Between Gatekeepers and Gateleapers:
A Statement Addressing Our Ethics
UnsafeMedia has been asked by a number of journalists, media figures, literary organizations, agents, and fellow publishers to comment on the “questionable” tactics that one of our authors previously took to gain notoriety for his work and the justification of our subsequent decision to publish his current work.
We do not make this statement under duress. To the contrary, we see it as a proclamation of solidarity. Our allegiance is to the cultural laborer, not a system of hierarchy.
Here are the facts as we understand them. In 2016, after what the author has described as “a decade and a half of writing shit and then another decade of starting to put things together,” Harvey Duran was convinced he finally had something that was worth readers’ time. After a couple years’ of getting nowhere with journals, agents, and publishers, he tried self-publishing only to be ignored by reviewers, print media, and podcasters. Then, in 2019, stumbling upon the account of Belgian painter Michel Bunschoten who sixty years prior had acquired representation at a major art gallery in Paris by circulating rumors of his reclusive millionaire benefactor, Harvey decided to make up his own agent (“Harold Blaine”) and publishing company (“Morton & Throck Literary Publishers”) in hopes that it would afford his work better treatment the second time round.
Many in the industry have described such behavior as highly problematic. The only problem we see is that it worked too well. Having the gumption to enter his novel Act Two into multiple book competitions (open only to published authors), Harvey won the Garber-Halsey Prize for Literature, the Southeast Voices Award, and the AWBBS New Book Award. Shortly thereafter, Literary Business Weekly’s Gracie Sloane exposed Morton & Throck as a fake, sparking widespread condemnation from those who had either reviewed Act Two, interviewed the author, or hosted his book tour.
Not only did we see the consensus agreement to punish Mr. Duran as a petty overreaction, we believed Harvey’s creativity deserved to be rewarded. This business is not only tough; it’s fucked up. As the glut of writers increases, so does the glut of gatekeepers. Between undergraduate degrees, MFA programs, PhDs, literary conferences, membership dues and open mics, searching for – then recognizing – then befriending “the right person” is too often unaffordable, never mind spiritually debasing.
Before being found out, Michel Bunschoten had become an acclaimed artist. Tragically, the controversy ruined his name, and he eventually took his own life. But why? Either his paintings were good or they weren’t.
If Harvey Duran’s Act Two was good enough to garner glowing reviews, sell thousands of copies, and win three book awards, then what does it matter if he didn’t offer fealty to the industry machine?
Is it about convention or is it about the work?
Some have suggested that Mr. Duran’s actions were unfair to all the other writers who play by the rules. But that implies the rules are both necessary and just. Does anyone see the gauntlet writers are expected to run as either necessary or just? Is it possible there were just as many “other writers” cheering on Mr. Duran’s ingenuity?
Many in the media have said they felt betrayed, lied to. But such feelings can only be valid if they acknowledge they would have never done those interviews or written those reviews had they known Mr. Duran didn’t have a real publisher. Hence, the necessity to do what he did.
Either the ideas were good or they weren’t. Either the writing was good or it wasn’t. Either the contribution is important or it isn’t. To be sure, no one is taking back what they said about the work.
Nor have any of these same people ever refused to interview or review the so-called authors (many of whom are actually ghostwritten, too many of whom are merely political hacks with wealthy backers) guilty of buying up their own books to spuriously award themselves the title of “New York Times Bestseller.” It’s curious that the outrage was over someone with no money, connections, or power getting past the watchmen.
Should our solidarity be with the gatekeepers or the gateleapers? The answer seems so uncontroversial.
Publishing industry gurus tell aspiring writers ad nauseam that “it’s about the work,” and that “they have to set themselves apart.” Is that really true? Is this not precisely what Harvey did?
You may not agree with the rules that Mr. Duran wrote for himself. But is writing your own rules the same as cheating? We don’t think so, especially when those rules were written in the service of capitalistic hierarchy.
The old saying goes: It’s better to ask forgiveness than ask permission. But whom are we expected to ask this of? Until we can build a better system for the sharing of art, speech, and creative labor, we believe neither is owed.
We would much rather disseminate quality work and take heat from our peers than defer to an etiquette barely distinguishable from hazing and risk losing the contribution of this solid, if irreverent, writer.
For this, we stand by our decision to take on and promote the work of Harvey Duran.