Days after George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis, the city exploded into protests. An argument on whether or not to call the police when civil unrest becomes destructive exploded between literary agents and now has led to legal action.
Red Sofa Literary Agency owner Dawn Frederick tweeted May 28 on a now-deleted Twitter account that she called police on alleged looters during a night of unrest in the Minneapolis area.
Another literary agent Beth Phelan, who works with the Gallt & Zacker Literary Agency and the Twitter pitch party #DVpit creator, tweeted that Dawn’s actions were “disingenuous and gross.” As agents began to quit from Red Sofa Literary, the business was mentioned throughout book Twitter with the allegations by other literary agents, authors, and prospective authors. Now those agents who helped those tweets go viral have received cease-and-desist letters.
Beth; Laura Zats, founder and literary agent of Headwater Literary Management and co-host of the award-winning Print Run podcast; Kelly Van Sant, a former Red Sofa Literary agent who resigned over Twitter; and Isabel Sterling, young adult author of These Witches Don’t Burn and the upcoming The Coldest Touch, said they all received cease-and-desist letters from Dawn’s defamation specialist lawyer, Marshall H. Tanick of the Minneapolis firm Meyer Njus Tanick.
From the letter posted on Twitter by Laura, Dawn is requesting the group stop accusing her of racist acts and being racist, remove all tweets related to the accusations, and “prepare and post a corrected statement indicating that she did not make any racist or other improper statements, casting aspersion on her, her character, or her reputation.” Laura added in a subtweet that Dawn had told her to “back down” when an agent threatened legal action against her over sharing a link.
The group started “A Bookish Legal Defense Fund” GoFundMe page to pay for their legal costs and wrote their own letter. Their lawyer is J. Remy Green, a partner with New York firm Cohen & Green, who also specializes in defamation. The fund has $15,000 out of its $75,000 goal with over 400 donors as of June 18, a week after the fund was created.
Dawn posted an apology in a letter on Red Sofa Literary’s homepage on May 30.
I’m deeply sorry for anyone I hurt with this careless action.
The authors and agents who may now question whether or not we share the same ideals have every right to feel this way. My actions were tone-deaf and the product of my own privilege—even if they were unintentionally so.
Book Twitter kept buzzing about the sincerity of the apology days later while authors like Foz Meadows who worked with Red Sofa Literary in the past shared their issues with Dawn and the agency. Dawn is closed to queries and three other agents still work at the agency.
The social media battle happening across industries and circles around the civil unrest has led to plenty of cancel culture, but book Twitter is moving fast with its cancellations.
Another literary agent, Marisa Corvisiero of Corvisiero Literary Agency, also received backlash for representing The Maze Runner author James Dashner, who had been accused of sexual misconduct and was dropped by his literary agent at the time in 2018. After agents also began resigning over Twitter, Marisa let go of all her agents, according to an internal email retained by Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America’s Writers Beware.
Last week, the National Book Critics Circle lost more than half of its 24-member board after 15 members resigned over drafting a statement in support of Black Lives Matter. One board member, Carlin Romano, called “the full benefits of white supremacy and institutional racism” and “white gatekeeping had been working to stifle black voices at every level of our industry,” as the statement read, “absolute nonsense,” according to photo screenshots from Hope Wabuke, a Ugandan-American author who suggested making the statement and eventually stepped down from the board.
The National Book Critics Circle wrote in a statement that it would delay its awards to focus on diversity efforts.
“The NBCC Board is committed to reimagining the entire organization and restructuring in a way that modernizes the NBCC and demonstrates a clear commitment to racial and social justice. We will not move forward as an organization unless we have met the ideals we aspire to.”