In literary organizations, diversity disputes keep coming

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Wednesday, May 29, 2024

In literary organizations, diversity disputes keep coming
A Romance Writers of America party in Anaheim, Calif., July 27, 2012. Conflicts over race, culture and inclusion have roiled the Romance Writers of America, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and other groups devoted to books and literature. Leah Nash/The New York Times.

by Elizabeth A. Harris

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- A rescinded award. Board members resigning in anger. And many public apologies.

This has been some of the fallout over accusations of racism or exclusion at several literary organizations over the past year and a half, including the Romance Writers of America, the National Book Critics Circle and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. In each instance, these organizations have bumped up against a moment in the country when greater accountability is being demanded, perhaps especially in an industry that is generally both fairly liberal and largely white.

“These literary organizations are a microcosm of our larger society with all kinds of viewpoints and life experiences contesting for influence,” said Suzanne Nossel, CEO of the free-speech organization PEN America. “Just as is happening right now in our politics and out on the street in protest, sometimes the dustups are getting pretty nasty.”

Among the most recent conflicts was one at the Romance Writers of America, which last month rescinded an award given to the 2020 novel “At Love’s Command” over complaints that it “romanticized genocide” against Native Americans. In the opening scene of the novel, the book’s hero participates in the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre, in which the U.S. Army killed hundreds of unarmed members of the Lakota Sioux tribe in South Dakota, including women and children.

The book’s publisher, Bethany House, said it was “saddened by the offense caused” by the novel, but defended the contents of the book and its author, Karen Witemeyer. In a statement, it said the book’s hero spends the rest of his life trying to atone for his part in the massacre.

“The death toll, including noncombatant Lakota women and children, sickens him, and he identifies it as the massacre it is and begs God for forgiveness for what he’s done,” Bethany House said. “We regret that some public reports have selectively portrayed the narrative as endorsing the violent actions in the character’s past. That is not the case.”

Witemeyer said in an email that she did not agree with the group’s decision to rescind the award but said, “I understand why they felt compelled to take such action, and I harbor no resentment toward them.”

The award, which the book received in the Romance with Religious and Spiritual Elements category, is a part of a new series of Romance Writers of America prizes. Called the Vivian Awards — named for Vivian Stephens, a Black woman who was one of the group’s founders — they replaced the annual Rita awards for excellence in the genre. The Ritas were canceled last year in the aftermath of a racism dispute that upended the organization, resulting in the departure of its leadership and board.

LaQuette, an author who goes by one name and who is president of the RWA’s board of directors, said the Houston-based trade organization had made a number of changes since the dispute, including revamping its code of ethics and bringing in diversity experts to speak with its new leadership and members.

“It is our greatest hope that we can create a safe space for all writers,” LaQuette said. “It took us 40 years to get here. It’s going to take a little bit for us to turn the ship around.”

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and American Booksellers Association, two other industry groups, also faced criticism this summer.

In June, the society’s chief equity and inclusion officer issued a statement condemning antisemitism in response to a rise in hate crimes, but did not also make a statement condemning Islamophobia. She resigned in the ensuing backlash and apologized. She later told Newsweek that she was harassed online and received death threats. The society declined to comment for this article.

The American Booksellers Association apologized this month for two recent incidents. In the first, a staff member filling in for someone on vacation was assembling a bestseller list and included the cover image from the book “Blackout,” by right-wing media personality Candace Owens, in place of a young-adult novel with the same title that was jointly written by six popular authors. In the second instance, the association included “Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters” in a box of books it mailed to members. Publishers pay the association to include certain books, and it has been its policy not to review them so that they do not decide the titles members have access to.

In a letter to members, Allison Hill, the association’s CEO, said the organization would review its box mailing policy, create a new diversity, equity, inclusion and access manager position, and donate to the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, among other measures.

In June 2020, the president and board chair of the Poetry Foundation resigned after an open letter signed by more than 1,800 people criticized the foundation’s statement about the Black Lives Matter movement as too weak. Around the same time, several board members at the National Book Critics Circle resigned after a board member accused another of making racist comments as the board discussed what to say in a statement supporting anti-racism.

