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

10/06/2014 - 8:23am

Ilham Tohti, who won the 2014 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith ‘Freedom to Write’ award, was sentenced to life in prison by a court in China. PEN's denunciation of the verdict was cited in the NY Times. A writer, scholar, and leader in Uyghur PEN, Tohti founded Uyghur Online, a forum for dialogue between China’s Muslim Uyghur minority and its majority Han populations. The author was arrested in a violent raid on his home back in January, and charged with “separatism”—an allegation that his writings firmly reject.

As he was dragged out of court that morning, he spoke the last words we may hear from him in a long time: “This is not just! I won’t give in.” PEN is working with its partners to provide material support to Tohti's family, whose assets have been seized as a result of his conviction.

—PEN AMERICA

PEN has launched a letter-writing campaign to urge the Chinese authorities to release Ilham Tohti.

 

 


 

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10/06/2014 - 8:17am

The Boston Chapter’s September Publishing Alternatives panel drew 30 writers and four publishers: Candlewick Press (Somerville, MA, UK and Australia); Gemma Media (Boston); Hobblebush Books (Brookline, NH); and Cognoscenti, National Public Radio/WBUR’s online commentary page (Boston). During the Q&A, our business-savvy members focused on what matters most: What’s in the contract; turnaround times; advances; and openness to issues that mainstream publishers may consider too controversial (e.g. abortion). Biggest takeaway: Editors are impressed by queries that show a writer has thoroughly perused—and even better bought and read—the books on a publisher’s website. That way, potential authors have a sense of the kinds of material a publisher is likely to want. Thanks to event organizers and steering committee members.   

 — Barbara Beckwith

 


 

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10/06/2014 - 8:15am

American authors are now eligible for Man Booker prize for first time.

Read more:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/09/09/us-britain-booker-idUSKBN0H41UB20140909

 


 

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10/05/2014 - 5:12pm

Green Was the Old Black

By Calvin Ramsay

Photo courtesy of the author.

The name of Victor Hugo Green, a mailman who started his career in 1913 in Hackensack, NJ, lives on. He created both the Negro Motorist Green Book and the Negro Traveler’s Green Book because, at the time, the country’s racist Jim Crow laws hampered African-Americans. Green’s wife, the former Alma Duke of Richmond, VA, and their family often made the nearly 700-mile round trip to her hometown during their long marriage. Each time, the Greens were reminded that something needed to be done about the mistreatment of blacks on the open road.

By 1918, the Greens had moved from Hackensack to Harlem, NY, and remained there until his retirement in 1952. Throughout those years, Green continued to commute to Jersey to support his branch and his union, the National Association of Letter Carriers, which was largely white but allowed Green to join. The postman used his union connections with fellow carriers to ask for help with addresses and contacts for the Negro traveler. Once he had put together a nationwide team, he launched the Negro Motorist Green Book in 1936, which was published for three decades, until 1966 and annually included more than 80 pages of content.

The Green Book Travel Guide listed Negro hotels, restaurants, homes where travelers could stay, beauty and barbershops, as well as doctors and dentists’ offices. Restrooms and gas stations that catered to the Negro traveler were also included. Green’s dream was that one day the Green Book would not be needed because African-Americans would enjoy full accommodations on the open road. He did not live to see that day, passing away in 1960. But his daughter kept the Green Book going for six more years through the passage of the Civil Rights Bills of the middle and late sixties.

I learned about all of this history in 2001 in Atlanta, when I attended the funeral of two dear friends’ son who died in a traffic accident. The child’s grandfather, who had come down from NYC, was looking for a Green Book. It was his first time traveling to the South, and he thought it was still needed. I asked him what the Green Book was, and I became fascinated.

