Following Sherman Alexie cancelling his appearance last Friday Linda-Marie Barrett, general manager of Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe in Asheville, N.C. wrote an open letter in which she pled with authors, “Please don’t abandon us; we need your support now more than ever.” She’s not the only bookseller to worry about being targeted by authors and illustrators in the wake of the passage of North Carolina’s HB2, or the Charlotte bathroom bill.
Under the law, it is illegal for transgender people, who have not taken surgical and legal steps to change the gender on their birth certificate, to use public restrooms of the gender with which they identify.
Alexie may be the first big-name author to take to take that step. He made the announcement via Twitter, “In honor and support of the LGBT community, I am cancelling all upcoming events in North Carolina.” But other artists have followed suit, including Bruce Springsteen, who cancelled a concert in Greensboro the same day Barrett’s letter appeared.
Barrett told PW, “We looked at our author schedule going forward and also at the momentum happening with businesses and conferences pulling out of North Carolina because of HB2 and realized we needed to be proactive. I could see the real possibility that authors in all genres might sign on to cancelling their tour dates in North Carolina.”
The store has also lost tourist dollars because of the new law. A customer from Tennessee, who liked to come to the store and bring her friends, wrote, “I’m not a major customer, as I probably only spend about $200 a year at Malaprop’s. I know it’s not your fault, but I will not return until the law changes. I just wanted you to know that you are losing business, and I know I am not the only one to feel this way.”
Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh hasn’t had any author cancellations, but Erik Larson, who appeared at the store the day after the bill passed, told events coordinator René Martin that he considered it. But he didn’t think it would be fair to the bookstore. Nor has Park Road Books in Charlotte experienced any cancellations. “Even though we ‘started’ this mess, we haven’t had any repercussions yet,” owner Sally Brewster said.
Neither has Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill. “But [we] are holding our breath,” Jamie Fiocco, owner and manager said. “It’s ironic that authors would cancel an event with an independent bookstore when we’re one of the most likely entities to speak out against this type of legislation.”
The day after the bill passed, Flyleaf revised its logo to reflect gay pride by adding a rainbow. The store is also hosting a Roundtable on “Workplace Nondiscrimination, HB2, and Your North Carolina Small Business” with the Small Business Majority association. And Fiocco and Barrett are planning to write a joint anti-HB2 letter to the legislature and are inviting other booksellers to sign.
The Regulator Bookshop in Durham, hasn’t had any cancellations either. But co-owner Tom Campbell has given the matter a lot of thought and in a letter to PW he wrote, “It would be sad indeed if one of the effects of this legislation was to diminish the number and strength of voices speaking out here for openness, inclusion, fairness and nondiscrimination.”
Campbell proposed offering big-name authors a chance to designate their events with the store as “Liberty and Justice events.” The store would donate a portion of the author’s and its proceeds to the North Carolina ACLU and the North Carolina Justice Center, which are fighting HB2. And he suggested that other stores follow suit.
“So to authors (and rock stars) we say,” Campbell stated in closing, “Don’t let the North Carolina legislature scare you away. Come on down here and get in their face! Help fire up the troops, here on the ground. Be a thorn in their side, not a silent, empty space.”
As for North Carolina, it’s not the only state feeling the heat. Alexie is also cancelling appearances in Mississippi over LGBTQ legislation recently signed into law. And that customer in Tennessee acknowledged that her state is considering similar legislation.