AILA Rescinds Sherman Alexie's 2008 YA Book of the Year Award

An honor for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, winner of the 2008 National Book Award, has been taken away by the American Indian Literature Association, after multiple accusations of sexual harassment against author Sherman Alexie.

In a bold move, the American Indian Literature Association (AILA)is rescinding Sherman Alexie's 2008 YA Book of the Year Award "to send an unequivocal message that Alexie’s actions are unacceptable." Author Sherman Alexie

 Photo courtesy of
Little Brown

Alexie won the 2008 AILA award (and 2007 National Book Award) for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, but the legend in the AILA community and once-revered member in the children's literature world has been accused of sexual harassment by multiple women as the #metoo movement swept through the kid lit community in recent months. On February 28, Alexie released a statement apologizing and admitting to doing unspecified things that "have harmed other people," but denied the specific accusations of author Litsa Dremousis, and said he did not remember threatening anyone or their careers. AILA president Naomi Bishop did not confirm the action and contents of the note, but said via email that the American Library Association (ALA) would "publish the statement publicly for AILA" later this week. The note, sent to AILA membership via its listserv, was shared with SLJ by someone who received it. Here it is in full:

Dear AILA membership, The Youth Literature Awards Committee and the Executive Board write to express full support for the people harmed by Sherman Alexie. We believe and commend the writers who have spoken up and extend our heartfelt compassion to those who have chosen to remain silent. As librarians we have a significant influence on books that schools and libraries select. The AILA Youth Literature Awards were established in 2006 to honor Native authors and illustrators. The books we select represent the very best for our kids and our communities. We believe that writers are members of our communities who we can look to as role models for our youth. We cannot, therefore, recommend Mr. Alexie’s books, and we have decided to rescind our 2008 Best YA Book Award for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. In rescinding this award, we hope to send an unequivocal message that Alexie’s actions are unacceptable. Sexual harassment and abuse are not easy to report and discuss. If you or someone you know is experiencing sexual assault or harassment, one resource you can turn to is the Strong Hearts Helpline at http://www.strongheartshelpline.org/about/  Hope and healing can be found in books like #NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women. We selected it as our Best YA Book for 2018. #NotYourPrincess is a powerful anthology by Native American and First Nations women sharing their experiences through poems, essays, interviews, and art. It is one of many that AILA has selected for its awards. See information about the 2018 winners at http://www.ala.org/news/press-releases/2018/02/2018-aila-youth-literature-awards-announced  The youth we serve today are here because their ancestors fought for their future and the well-being of their nations. It is in that spirit with which we write to you today. Sincerely, AILA Youth Lit Committee AILA Executive Board

 

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Nomenclature

NCTE New Jersey has created a new code of conduct evidently designed to prevent Alexie-alleged incidents, that is frighteningly vague. Here is an excerpt: "Harassment includes, but is not limited to: Verbal comments that reinforce social structures of domination related to gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, age, and/or religion." WTF? Does that mean if a person makes a comment that uses regular gender pronouns, or refuses to zhe or "they" a person in a private conversation or comments at a session, he or she will be evicted from the proceedings? https://www.njcte.com/njcte-code-of-conduct/

Posted : Apr 25, 2018 08:35


rsuilo

this article was written about litsa trying to get a native woman fired she shouldn't be involved in the investigation or reporting she is driven by a personal vendetta and dangerous to the victims https://theestablishment.co/no-white-women-i-will-not-be-voting-for-hillary-9d1dec35a482

Posted : Apr 16, 2018 08:54


CReao

Litsa has a long history of attacking POC women. If the motto is believe women read this article about how she attacked a POC woman over a petty argument online then tried to have her fired from her job. She should not be anywhere near the victims her motives are suspicious. Litsa's name was changed here but it's about her https://theestablishment.co/no-white-women-i-will-not-be-voting-for-hillary-9d1dec35a482