After that I wrote a play on the subject. It was staged in Washington, D.C. with the legendary civil rights activist Julian Bond playing Victor Green; Bond shared with me that his family always traveled with the Green Book. In the audience that night was Ernie Green of the Little Rock Nine (not sure if he’s any relation), who famously integrated an all white school in 1957 in Little Rock, AR. He told me that his family had used the Green Book, as well. Later I learned that Buck O’Neil, manager of the Kansas City Monarchs, the Negro Baseball league team for which Jackie Robinson had played, had placed a Green Book under glass at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, MO. Musician Wynton Marsalis told me that his grandfather ran an Esso gas station in New Orleans, and that he both advertised in and sold the Green Book. My children’s novel, Ruth and the Green Book, tells of an 8-year-old traveling with her mom and dad from Chicago to Selma, AL, in 1952 to see her grandmother. They endure a great number of trials—until they get a copy of the Green Book.

 —NWU member Ramsey is the author of numerous plays, musicals and books.

 


 

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10/05/2014 - 5:09pm

By Marilyn A. Gelman

In the days following a car crash injury some year ago, I thought I was entitled to certain benefits based on what I thought the auto policy said. But I was wrong. The same goes for a 2007 contract that I was thrilled to sign for the publication of an essay. The editing process was a pleasure, and I felt proud of the anthology in which the work appeared. However, years later I learned that simple words in contracts can have complex meanings.

The cause of my recent education was an invitation to be a Byliner.com backlist author. Suddenly I cared about the rights to that past work. I thought some rights had reverted to me because the contract for the piece specified five years, and seven years had passed. Besides, I thought the book had gone out of print years ago, when the publisher said copies were no longer available. Wrong and wrong.

After emailing back and forth with a NWU contract advisor, I began to look at words in contracts in a new way. I was stunned at my naiveté. There were words and phrases that should have signaled "Warning!" Instead, I overlooked them at the exciting prospect of a sale.

I do not regret signing the 2007 contract, but I do regret not fully understanding what I was signing.

Some words and phrases that will make me slow down and think twice include "exclusive," "X years after final publication," and "future media and technologies." In the future, I will inquire about a publisher’s right to license my story to third parties—especially those who use my story to support an ideology I do not espouse—and explore the possibility that there might be negotiating room.

Are there “warning” words and phrases on your list? Share them with the GCD at advice@nwu.org. And if your contract has terms that you don’t understand, ask the GCD for a review.

Image credit: Clip Art


 

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10/05/2014 - 5:04pm

Photo Credit: Laura Anglin

For her transformative impact on American literature, Ursula K. Le Guin received the 2014 National Book Award medal for distinguished contribution to American Letters. When NWU asked her about her reaction to the news, she said: “I'm honored by this medal, and delighted that the National Book Foundation is giving it to a writer best known for writing kinds of fiction often not regarded as literature.  I'll wear it with pride in the continuing campaigns against Google's attack on copyright and Amazon's attempt to censor authors and publishers who refuse to kiss the feet of Bezos.”

Q & A W/ URSULA K. LE GUIN

Le Guin, who is an NWU member, will celebrate her 85th birthday on October 21st. She lives in Portland, Oregon and, as of 2013, had published 21 novels, 11 volumes of short stories, 12 books for children, six volumes of poetry and four essay collections. Her honors and awards include the Hugo, the Nebula, a National Book Award and a PEN-Malamud. Recently we asked Ursula to answer some questions about the writing life. 

NWU) What’s your writing schedule? 

UKL) If I have something to write, I prefer to write it in the morning, in my study.  But if I have something to write, I'll write it whenever and wherever I can.

NWU) What's the best writing advice you ever got?  

UKL) “Why can’t you have kids and write books?” My best friend Jean said that to me when we were about 22.

NWU) Which of your books has proved most prescient?

UKL) "Prescient" sounds too much like fortune-telling! Several of my sf novels, such as The Word for World is Forest, The Dispossessed, and The Lathe of Heaven, show the terrible effects of overpopulation and exploitative capitalist technology on species diversity, the climate, etc., but I wasn't prescient—scientists have been warning us about all that for 50 years now, all you had to do was listen to them.  (Which a lot of us still aren't doing.)

NWU) What books are on your bed stand right now?

