After PW ran a story Wednesday morning about a Huffington Post article called “AWP Is Us,” that stirred existing concerns about discriminatory practices within the leadership of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs, the article has been taken down. The piece, written by Red Hen Press managing editor Kate Gale, has been replaced with a short “update” in which Gale apologized for any “hurt” she’d caused, and emphasized that the Los Angeles literary press she co-founded has always been committed to diversity and inclusiveness.
The article--which can be seen in full in these screen shots captured by PW--attempted to defend AWP against recent complaints about the lack of diversity represented in its programming, as well as the lack of transparency in its actions. Gale's article, however, featured inflammatory language that drew its own backlash. (Among other things, the article referred to Native Americans as Indians.)
In her update, Gale wrote that Red Hen Press “honors your right to criticize.” She continued: “I thank the writing and reading community for your passion and commitment to change and diversity. I look forward to hearing more from all of you in the next couple of months on how Red Hen can continue to be a partner with authors in the publishing world and be an ally to diversity in the community.”
Gale declined to comment about the situation, saying only that the matter is “too painful” for her. A Red Hen Press representative, when asked about what had happened, asked not to be identified and would only say that the “retraction speaks for itself.”
AWP executive director David Fenza told PW that nobody associated with the organization had asked Gale to take down the original column, or to post an apology.
“We don’t do that," Fenza said, adding that some "conspiracy theorists" have claimed AWP organizers have bullied them in response to complaints made about the organization's actions. “People can do what they want.”
Fenza confirmed that he had spoken to Gale after her article was taken down, and that he told her he was sorry for the contronversy now surrounding her and Red Hen Press. He also told Gale, who is on AWP's 2016 subcommittee and whose press is a literary partner of the 2016 conference, that he appreciates Red Hen's support of AWP.
Currently, Fenza said, there are no plans to ask Gale to step down from the subcommittee; he noted that this is partly because the committee's "work is done." Earlier this summer the organization demanded that the poet and literary provocateur Vanessa Place step down from the subcommittee after complaints surfaced in reaction to her posting, on social media, excerpts from Gone With the Wind and images from the movie.
Fenza, who believes Gale's "intentions were good," added that he will likely "be taken to task for talking to [her], and not making her a pariah.” But, for Fenza, Gale was simply trying to defend AWP.
"Nobody was standing up for this organization" and “saying something positive about this great trade show we participate in every year.”
Although AWP has been embroiled in controversy before, Fenza acknowledged that the situation had "never been this severe."