It's been a painful week for literature and the arts in Philadelphia. A few days after the University of the Arts board of trustees announced on May 31 that the school, located in Center City, was closing its doors, the Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation—the Free Library’s fundraising arm, which finances its programming—abruptly fired all four members of its author events team on June 3. Previously, the team had organized and executed approximately 130 events each year at the FLP, many of which drew huge crowds to its main branch near the Philadelphia Art Museum.

Many of these authors were, in novelist Jennifer Weiner’s words, “a who’s who of bold-faced names, from prize winners and celebrities to book club picks and new talent.” Disclosing on Facebook that she has appeared on stage at FLP more than a dozen times, Weiner described the team—Jason Freeman, Andy Kahan, Laura Kovacs, and Nell Mittlestead—as “some of the best in the business,” and wrote that they were “consummate professionals.” The situation, Weiner told PW in an email, has become "a hot mess."

Most of the authors scheduled to appear at FLP this month clearly agree with Weiner’s assessments. The poets Julian Randall and Kirwyn Sutherland began their event at FLP on the evening of June 6 by reading a statement drafted by the four fired FLP employees. The statement explained that the employees gave 30 days' notice of their collective resignations to the FLP on June 3—over what board chair Jeffry Benoliel characterized as “a fundamental disagreement on the strategic direction chosen by the Board for the Foundation”—so as to not disrupt the current season’s series of author events, which wraps up at the end of June.

They were instead fired that day, and Kahan, who led the team and has worked at FLP for almost 25 years, was escorted from the building. The four were locked out of their work email accounts as well.

"We offered our resignations the morning of June 3, and in doing so we offered at least one month’s notice, because we do believe in this program and what it means to Philadelphia,” the statement read. “We felt we owed it to our patrons, authors, and colleagues to complete this season’s events.” The statement continued: “We discussed our concerns with the Free Library and Foundation leadership on numerous occasions, even as recently as the week prior to our resignations.”

Five FLP author events scheduled for this month have been canceled by the authors, although the FLP and FLP Foundation have only acknowledged one cancellation on the FLP website, a June 10 event featuring Reverend William Barber II and sociologist Matthew Desmond. After taking down the information about that event on or before Thursday morning, the FLP Foundation sent an email on the evening of June 6 to those who had registered for it, explaining that “due to unforeseen circumstances,” the event was not going to take place. “The decision to cancel was not made lightly,” the email declared. By Friday morning, FLP Foundation had reposted the event on the FLP website, but added a caveat that it was canceled.

Author Steven Rowley’s June 17 event was canceled quietly, with the information about it simply removed from the FLP website by Thursday morning, June 6. By the weekend, his website no longer listed the FLP event, but instead listed an event scheduled at a new venue, the Center City Barnes & Noble Bookstore, on the same day. Rowley’s publisher, Putnam, declined to comment for this story. By the morning of June 12, scheduled events featuring FSG authors Rachel Cusk and Ari Berman no longer appeared on the author events page on FLP's website.

A June 19 dual book launch with Joseph Earl Thomas and John Vercher remained posted on the FLP website for several days, even after Vercher announced on Instagram on June 7 that the event had been canceled, and that the two Philadelphia-based authors were launching their books instead at A Novel Idea on Passyunk, in South Philadephia, on the same date. Explaining that the event was confirmed on Friday, June 7, A Novel Idea’s co-owner, Alex Schneider told PW that Vercher had been in touch with the bookstore to host the event “five or six minutes after the story broke on Monday.”

“We’re thrilled that he reached out to us,” Schneider said. “we’ve always been a big fan of John’s and we’ve worked with him before. He and Joseph are popular authors. We hope through social media, the publishers, and the authors that people will know that the event is happening here and not at the library.” Vercher will appear again at A Novel Idea on July 11. Neither Thomas nor Vercher responded to PW’s requests for an interview.

In an email sent to PW on Monday, FLP Foundation executive director Monique Moore Pryor emphasized that the organization itself had not canceled any author events after the four staffers was fired.

“I understand that the events of the past week have been confusing to our author community," Moore Pryor wrote. “It is my sincere hope that the disruptive actions of a few do not negatively impact any author’s decision to participate in this critically important program, which has helped serve our neediest populations for thirty years. We are working closely with the authors’ representatives to have these rescheduled for future dates.” Pryor noted that Foundation employees and volunteers are currently managing the FLP programming, including author events, and that three events that took place last week as scheduled were “successful.”

One indie bookseller in the Philly suburbs, who requested anonymity, acknowledged that the situation at the FLP is “a mess,” but added that perhaps the implosion of the FLP’s author events programming might ultimately have a positive outcome: “This shakes loose the stranglehold that FLP had on major authors in the Philly region in the eyes of publishers,” she said. According to this bookseller and others that PW spoke to this past week, many A-list authors scheduled to appear at FLP do not add a stop at any of the Philadelphia metro area's more than 40 bookstores while in town. Several sources told PW that authors appearing at FLP are discouraged from making other stops in the area. Pryor denied this allegation, writing that “authors are free to appear where they please. We do not impose any restrictions.”

“Having the Free Library was obviously a dream for overworked publicists,” the bookseller told PW. “You could book someone into the Library and then you were done. All those appeals from indie stores on the event grids could be ignored.”

This story has been updated with further information.