UKL) Shigeru Mizuki, Showa: A History of Japan (a graphic history/autobiography -- amazing!)  Mary Jacobus: Romantic Things.  Two volumes of Rilke. Philip K. Dick: The Man in the High Castle (to re-read for the nth time, so I can write an introduction for a new edition, yay!) 

NWU) To what extent do you believe science fiction should offer a social critique, or serve as a lens through which to examine contemporary issues in science and technology? 

UKL) I don't like to say that any kind of fiction, any art form, "should" do anything but be true to itself.  However, by its nature, sf offers a different perspective on contemporary life (not just science and tech), and often hints that change is desirable, and possible.

NWU) Despite decades of fine work by many female writers such as Marion Zimmer Bradley, Octavia Butler and yourself, to what extent do you think the field of science fiction is still something of a “boy’s club”?

UKL) For the people who want it to be a boys club, that's what it is.  For grown-ups, it's a lively part of contemporary literature.  These days it has no more problems with gender assumptions than the rest of literature has, but unfortunately, that's a good deal.

NWU) Why are you a National Writers Union member? 

UKL) Because writers need solidarity against exploitation as much as any other workers do, and have particular issues that take knowledge and adroitness to handle


 

 

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09/23/2014 - 9:56am

Members of the National Writers Union (NWU), a local of the United Auto Workers (UAW), joined hundreds of thousands of other people to march more than 40 blocks through New York City on Sunday to demand action on climate change. The NWU and UAW joined a huge contingent of other workers and labor unions marching as part of the much larger People’s Climate March (PCM), held on September 21.

Estimates place the number of marchers as high as 400,000. With those numbers, the march was the largest of its kind in the history of the United States, with people from across the country and the world banding together to call attention to increasingly extreme weather that has brought droughts and fires to the Western United States and spawned powerful megastorms. The science is clear: climate change is placing lives in danger; threatening livelihoods, homes, and agriculture; and promises to wipe entire islands totally off the map...and the situation may be nearing the point of no return.

More actions are happening in NY this week as the UN Summit on climate change opens. More than 80 labor unions took part and NWU marched with a very large and lively UAW delegation behind a very cool banner. Where the movement goes from here is not clear, but the issue of climate change is now front and center, no longer a fringe issue, and no longer up for debate.


 

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09/03/2014 - 5:43pm

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Larry Goldbetter, President – 212-254-0279                                                        

David Hill, Co-Chair Journalism Division – 347-749-1842

 

NWU STATEMENT ON THE DEATH OF STEVEN J. SOTLOFF

The National Writers Union joins the rest of the world in our grief and anger over the brutal murder of Steven J. Sotloff by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). He was just 31 years old. Our sadness is compounded by the fact that his death follows so closely that of fellow freelance journalist James Foley just two weeks ago. Steven, James and many others have risked their lives to work a beat that major news sources have abandoned as too dangerous.

Steven had lived in Yemen and learned Arabic there. He covered the Arab Spring, reporting for Time, The Christian Science Monitor, The National Interest, Media Line, World Affairs, and Foreign Policy, from Egypt, Turkey, Libya, and Bahrain. He was abducted in Syria on August 4, 2013.

At least 20 journalists are still missing in Syria, where the three-year old civil war has taken the lives of more than 191,000 and created more than 3 million refugees. Thirteen Palestinian journalists were killed and more than three dozen wounded in the recent Israeli assault on Gaza. Last month, Russian journalist Andrei Stenin became the seventh journalist murdered in Ukraine, his car recently recovered on a road close to Donetsk. The vehicle was burned and riddled with bullet holes. Like Foley and Sotloff, these journalists were all targeted for execution.

The world is an ever more dangerous place. As we write this, war rages in Afghanistan, the Middle East, Ukraine and across Africa. US drone strikes occur regularly in Yemen, Pakistan, and now Somalia. And US troop levels in Iraq will soon once again top 1,100. The shocking videos of the Foley and Sotloff murders may not be what a previous administration had in mind when they launched their “Shock and Awe” invasion of Iraq. But it is what we have reaped, and there is no end in sight.

