A Morning With Michael Moore
By Michael Byrnes
New Jersey Institute of Technology
Posted on SLIS News with permission from ALA Cognotes published at the 2002 Annual Convention of the American Library Association.
Michael Moore attributes the publication of his latest best selling book Stupid White Men: And Other Excuses for the State of the Nation, to the efforts of a lone librarian.
On September 10th, Harper Collins printed the first 50,000 copies ready to be shipped. By the end of the following evening the publishing house decided it would be disastrous to distribute a book containing an open later to President Bush asking him if he was ever a drunk, felon or illiterate.
"It wasn't mean spirited," says Moore, "even I'm two out of those three." Harper Collins was in no hurry to publish a book that surfed against the patriotic wave sweeping across the country. "We'd like you to rewrite fifty-percent of it," they told Moore. They told him that "Florida cannot be called a coup," and they requested the chapter "Kill Whitey" to be reworded. When they asked Moore to change the title, he suggested, "Bring Me the Head of Antonia Scalia," as an alternative. They informed him that they would reprint the first 50,000 copies for the low, low fee of $10,000. Moore was not about to cut one word from the book.
Tired of Moore's resistance to censor himself, his editor called to tell him in late that his book "was going to be pulped."
On December 1st Moore found himself giving a presentation in New Brunswick, New Jersey. He told the audience about the struggle to get his book published and that the only copies in existence were about to be recycled and probably would come back as Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly books. Moore read the first of chapters of his book to the group. "You're probably the only people in America who will ever hear these words," he said. He asked the people in the room that day not to go to the press and make a fuss over it. It was his battle and he was determined to fight alone, away from the public eye. Somewhere in the audience that day was Ann Sparanese, a librarian from Englewood, New Jersey. She did not heed his warning about going public.
Like a cyberspace Paul Revere, Sparanese sent word to various email lists including SRRT (Social Responsibilities Round Table) and Library Juice, explaining Moore's situation. She conveyed this battle wasn't just one man's struggle with a publishing house, but was a battle to preserve free speech and to stop censorship.
Two days later Harper Collins phoned Moore. "What did you tell the librarians?" they asked. "We're getting hundreds of letters a day from angry librarians. Do you know how much business we do with these people?"
Harper Collins eventually gave Stupid White Men the green light but not before informing Mr. Moore "you are out of touch with the American people." They handed him the list of cities for the book tour. There were only three listed: Ridgewood, NJ Arlington, VA and Denver, CO. The message was clear to him, Harper Collins wanted no association with his book: Moore was on his own.
On the first day of its release, all 50,000 copies were sold. The next day it was the number one seller on amazon.com. By the fifth day, the book was in its ninth printing. As of today, it is in its twenty-second printing and is selling faster than the latest works from Grisham and Clancy combined.
"It's always one individual that sparks change; history has proven this time and again," Moore said in thanking Sparanese for completely ignoring his plea to keep his publishing squabble hushed. He noted that the day Sparanese sent her letter to the email lists, was an important day in American history, December 1st. On this day in 1955 a black seamstress boarded a bus in Birmingham, Alabama. When she was told to move to the back of the bus, she remained in her seat. She had made her stand by sitting. Her name is Rosa Parks.
This past week Moore had lunch with an executive from United Artist to discuss his most recent project, the Caans-award winning film Bowling for Columbine. Moore was informed that the largest cinema chain in the country, Regal Cinemas, has banned this film from all their screens. "Back in December, I told that group in New Jersey that they were probably going to be the only people to hear any part of my book. I hope that you people are not the only ones who get to see a part of this movie." He then treated the audience to the first five minutes of the film.
When the lights came back up, Moore made several announcements: He is organizing a group of fellow authors advocating critical library issues such as better pay, better benefits, sexism and pay equity. Through his website he is offering videos of his television shows as well as his previous movies free to all librarians. He is also offering an endowment to establish a scholarship for minorities who wish to become librarians. He considers librarians "the most important public servant in a democracy." More information will be available on michaelmoore.com.
Librarian Ann Sparanese, "a cyberspace Paul Revere," pictured with Michael Moore.
To see larger image CLICK HERE
Posted July 25, 2002