011 - 4:37pm

NWU is starting a new service, replacing the old Job Hotline with Hire A Union Writer, a space where members can market themselves for work as a writer with a link to their blog, website or resume.

While we don’t expect it to be an overnight hit as a hiring hall, it can be a place where other unions and progressive organizations can find union writers. Over time, we will try to promote the site to other potential employers. Also, some BizTech writers and others are eligible for unemployment insurance which they may find easier to collect if they are registered as available for work with their union.

On the Members Only section of the website, you will find a short form to fill out, including room for a 50-word description of the kind of writing you do and your experience. That will go to our webmaster who will post it on the public Hire A Union Writer page along with the link of your choice.

We especially want to thank veteran member/activist Bruce Hartford, who helped to establish the original Job Hotline and who suggested this new service for our members. Credit goes as well to the members who have urged us to revive the Job Hotline. When members speak, we listen.

 

02/15/2011 - 6:07pm

Cartoon by Ted Rall - Waiting for the Phone to Ring
Friday, February 11, 2011 - (C) 2011 Ted Rall, Distributed by Universal Uclick - AAEC Ref Num: 95663

The National Writers Union is launching a campaign to raise the pay scale for online content writers. If there was any doubt as to the need for such a campaign, look no further than the recent purchase of the Huffington Post by AOL for a cool $315 million.

In an excellent Op-Ed piece in the LA Times (2/9) Tim Rutten writes, “To grasp [HuffPo’s] business model, though, you need to picture a galley rowed by slaves and commanded by pirates Given the fact that its founder, Huffington, reportedly will walk away from this acquisition with a personal profit of as much as $100 million, it makes all the Post's raging against Wall Street plutocrats, crony capitalism and the Bush and Obama administrations' insensitivities to the middle class and the unemployed a bit much.”

02/04/2011 - 5:26pm

04 February 2011
H.E. Ahmed Shafiq
Prime Minister
Arab Republic of Egypt

Your Excellency,

On behalf of the National Writers Union, I am writing to protest the attacks by supporters of your President on journalists covering the events in Egypt.

According to our affiliate unions and press reports, we know that journalists have been the targets of violent attacks:

  • Ahmed Bajano, an Al-Arabiya correspondent, and his camera crew were attacked in Mustafa Mahmoud Square by security men in plainclothes. He suffered a concussion.
  • Al-Arabiya's Cairo office was attacked and its windows broken
  • Ahmad Abdel Hadi was seized by pro-Mubarak supporters near Tahrir Square, forced in a car, and driven away.
  • The headquarters of Al-Shorouk was attacked by plainclothes police in Cairo. Reporter Mohamed Khayal and photographer Magdi Ibrahim were injured.
  • Belgian journalist Maurice Sarfatti was beaten and arrested in central Cairo.
    • CNN's Anderson Cooper was attacked by pro-Mubarak supporters in Tahrir Square.
    • Two Associated Press correspondents were attacked covering a pro-Mubarak group.
    • Danish senior Middle East Correspondent Steffen Jensen was beaten by pro-Mubarak supporters with clubs while reporting live on the phone to Danish TV2 News from Cairo.
    • BBC’s Rupert Wingfield-Hayes had his car forced off the road in Cairo. He was then handed over to secret police agents who handcuffed, blindfolded and took him to a three hour interrogation.
    • Iceland's RUV national broadcaster, Jon Bjorgvinsson was attacked as he was filming with his crew. He was knocked to the ground, his camera destroyed.
    • Three Al Jazeera journalists were arrested by Egyptian secret police.
    • Swedish TV correspondent Bert Sundström has disappeared, while his colleague Sid Ahmed Hammouche, special envoy of Liberté newspaper was arrested.
    • One Greek photographer was stabbed in the leg by pro-Mubarak demonstrators.
    • Washington Post Cairo bureau chief Leila Fadel and photographer Linda Davidson were among more than 20 journalists arrested yesterday by the Egyptian interior ministry. They are currently in custody.

    These were the first. As the situation sharpens, we fear that many more will follow. These premeditated attacks to intimidate journalists from reporting what is happening must stop. You have apologized for these attacks and have offered to investigate. We hold your government responsible for the safety of these journalists.

    Sincerely

    Larry Goldbetter, President
    National Writers Union/UAW Local 1981
    New York, New York

02/04/2011 - 1:29pm

 

Join the Global Wage Survey,

Get a Salary Check, Strengthen Collective Bargaining

The International Federation of Journalists is partnering with WageIndicator, a global wage survey that measures wages of over 1,500 different occupations and 400 industries in over 48 countries around the world to date.

With the participation of the IFJ and your union this year, journalists’ salaries will, for the first time, be assessed on a global scale...