Fallout continues from the publication of Red Hen Press managing editor Kate Gale's piece in the Huffington Post last week, which skewered critics of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. The piece, posted on August 24 and then taken down less than 48 hours later, ignited a firestorm within literary publishing circles for its seemingly casual reliance on a number of racial, ethnic, and gender stereotypes. Now, the literary press that Gale co-founded with Mark Cull is feeling the effects of the situation.
Since Gale's article appeared, three members of Red Hen Press’s advisory board--Sherman Alexie, Garrett Hongo, and Helena Maria Viramontes--have resigned. Fifteen authors now remain on Red Hen’s list of advisory board members.
Viramontes declined to discuss her decision with PW, but her agent, Stuart Bernstein, confirmed that she had resigned from the board. Alexie’s assistant told PW that he was not available for an interview.
Hongo resigned in a letter sent directly to Gale; he also posted his resignation in the comments section of Gale's HuffPo piece. Hongo told PW that he sent the letter after being contacted by a number of Red Hen authors who "were distressed and wanted to know what the [advisory] board was doing."
Noting that inclusion on Red Hen Press’ advisory board may have been intended to be “strictly honorary,” Hongo said he suggested in his email to Gale that Red Hen might name someone else to the advisory board who would be more involved than he has been. He explained that, in all the years he has been on the advisory board, he has never been called upon to give any advice to the press.
While he is leaving the board at a moment when the press is under attack, Hongo insisted that his actions represent "a statement modestly made.”
“This is not a time for grandstanding or vilification,” he said. He added that, while he does not condone what Gale wrote last week, she has always promoted “issues of diversity and inclusion.” Ultimately, he suggested to the authors who contacted him about potentially leaving Red Hen, that they first meet with Gale and Cull to discuss their concerns.
A number of Red Hen authors, though, seem to be following Hongo's lead. At least two Red Hen authors PW contacted confirmed that they have been swayed not to work with the press.
Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo, a Mexican-American poet who lives in Los Angeles, told PW that while having her debut poetry collection published was a “long-time dream” of hers, she decided, after reading Gale's piece, to turn down Red Hen’s recent offer to publish it.
“Publishing with Red Hen isn’t something I can do at this point, if I am to have any credibility in my own community,” she wrote in a blog post about her experience.
Novelist Michael Neff, whose debut Year of the Rhinoceros was published by Red Hen in 2009, told PW that he just closed a deal with the publisher to get his rights back. Neff, though, had complaints beyond Gale's article; he alleged the press didn't do enough to promote his book and that he was treated in an unprofessional manner by Gale.
Others though, while condemning the article that appeared in HuffPo, are standing behind Red Hen. Francisco Aragon, who directs the Letras Latinas literary initiative at the University of Notre Dame's Institute for Latino Studies, called Gale's article “misguided,” but says that it presents “an incomplete” impression of her and of Red Hen, which he described as having had a significant impact in providing "spaces and opportunities for Latino/a writers and poets," including the Letras Latinas/Red Hen Poetry Prize for a second or third book by a Latino/a poet.
“Kate began to redeem herself some with her second apology. My hope is that she will make good, moving forward, on a number of the things she said in that more substantive apology,” Aragon said.
Aragon's sentiments were echoed by William Archila, a prize winner for his poetry collection, The Gravedigger's Archaeology (2015); he said his relationship with Red Hen has always been professional and a positive experience. “People make mistakes," Archila said. "In my experience, as a Central American immigrant, it is essential to forgive.”
Gale declined to disclose how many authors have discussed their concerns with Red Hen personnel, or how many authors have asked for the rights to their books. She did say, though, that Red Hen has been reaching out directly to its authors and encouraging any with questions or concerns to "talk further with us."
While Gale declined to answer any questions about the situation, she told PW: "Due to Red Hen's record of diverse publishing, we have received many warm wishes."
An earlier version of this story attributed a quote to Francisco Aragon that was made by William Archila and has been corrected.