Minneapolis attorney Marshall Tanick of the Meyer, Njus, Tanick law firm emailed cease-and-desist letters on Monday to two literary agents and an author on behalf of his client, Dawn Frederick of Red Sofa Literary. The two agents are Beth Phelan of Gallt and Zacker (the email was cc’ed to that agency’s two principals) and Kelly Van Sant, who until two weeks ago worked for Red Sofa. The author is Isabel Sterling, who writes YA novels. SFF author Foz Meadows also received an email, she tweeted, but it contained multiple factual errors and was recalled by its sender.
In response to the cease and desist letter, the three hired their own lawyer, and fired back at Red Sofa with an open letter to Frederick. They also launched a GoFundMe campaign yesterday evening, “A Bookish Defense Fund,” to raise $75,000.
In Tanick’s June 5 letter, which its recipients posted on social media, Tanick stated that the three had publicly called Frederick racist and had described her as acting in a "completely racist way" on Twitter, after Frederick had tweeted during a night of violent protests across the Twin Cities in the wake of George Floyd’s killing that she was calling the police on people looting a gas station on her street.
“She was doing what publicly spirited, conscientious citizens should do,” Tanick wrote. “Your accusations of her ‘racism’ are false, harm her reputation, and are defamatory.” Tanick demanded that those accusing Frederick on Twitter of being racist “cease and desist” making such comments on social media; take down previous tweets accusing Frederick of being racist; “prepare and post a corrected statement” indicating that Frederick did not make racist statements on social media; and “confirm in writing that you will follow these steps promptly.”
In the "Open Letter to Dawn Frederick in Response to Threats of Litigation” that the three posted on social media last night, Phelan, Van Sant, and Sterling stated: “We interpret these demands as an attempt to not only silence us, but to compel us to lie for [Frederick]. We refuse.” The letter notes that Frederick had posted an apology on the Red Sofa website two days after her initial tweets, admitting that her earlier tweeting had been "careless," and her visceral response to the looting she witnessed the result of her own privilege.
The issue is larger than just one literary agent threatening others, the three wrote in their open letter, arguing that it encompasses the entire publishing industry. “The recent global uprising of protests have brought heightened awareness to the vast shortcomings in publishing,” the letter states, “leading to long overdue reckonings and demands for accountability. But too many voices continue to be suppressed by people in positions of privilege and power who exploit our fears of retaliation and career ruination. We want to push back against these intimidation tactics so that we can help foster an environment where we can speak our truth about racist practices and other insidiously problematic behaviors without fear of retribution.”
The letter concludes with a request for donations to the GoFundMe campaign, with an assurance that the funds will be given to the Minnesota Freedom Fund (an organization that provides legal support, bail, and bonds for social justice protesters) if Frederick does not follow through on the threat of taking further legal action. The campaign to date has raised more than $8,500 from more than 225 donors.
Phelan responded this morning to a request for an interview, writing in an email that she does not have anything to say beyond her tweets and the open letter to Frederick posted on social and sent to Tanick. Frederick has not responded to PW's requests for comment or an interview.
UPDATE: On Thursday afternoon, Laura Zats, a principal of Headwater Literary Management in Minneapolis announced that she received a letter from Frederick's lawyer, threatening legal action against the agent for re-tweeting tweets by others alleging that Frederick is racist. Zats is a former employee of Red Sofa Literary, who left it last year ago to found her own agency. She has joined Phelan, Van Sant, and Sterling in their GoFundMe campaign soliciting funds in case of a lawsuit. The campaign has raised almost $15,000 to date.
Several authors have announced that they are severing their relationships with Red Sofa Literary, including Margot Atwell, the head of publishing for Kickstarter. She tweeted Thursday afternoon that she has terminated her relationship with Frederick "due to the choice she made to call the police during the protests against George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis, and her subsequent decision to threaten legal action against her critics."
This story has been updated with further information.