RIP Steven J. Sotloff. And to those in the field, be strong, be brave and be safe.

 


 

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08/28/2014 - 4:01pm


 

I was told today at my temp job with the National Probation Service in Swansea, Wales, that being a writer was "undesirable" when working with confidential files, even though I had previously been an employee of the organization. This is the same place that celebrates its famous writer, Dylan Thomas with events, festivals and statues. I have also worked at the Police, the DWP, (Department of Work and Pensions) the DVLA (Driver's Licensing Department) and had security clearance, and worked at the National Health Service.

I was told by the temp agency the "senior management" had found out I was a "writer" and I was dismissed because of it. It didn't even matter what sort of writing you did, health and beauty, yoga and fiction equals some major investigation of their practices and divulging confidential information in their minds.

I have contacted NAPO (trade union for Probation and Family Court Staff) to make them aware that being a writer was a dismissible offence. Obviously some one who I was working with went and told the "senior management" I was a writer to get me let go, not a happy thought. Temp jobs are days, weeks and months at best. Most people would want more continuity in their lives than that brief encounter and being a writer is a life-long occupation. I wonder how many other writers have been discriminated against for having a long-term job as a writer.

I would welcome hearing anybody else's experience of discrimination for being a writer.

Sincerely,

Cara E. Moore

 


 

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08/20/2014 - 10:03pm

 

We grieve the loss of James Foley and send our condolences to his friends, colleagues and family. At 40 years old, James Foley was still in the early stages of what would surely be a long and successful career as a journalist, yet already he had accomplished far more than most journalists do in a lifetime. His work had taken him into the heart of conflicts around the world. He was no stranger to hostile and dangerous environments.

In fact, his capture in 2012 wasn't even his first. He had already spent 44 days in a Libyan jail in 2011 while covering the civil war there. During his capture he witnessed another journalist, South African Anton Hammerl, killed in the firefight. Despite the risks, Foley still traveled to Syria in 2012 to cover the conflict there. His commitment to bearing witness and reporting what he saw to the world was admirable.

Every journalist should look to his example and the example of others who risk their very lives to bring the world the truth. It is worth noting that James Foley was, like many of the journalists currently covering the conflict in Syria, a freelance journalist. He was not a staffer with the backup of a large well-funded media company. And other freelancers covering Syria have faced similar dangers since most of the media pulled their staffers out in 2012. Austin Tice went missing in August of 2012 after sneaking into Syria with the intention of finding work as a freelance reporter to cover the conflict. He tweeted from Syria "If someone wanted to hire me that'd be great. Student loans don't pay themselves."

At least 20 journalists have gone missing in Syria since the civil war began in 2011. At least 39 journalists are missing worldwide. This is a moment for us to celebrate the life and work of James Foley, but also a moment to reflect on the risks that brave and admirable men and women just like him take around the world for very little money and often very little recognition. Without their bravery in the face of war, despotism and chaos, history would truly be written by the victors. May those who have not been found come home safely, and may those yet to go into the scene of the battle be protected, cared for, and celebrated.

 


 

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Union News

11/12/2010 - 1:22am

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today backed a strike by journalists at the Croatian daily newspaper Voice of Istria in a crucial battle over workers’ rights and independent journalism in the country.

The IFJ affiliate the Croatian Journalists’ Union, which organises 117 workers at the Glas Istre Novine company, has called a strike tomorrow after nine months of turmoil at the paper which has seen a company buy-out, plans for massive wage cuts, job losses and internal interference in the work of journalists.

“This strike is a result of management ‘slash and burn’ tactics and a refusal to negotiate with the union,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “The workforce refuses to see their rights wiped away by a company that has lost all sense of decency in its treatment of staff.”

11/12/2010 - 1:17am

The European Federation of Journalists today called on journalists across Europe to support journalists at the BBC who have launched a strike campaign to defend pension rights. At the weekend journalists staged a successful 48-hour stoppage across the network, forcing a number of flagship programmes off the air. Now fresh actions are planned as the network seeks to impose a "pay-more, get-less" retirement plan on thousands of its staff.

