Welcome back for the second half of my interview with author and social activist, Paul Rogat Loeb. What do you hope to accomplish with this new edition of Soul of A Citizen, Paul?
I think the book really can be a major antidote to the despair and political paralysis that so many people are feeling these days. At this point that's my prime goal. To get people past their cynicism, their purist detachment, and their dashed hopes, and to get them acting again for social change, in the muddy, messy world that we face--and then working to make that world more humane. Not easy, but we can tap into a long lineage of voices for change, and that can give us strength.
Soul of a Citizen's original edition has also been assigned on hundreds of college campuses, in every conceivable discipline, and it's gotten great responses. So I'm hoping the new one will be assigned even more, because if there's any group that has such huge potential for social change involvement but could use a sense of perspective and context, it's those just coming of age, many of whom helped carry Obama to the presidency.
You're an author and lecturer as well as a social activist. You've been doing this for a long time and from the outside, it looks easy for you. Can you tell our readers how you got published in the first place?
first book was pretty easy to get published, but things actually got more
difficult from there. I'd written a long magazine piece on workers at the
largest nuclear weapons complex in the world, and although the piece got
orphaned when the magazine folded its US edition, a friend circulated the
article and got a publisher interested. But then it ended up in some fairly
ghastly legal fights, and I had something like 50 rejections on my next book,
on grassroots peace activists, and maybe 70 on my book on the values of college
Finally, Soul came out and took off by word of mouth, and my political hope book ,The Impossible Will Take a Little While, did quite well--it was on the bestseller list of the American Book Association, the association of independent bookstores, for twelve weeks. But it's still always a challenge to get books into the stores.
Tell our readers exactly how Soul of a Citizen overcame oblivion and made it by word of mouth. That's a great story.
My publisher only got 3,000 copies in the stores the first round, so they were totally buried at the back. But people started reading it and telling their friends. Also a lot of college faculty started assigning it and it turned out the students loved it. I used my own funds to do several large mailings where I paid for the mailings, the publisher gave away free academic exam copies to profs in the relevant disciplines, and I made the money back from my college lectures. The first edition is now over 100,000 copies and students seem to love it even in very conservative places. I think it really does call them to a sense of higher self.