Less than three months after the resignations of all but two members of the International Thriller Writers association’s board of directors, the organization is rebuilding to better serve its members with an eye towards avoiding the recent controversies that have plagued it and several other organizations serving writers. Like other organizations, including most recently, the National Book Critics Circle, ITW has been forced to confront charges of racial insensitivity. ITW is also dealing with the aftermath of charges lodged with the organization as well as with Dallas, Tex. police that a male author affiliated with ITW allegedly assaulted a female author during a conference in late fall, 2019.
ITW members recently voted on a slate of 11 mystery and thriller authors who will join its board beginning in mid-October, including such notables as Anthony Horowitz and C.J. Box. Half of the new members are female, including Karin Slaughter, Kathy Reichs, and Lisa Gardner. ITW has created a new committee, diversity and outreach, headed by incoming board member Alexia Gordon. Veteran board officer Heather Graham and incoming board member Gregg Hurwitz will serve as co-presidents of the 12-member board.
In addition, in July the 16-year-old organization established a security and safety committee to draft a comprehensive process for dealing with violations of its code of conduct policies. The six-member committee includes at least one survivor of assault, a law enforcement officer, a district attorney, a psychologist, and a victim’s rights lawyer.
“The committee is making excellent progress,” interim executive director Kimberly Howe told PW, “The new procedures will offer a victim-friendly process that will thoroughly investigate each complaint, allow the subject to fully respond, and will result in ITW providing a safe and welcoming atmosphere for all participants” of Thrillerfest – the organization's annual convention held in New York City -- and any other gatherings sponsored by ITW, which has 5,000 active members in 44 countries.
Conflict and Introspection
According to a report by Hillel Italie for the Associated Press, the troubles leading to the late June exodus of ITW’s board members originated with widespread criticism of what many considered an insensitive statement issued on June 3 by the organization in response to Black Lives Matter protests. According to several sources who spoke to PW, the short statement began with ITW affirming its support for its Black members, "as we do for all our members, whatever their color, ethnicity, gender, faith, or orientation." The original statement was "very much an 'all lives matter' kind of statement," noted a source who requested anonymity. The statement was quickly removed, and a revised statement posted on ITW's website in its stead.
The actual catalyst for the resignations, however, was the board’s dismissal of a female author’s allegations of assault at a writers conference. According to an essay by Jay Stringer in Book & Film Globe, the alleged assault took place during Bouchercon’s annual mystery convention, held in Dallas Oct. 31-Nov. 3, 2019; a police report was filed by the alleged victim and a witness, another female author. The accused was an author affiliated both with ITW and with Bouchercon. ITW initially dismissed the complaint made to the organization by the alleged victim in April, stating that it had no jurisdiction over a non-ITW event, and that she would not see the accused at any ITW event until next year, due to the transformation of this summer's Thrillerfest into a virtual gathering.
After board member Ed Aymar resigned in protest, ITW released a statement on June 22 identifying the alleged victim but not the accused.
According to Stringer's report, confirmed by several authors PW interviewed, including the alleged victim, the genre fiction community was vocal in its objections to ITW's treatment of the woman who had made the allegations. ITW members canceled their memberships. In a June 19 tweet, Blake Crouch disclosed that he had withdrawn his 2019 novel Recursion from consideration for ITW's Thriller Award for best hardcover novel; all five nominees being considered for ITW's Thriller Award for best e-book original novel withdrew their names from consideration as well.
Two petitions also circulated among ITW members in June: one petition, launched by Vanessa Lillie called for ITW to investigate the allegations; following ITW’s public statement identifying the alleged victim, Lillie's second petition demanded the resignations of the entire board.
"The first petition was about the allegations, but it was also about their handling of the Black Lives Matter movement," Lillie said, "It was about the cavalier treatment of women and also Black writers. I've been to Thrillerfest. It's a white space, it's a white male space. I wanted [the alleged victim] to feel that she wasn't doing this alone. The second petition was after they outed [the woman] and used her name multiple times. The board was tone deaf. I did it from a place of wanting ITW to be better."
The first petition had 5,000 views, gathered almost 1,000 signatures from both members and non-members. The second petition, which asked only members to sign, gathered 180 signatures in less than 24 hours. It was pulled on June 23 after eight members of the board resigned, leaving only co-presidents Graham and John Lescroart. Lescroart's term on the board is up this fall; thus, Graham is the only veteran board member moving forward. Graham is also an ex officio member of Bouchercon's board of directors.
Executive director Elizabeth Berry also resigned her position, effective July 10, and was replaced by Howe.
"There's a lot of new energy on the board now," Lillie said, "They're people who support women and people of color. It's not just white men." The former board, before the wave of resignations in June, consisted of 10 men and two women.
Bouchercon Responds to Allegations
Bouchercon, a mystery writers organization that holds a fan-based convention in a different city each year drawing between 1,500-2,000 attendees, did not respond to multiple requests by PW to the organization and to board chair Mike Hursaw, an Indiana bookseller, asking what measures the organization is implementing to protect attendees at future events. Bouchercon posted this summer an undated and unsigned statement acknowledging the incident “of harassment” at the annual gathering in Dallas.
“We take every complaint of harassment seriously,” Bouchercon states on the landing page of its website, “We have an anti- harassment policy which condemns any form of harassment. We are currently reviewing the policy to ensure it contains appropriate reporting procedures, actionable steps, and transparency. We expect and strive for every Bouchercon event to be a safe space for our members, attendees, vendors and guests.”
Bouchercon also investigated the 2019 incident in Dallas, and according to the alleged victim in an email to PW, "Last week Bouchercon notified me that they wrapped up their investigation and decided on an action. I am happy with the outcome and feel their efforts will protect our community well." On the advice of her attorney, she declined to provide further details.
As part of its effort to make its annual convention safer for attendees, Bouchercon recently revised its Code of Conduct and Anti-Harassment Policy, which previously only applied to conduct inside official Bouchercon spaces, such as Bouchercon sponsored or produced events, as well as its social media accounts. The revised policy is more comprehensive than the previous one, and applies to "any and all Bouchercon members, board members, committee members, at-large members, attendees and/or guests of attendees at all times, as well as during attendance at Bouchercon sponsored or produced events, whether in-person, virtual and/or otherwise."