"The BBC journalists are showing the way to tackle head-on the media agenda of cuts and down-grading of staff rights," said Aidan White, EFJ General Secretary. "It's a strike campaign that will resonate in all European media houses where journalists and media staff are being targeted to shoulder the burden of the financial crisis."

The EFJ says that European journalists are facing savage budget cuts, declining social rights and a lack of social dialogue not just in the broadcasting sector, but across the whole of the media landscape.

10/18/2010 - 5:03pm

The NWU National Executive Board voted to oppose an Arizona law, House Bill 2281, which threatens ethnic studies classes in the state. The vote took place at the September 25-26 meeting in New York City.

Outgoing Arizona Schools Superintendent Tom Horne drafted the measure after launching vicious public attacks on the ethnic studies program, particularly Mexican-American Studies class of the Tucson Unified School District. Horne, a Republican, is running for Arizona Attorney General...

10/04/2010 - 4:45pm

With the folding of daily newspapers and an overwhelming number of other commercial print publications, the bulk of paid published writing has shifted to the Internet. In the world of Internet publishing, we have seen the rise of Content Farms claiming to offer desirable writing assignments. These companies, owned by AOL, Yahoo and Demand Media among others, pay writers very little—such as $50 dollars for ten or more 500 word articles, pay by amount of web site page clicks—and other nonspecific methods with no guaranteed amount or very low payment. Demand Media, which has contracts with the San Francisco Chronicle, the National Football League, The Houston Chronicle and more, boasts of having 10,000 freelance writers that they pay a penny-a-word!

10/04/2010 - 4:09pm

Despite long hours of travel to get to Washington, UAW members showed up in the thousands to support the march's goals. Photo by Susan Kramer.Despite long hours of travel to get to Washington, UAW members showed up in the thousands to support the march's goals. Photo by Susan Kramer.


“The voices of division will try to divide us by race, gender, age and other ways. Those rallying here today are leading us on a path of community, of compassion and common humanity.” That’s what UAW President Bob King told almost 200,000 marchers from more than 300 unions and progressive organizations at the “One Nation Working Together” rally.


10/04/2010 - 4:03pm

On September 24, the FBI raided the homes of anti-war activists in Chicago and Minneapolis, removing computers, cell phones, boxes of papers, posters, children’s art and more. They claim they were investigating “material support for terrorism.” More than a dozen federal warrants were served in four states calling people to testify at a Grand Jury this week. On September 27, NWU President Larry Goldbetter issued the following statement which was read by NWU members at a rally protesting the raids in front of FBI headquarters in Chicago. He and other NWU members joined a similar rally in NY on September 28.

 

10/01/2010 - 11:46am

In its press release, the European Federation of Journalists demands that journalists currently in jail in Turkey must be set free immediately if the movement towards key changes in the country’s constitution is to deliver promises of democracy and freedom.

The EFJ has joined its affiliate, the Turkish Journalists Union (TGS), in a call for the immediate and unconditional release of more than 40 journalists jailed in Turkey who they say are in prison for nothing more than doing their job.

09/12/2010 - 3:49pm

Crain’s new york business.com reported that freelance workers in NY state are owed more than $4.7 billion in lost wages. The article (http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20100829/SMALLBIZ/308299994) sited a study by a Rutgers University economist that “shows that 42% of nearly 900,000 independent workers in New York State reported having trouble collecting payment for their labors last year.”

08/23/2010 - 8:18pm

Lee Lockwood (1932-2010), a photojournalist who made his name with influential 1960s articles about Fidel Castro and an American prisoner of war in North Vietnam, was a member of the National Writers Union from 1989 until he retired in 2006. He died on July 31 of complications from diabetes.

Lee Lockwood (1932-2010), a photojournalist who made his name with influential 1960s articles about Fidel Castro and an American prisoner of war in North Vietnam, was a member of the National Writers Union from 1989 until he retired in 2006. He died on July 31 of complications from diabetes.

