The civil unrest in the Twin Cities continues to take its toll on Minnesota's literary community—sometimes in unexpected ways. Thursday evening, the night before protesters set fire to two adjoining Minneapolis indie bookstores and destroying them both, the reaction to a St. Paul–based literary agent’s tweet ended up gutting the boutique agency she owns.
Three agents affiliated with Red Sofa Literary tweeted this past weekend that they have resigned in response to owner Dawn Frederick’s tweet, leaving one subsidiary rights executive besides Frederick still employed there. Frederick's official Red Sofa account on Twitter has been removed.
In the tweet that set off the resignations, Frederick wrote that the gas station on her block, in the city's Groveland/ Macalester neighborhood across the Mississippi River from Minneapolis, was “officially getting looted.” She added that she was calling the police, “as someone will need to board up this place.” Almost immediately, several followers responded, asking Frederick not to call police on anyone in the midst of widespread civil disobedience in the Twin Cities. (There is a growing concern among area residents and other observers that the police, armed with rubber bullets and tear gas canisters, are targeting people of color protesting George Floyd's murder at the hands of a police officer.) One follower, author Maggie Ryan Sandford, a Red Sofa client, tweeted, "Please do not call the cops right now. Imagine if you were black right now." Although Frederick's side of the exchange between the two was later removed, others captured screenshots that still remain on Twitter.
Agent Kelly Van Sant, who specializes in middle grade and YA literature, disclosed about an hour later that she had resigned, effective immediately, in reaction to the tweet. “This was a painful decision, but a simple one,” Van Sant wrote in a statement that was also tweeted. “My commitment to justice for all Black people does not stop when it becomes personally painful or professionally difficult.”
In response to Van Sant, Frederick posted a statement on Red Sofa’s website, explaining what had happened on her block the previous night, writing that “it was straight up looters” rather than protesters. "Seeing this entire situation get misconstrued and to be accused of something I’ve worked my entire life to not do is incredibly painful,” Frederick wrote. “There were no protesters present. Zero protesters. I’d never call the police on someone for protesting.” Frederick insisted that the people she was reporting to the authorities were not in her judgment protesting police violence against people of color, but, rather, were exploiting the general mayhem by breaking into the gas station and "running out with items in their arms, jumping back into their cars, and hightailing it off the block."
By Saturday afternoon, Amanda Rutter, who specializes in SFF, and Stacey Graham, who specializes in romance and nonfiction, had followed Van Sant in resigning, also effective immediately. Rutter tweeted that she could not, “in all good conscience, call myself an ally and not react in this way to what I perceive as racism.” Graham’s tweet announcing her resignation did not refer to Frederick’s initial tweet. “Due to recent events, I felt I could not stay with the agency any longer,” she tweeted.
Frederick subsequently posted a second statement on Red Sofa’s website, apologizing for that tweet, and vowing to “be better.” She wrote: “I didn’t equate calling the police to report property damage with the reality that doing so could cause harm to the people currently fighting racism in my community.”
Frederick declined to speak on the record with PW, as did Rutter and Van Sant. Graham did not respond to PW’s request for an interview by press time.
Frederick, who founded Red Sofa in 2008, is a well-known fixture in Minnesota’s vibrant literary community, serving on the board of directors of the Loft Literary Center and having launched the MN Publishing Tweet Up social group. She also supervises the team of volunteers working in the galley room during the Heartland Fall Forum regional booksellers trade show each year.
All weekend, publishing industry insiders have been weighing in on Twitter, many condemning Frederick’s statements, a few defending her. Several authors represented by or about to sign with Red Sofa also announced that they would be parting ways with the agency.
“I was appalled to find out that the agent I was about to sign with, Dawn Frederick of Red Sofa Literary, called the cops on people protesting the killing of George Floyd,” Julie Kliegman tweeted. “She posted a statement doubling down. I will not condone her racism. Writers, beware.”
Update: Maggie Ryan Sandford was incorrectly identified in an earlier version of this story.