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Watch Your Commas: Maine Court Case Hinges on Punctuation Mark

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Editor's Note:

We’re starting with the Oxford comma and ending with sexual harassment in today’s Daily Blunt. Check out this and everything in between.

To the delight of smug grammarians everywhere, the want of a simple comma resulted in a court win for Maine truck drivers suing their employer over ambiguous overtime rules. The merits of the serial comma (or Oxford comma, as it’s popularly known) are often debated wherever English is taught, which means this otherwise-nondescript court case is sure to end up being quoted in classrooms around the country. (Additionally, in case the missing punctuation mark wasn’t enough to clinch a ruling in their favor, the drivers also had quibbles related to their contract’s use of gerunds.)

Nigerian fantasy writer Nnedi Okorafor is among the ranks of an elite cadre of authors, but it’s not one anyone ever hopes to join. Like Octavia Butler and Ursula Le Guin before her, the ethnicity of Okorafor’s characters have ended up being obscured in cover artwork clearly meant to appeal to white readers. The author offered side-by-side comparisons on her Twitter account: The art for 2007’s The Shadow Speaker that was originally sent for her approval, and then a more appropriate version that was sent after she “threw a sh*t fit.” She also describes her struggles with well-meaning readers who’ve told her they still mentally picture her characters as white — when there actually “isn’t one white person in the entire novel.”

Actress-turned-author Mara Wilson has conjured up a valuable reminder that when it comes to challenging reading material, timing can be everything. Having been exposed to The Diary of a Teenage Girl at a too-young age, Wilson describes keeping the book at arm’s length, until it became an object of unsettling fascination — a spell that was only finally broken when she saw the 2015 film adaptation, and finally saw her younger self in the titular character. “Nobody can hurt you like an older man who doesn’t mean to hurt you,” she observes — wisdom that’s just as useful for men as it for girls, teenaged or otherwise.

There’s no going back from Bonnie Nadzam’s recent essay “Experts in the Field,” an account of the sexual harassment experienced by female writers at the hands of professors, colleagues, editors, and publishers who have situated themselves as the gatekeepers of the literary world. In the month since then, LitHub has assembled anecdotes from Roxane Gay, Aimee Bender, and numerous other writers who’ve stepped forward to confirm this depressingly universal experience. With the combined strength of their stories, these authors hope to usher in “a collective period of realizing that none of us has been (or should be, or can go on) holding such experiences silently, alone, in turning up the lights and beginning to identify what exactly we’re working with.”