At the end of December, when Simon & Schuster signed a book deal with controversial Breitbart editor and alt-right darling Milo Yiannopoulos, the reaction from the literary world was harsh and swift.
Scores of writers threatened to boycott the publishing company and the Chicago Review of Books announced it would not cover a single Simon & Schuster book in 2017 “in response to this disgusting validation of hate.” On Twitter, outspoken writer and educator Roxane Gay, author of the best-selling book of essays “Bad Feminist,” mused: “Whew. When I saw that Milo had a book deal I whispered, please don’t let it be my publisher.”
Her most prominent works — including “Bad Feminist,” the novel “An Untamed State,” “Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body” and the short story collection “Difficult Women” — had been published through Harper Collins and Grove Atlantic. But Gay soon remembered that her forthcoming book, “How to be Heard,” was to be a product of TED Books — an imprint of Simon & Schuster.
The realization, Gay told BuzzFeed News, left her deeply unsettled, and this week she decided to pull the book from the publisher.
“I was supposed to turn the book in this month and I kept thinking about how egregious it is to give someone like Milo a platform for his blunt, inelegant hate and provocation. I just couldn’t bring myself to turn the book in,” Gay said in a statement to BuzzFeed News, which first reported her decision. “My editor emailed me last week and I kept staring at that email in my inbox and finally over the weekend I asked my agent to pull the book.”
The action, Gay told BuzzFeed News, was her “putting my money where my mouth is.”
Gay, who is touring right now for “Difficult Women,” spoke to a packed house Wednesday at Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind., just hours after news of her severed deal with Simon & Schuster broke.
“I just couldn’t sleep at night thinking, ‘They’re just going to give him a platform for hate?’” Gay told those in attendance, according to the Indiana Daily Student, the university’s student newspaper. “I felt like that was a stand I could take to say, ‘We’re not going to normalize racism.’”
Gay, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, told the audience that the $250,000 advance Yiannopoulos received for his forthcoming book, “Dangerous,” exceeded the advances for her first five books, reported the IDS.
Yiannopoulos is a Greek-born, British writer who thrives on the publicity he generates by being outrageous. His incendiary and racist remarks about “Ghostbusters” actress and Saturday Night Live comedian Leslie Jones on Twitter got him permanently banned from the platform in July 2016. He has stirred up controversy at universities across the country during speaking engagements and as recently as Wednesday canceled an event at UCLA because students there could not accommodate his “long list of requirements” for a Feb. 2 campus visit, reported the Los Angeles Times.
His caustic viewpoints on women, minorities, Muslims and immigrants have made Yiannopoulos a de-facto mouthpiece for the “alt-right” movement, short for alternative right, a small, far-right movement that seeks a whites-only state. Adherents of the alt-right are known for espousing racist, anti-Semitic and sexist points of view. Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump’s chief White House strategist and senior counselor, was the executive chairman of Breitbart, where Yiannopoulos works.
In articles for Breitbart and in public talks, Yiannopoulos had said things like “birth control makes women unattractive and crazy”; Black Lives Matter is “the last socially acceptable hate group in America,” and “feminism is cancer.”
Like Gay’s “How to Be Heard,” “Dangerous,” an autobiography, was also picked up by an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Threshold Editions. Threshold was founded in 2006 with what The New Yorker described as a “politically conservative mission,” publishing authors like Rush Limbaugh, Karl Rove, Michelle Malkin and Dick Cheney.
Earlier this week, BuzzFeed News obtained a letter from Simon & Schuster CEO Carolyn Reidy, assuring its authors — many of whom had expressed concern over Yiannopoulos’ book deal — that the publisher was taking their displeasure seriously.
“First and foremost, I want to make clear that we do not support or condone, nor will we publish, hate speech,” Reidy wrote, according to BuzzFeed News. “Not from our authors. Not in our books. Not at out imprints. Not from our employees and not in our workplace.”
Threshold’s decision to publish “Dangerous” was an “editorially independent” one, Reidy wrote, and one made without the “involvement or knowledge of our other publishers.” The book was pitched as an “examination of the issues of political correctness and free speech,” Reidy said in the letter.
“The imprint believed that an articulate discussion of these issues, coming from an unconventional source like Mr. Yiannopoulos, could become an incisive commentary on today’s social discourse that would sit well within its scope and mission, which is to publish works for a conservative audience,” Reidy wrote.
She acknowledged the fierce debate surrounding who should, and should not, be awarded a book contract, but said “it ultimately comes down to the text that is written,” which, according to Reidy, will not be allowed to “incite hatred, discrimination or bullying.”
In her statement to BuzzFeed News, Gay’s take was far less nuanced:
And to be clear, this isn’t about censorship. Milo has every right to say what he wants to say, however distasteful I and many others find it to be. He doesn’t have a right to have a book published by a major publisher but he has, in some bizarre twist of fate, been afforded that privilege. So be it. I’m not interested in doing business with a publisher willing to grant him that privilege. I am also fortunate enough to be in a position to make this decision. I recognize that other writers aren’t and understand that completely.
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