But in sleek SoHo penthouses, Brooklyn brownstones and Upper West Side cafés, a community that is perhaps the ultimate bubble—the New York fiction publishing industry—is still struggling to come to terms with its isolation. They are asking themselves how literature became so detached from the contours of American life in so many parts of the country. The perspectives of the white working classes and the rural poor, the demographics that handed Trump the presidency in 2016, have been largely absent from the novels printed every year. And as these demographics become increasingly central to the country’s political conversations, the publishing industry is wondering what it needs to do to change.
“I feel ashamed,” Lorin Stein, former editor-in-chief of the Paris Review and former editor at large for publishing house Farrar, Straus, Giroux, told me last year, before he resigned from both positions. “For a long time the publishing establishment pretended to speak for more people than it really did. And we can’t pretend that anymore.” He paused, searching for the right words as he admited, “I wasn’t focused on how closed off our worlds have become from one another … but thanks to the election I have a very different sense of what kind of marketplace we are all in.”