Both organizations said they have since made a number of changes aimed at making the groups more inclusive and elevating more diverse authors, in addition to appointing new leadership.

Criticism of these groups has generally taken place on social media, especially Twitter, where complaints that might have been more easily ignored or dealt with quietly in the past can quickly pick up steam.

“My guess would be that institutions have been challenged over practices in the past that have not been inclusive or reflective,” said Michelle Boone, who in April was named president of the Poetry Foundation. “The difference is, more recently the calling-out has been done in a much more public way.”

PEN America's Nossel said that although many public battles these days are framed in terms of accountability, proportionality can often get lost.

“One of the things that’s troubling about some of these instances is there is very little capacity for forgiveness and reconciliation, even among people who seem to be of goodwill,” she said, adding, “When the accountability is driven by a firestorm on social media, the notion of proportionality goes out the window because nothing short of a complete repudiation is going to satisfy an audience from afar that’s really not immersed in the facts and can’t really assess motives. It can mean a default to the most draconian outcome.”

Last year's controversies last year took place as protesters demanded racial justice across the United States, but also amid turmoil specifically within the publishing world. A hashtag, #PublishingPaidMe, circulated online, encouraging Black and non-Black authors to publicly compare their pay to highlight compensation disparities. According to a survey released that year by children’s book publisher Lee & Low Books, the publishing workforce was more than three-quarters white.

It is against this backdrop, some believe, that conflicts at so many literary organizations should be understood.

“It’s the publishing industry,” said Farrah Rochon, an author and former board member at the Romance Writers of America. “That bleeds down into what you’re seeing in these various organizations. That’s where it starts.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

Today's News

September 8, 2021

The Bonnier Gallery Presents: Pioneer Digital Artist Yucef Merhi

Sotheby's to offer collection of renowned magician & entertainer Ricky Jay

Georgia Museum of Art receives major photography gift

Hauser & Wirth exhibits a large-scale sculpture and twelve works on paper by Phyllida Barlow

Pace opens an exhibition of four paintings by Zhang Huan at its East Hampton gallery

Swedish silver donated to Nationalmuseum

David Zwirner opens an exhibition of new work by Andra Ursuţa

Collection of esteemed gallerist Virginia Zabriskie to open fall 2021 season at Swann

Phillips Asia presents INTERSECT Online Auction of Contemporary Art, Jewels & Watches

Solo exhibition featuring sculptures and reliefs by Fred Sandback opens at Fondation CAB

Michael Rosenfeld Gallery opens its third solo exhibition of paintings by Beauford Delaney

Fondazione ICA Milano opens the first solo show in Italy dedicated to Michael Anastassiades

Alexander Berggruen opens an exhibition of works by Emma Webster

Tanya Bonakdar Gallery announces Renee Coppola as Sales Director, Los Angeles

Rockefeller Center installs Paula Crown's virtual 'message in a bottle' interactive artwork 'Emanare'

Bocelli serenades Venice's Rialto Bridge after restoration

Toni Servillo, Italy's everyman, in limelight at Venice

Abu Dhabi Art launches an initiative to support growing Emirati arts scene

France set for rare national tribute to film star Belmondo

Afghan art activist defiant as Taliban erase Kabul murals

Mexico to replace Columbus statue with indigenous woman

'The Box' gets inside Mexican sweatshop at Venice film festival

Ben Brown Fine Arts presents a new body of work by Enoc Perez

In literary organizations, diversity disputes keep coming

Exhibition of quilted works by Arrange Whatever Pieces Come Your Way opens at Mount Stuart

With a mess of fabrics, Broadway's costume shops return to work

Where to find the best CBD-infused gummies?

Top 5 most famous football players-WAGS couples in the world today

How To Use Hashtags To Increase Likes

NBA 2K22 Brings Bicycle Races to MyCAREER and The City

Can CBD Help People with Psoriasis Find Relief?

CBD Capsules As Post Workout Recovery?

Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .


Ignacio Villarreal
(1941 - 2019)
Editor & Publisher: Jose Villarreal
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez
Writer: Ofelia Zurbia Betancourt

Royalville Communications, Inc
Founder's Site. Hommage
to a Mexican poet.

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.
Sending Mail
Sending Successful