According to an obituary in the August 7 New York Times, Lockwood viewed his work as a photojournalist as an instrument of social change. A freelancer, he was associated for many years with the Black Star Agency, which sent his work to newspapers and magazines around the world.

Lockwood also wrote books. His most famous, Castro’s Cuba, Cuba’s Castro: An American Journalist’s Inside Look at Today’s Cuba in Text and Pictures (Macmillian, 1967), was based on a week-long, smoke-filled interview for Playboy in 1965. The book covered a wide range of topics, from Marxism, the Cuban missile crisis, and American race relations to sex and prostitution. Lockwood explained in the introduction why he wrote the book: “We don’t like Castro, so we close our eyes and hold our ears, Yet if he is really our enemy, as dangerous to us as we are told he is, then we ought to know as much about him as possible.”

While in Cuba, Lockwood obtained a visa to North Vietnam, the scene of another famous article. That made him the first outside photographer allowed there in more than a decade. Lockwood’s 28-day visit was chronicled in a long, heavily illustrated cover article for the April 7, 1967, issue of Life magazine. As the Times notes, “In words and pictures, Mr. Lockwood portrayed the life of a country then under heavy bombardment by United States forces: bare, ruined villages; deserted factories; a boy with a missing leg, lost to a bomb,” as well as scenes of everyday life.

 

One of Lockwood’s subjects was American Navy pilot Lt. Cmdr. Richard A. Stratton, who had been shot down and captured in January 1967. Clad in striped prison pajamas, Stratton read a “confession” denouncing U.S. bombing over a loudspeaker and then bowed on orders from a prison official. Lockwood’s photo of Stratton bowing, given a full page in Life, was reproduced around the world. Coupled with Lockwood’s description of Stratton – “His eyes were empty.… His expression never changed.” – the State Department soon after charged the Vietnamese with brainwashing. However, in a Times interview in 2008, Stratton called his actions merely common sense: “You are being tortured, and all you have to do to get them to stop is say the same thing that Bobby Kennedy is saying.”

Lockwood joined the Boston Chapter of the NWU in 1989, inspired by the opportunity to belong to a fighting union. The 1954 graduate of Boston University with a degree in comparative literature showed an avid interest in computers in the early 1990s when other writers were pooh-poohing the emerging technology. Members remember that he gave an informative workshop on that topic for the Western New England Chapter. A review of Boston Chapter doings yielded this from 1993: “Lee Lockwood wanted more on-line exchange of information and ideas, so he pressed the NWU to make our bulletin board an active networking service.”

The major arena where Lockwood contributed his many skills to the NWU was the Grievance and Contract Division where from 1992 to 2005 he spent about 90 percent of his time as a contract advisor. Phil Mattera, the long-standing National Book Grievance Officer, remembers: “Lee was also the member who brought the NWU's first grievance (in 1994) involving an electronic book. Playboy Enterprises was putting together a CD-ROM compilation of interviews from the magazine and planned to include Lee's Castro piece – without asking permission and without more than token compensation. Unlike other contributors to the magazine, Lee had never signed over all rights. After getting publicity for the case in Publishers Weekly, The Wall Street Journal   and other publications, we got Playboy to pay Lee a $1,000 fee.”

Having members of Lee Lockwood’s reputation certainly enhanced the NWU’s stature and encouraged similar writers to join. We salute Lockwood’s many professional achievements and contributions to the NWU as we continue to advocate for freelance writers’ rights which greatly concerned him.

Note: If you wish to send a few words of remembrance to the Lockwood family, you may do so via the online guest book.  It’s interesting to note that Richard Stratton posted the following message there: “Lee's 1967 Life Magazine "Bowing Picture" ensured my release from Hanoi in 1973. For this my family is forever grateful. Deepest sympathy from our family to yours.” One hopes Lockwood knew that. 

Susan E. Davis
National Contract Advisor
Book Division Co-Chair
New York Chapter Co-Chair

07/10/2010 - 11:09pm

The National Writers Union joins with the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) in condemning the brutal murder of Faiz Mohammad Khan Sasolion June 27.