Posted : Apr 16, 2018 07:54


Don Reynolds

Let’s agree at the outset, the American Indian Library Association has every right to do whatever it wants with its book selections and awards. However, they do not have the right to expect automatic respect for/agreement with their actions, especially when they disregard their own operating award selection criteria. The basic question remains unanswered: are AILA literary awards about the quality/content of the writing or the lifestyle of the author? Having served on a variety of children’s and young adult award selection book committees, I have some questions about applying not-specified criteria to award selections, especially when applied retroactively. Applying new criteria 10 years after a book has been selected to add that an author should be living an exemplary, virtuous life or being a writer “that writers are members of our communities who we can look to as role models for our youth,” is terribly unprincipled and unprofessional, not to mention ethically questionable. Do any of us think our work product should judged by how we’re treating our mother? (BTW, were those original committee members involved in selecting the Alexie book consulted in making the decision to rescind the Award they gave? How has his book lost its award-winning qualities because he harassed women?) AILA has an important voice to share in our discussions about how we treat each other and how we select appropriate materials for our collections. However, to be respected, we all must take actions deserving of respect since we will be known forever by the tracks we leave. As several of the 190 Comments above show, AILA and some of its members appear not to like its action being questioned and play the Native card to assert that folks not Native are not able to understand, then equate support for the harassed women to approval of their rescission: in point of fact, to question the AILA action is not to disbelieve the women nor to condone or accept Alexie’s despicable behavior. And Mr. Alexie’s behavior appears to be truly abhorrent. To be perfectly clear, let me repeat, to disagree with the AILA action is not to disbelieve the women. Please read TJG’s March 27 post from a woman who was there - she sums up the variables in the accusations, particularly wondering how someone who chooses to have an affair with married man thereby disrespecting his wife, can then claim to be a victim. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Martin Luther King, Jr. said that, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” It matters that it is inappropriate to demonize folks for different opinions or to question their motives, especially with ad hominem arguments. Some of the assumptions and false equivalencies in the preceding Comments are breathtakingly inaccurate. To the AILA Executive Board and the AILA Youth Lit Committee: in the name of the integrity of your mission, coupled with the ethical and moral treatment of others, reverse your decision to restore your professional respect. If you want to select future books based on an author’s personal lifestyle, rewrite your selection criteria for future awards. From an earlier time, when there were questions about who could write for whom about what, here are several concepts to keep in mind: Well, you don't have to be a chicken to recognize an egg. ~ Mary Richards (on the Mary Tyler Moore Show) Poor Flaubert, can’t write Madame Bovary. ~ F.N. (Ferd) Monjo, late children’s book editor

Posted : Apr 02, 2018 11:10

Debbie Reese

The person who asked the AILA Executive Board and the AILA Youth Lit Committee to, "in the name of integrity" reverse its decision to rescind Alexie's award so its "professional respect" would be restored is quite audacious, isn't he? Some mansplaining, some Whitesplaining, and some selected use of MLK, too. He said similar things in an email. In that email, he also said AILA's decision might make some people think of the "Indian giver" phrase. All that he says tells us a lot about tone policing and institutional racism, and Whiteness, too.

Posted : Apr 02, 2018 11:10

Observer of the Discussion

This is an inappropriate comment according to the SLJ Comments policy listed below. It should be removed, or better yet, not erased but labeled as being in violation. here should be no place for ad hominem attack of other Commenters and group-painting at the open space of SLJ. It is counter to all our principles. Same thing for the comments below from Creao and Rsuilo. Take it elsewhere!

Posted : Apr 02, 2018 11:10


TJG

T., thanks for your comment. I think it was a wise to remain anonymous, mostly because I continue to be amazed at how poorly all of this has been handled beginning with Litsa Dremousis’s involvement and NPR’s coverage of the women’s stories. I met Sherman almost ten years ago, and the email correspondence I’ve had with him, including me breaking things off with him after a one-time consensual encounter at his hotel, would probably support his defense. He was married so it didn’t feel right to me (yes, I think there’s some personal accountability in that kind of situation), but there was no coercion or anger expressed in person or through any correspondence with him. After, I continued to attend his readings when he came to town, and he would still sometimes email me from the airport on his way out of Spokane, for example, to ask how I was doing. That said, I understand that one person’s relationship with someone doesn’t preclude someone’s involvement or perceived entitlement with other people. In case you think my only purpose here is to protect Sherman, you should know that I reported what I considered to be my personal relationship with him to SCBWI through the link posted after the anonymous allegations came out against him in the comments section of the SLJ Children's Publishing Reckons with Sexual Harassment in Its Ranks. (I used the email address that SCBWI probably has on record with my former last name, same initials as above.) Although I made it clear I didn’t consider myself a victim, I felt it was important to share in case something in my story with Sherman fit a larger pattern of more troubling behavior with other women. While I’m interested in the well-being of the women involved, from the outside, there are many problems with the way this whole situation has been handled. For what it’s worth, here’s my opinion so far: I think AILA has every right to make decisions for their organization based on the objectives they hope to meet through their recognition. It’s also possible they have additional information that influenced their decision to rescind Sherman’s 2008 Book of the Year Award. As for the rest of us--we lack enough clear information to draw many reasonable conclusions from this mess. Sadly, Litsa Dremousis, who was not forthcoming from the beginning about her own consensual sexual relationship with Sherman has only hurt the credibility of the women choosing to speak out against him. Whatever the motivation, Litsa chose to insert herself into this narrative and we have little indication what she alleged has been proven. She claimed to have verified dozens upon dozens of harassment stories as “100% credible,” while receiving emails from women she was (for some bizarre reason) funneling to NPR. Is this their typical reporting procedure? Based on their own NPR accounts, none of the three women that spoke on out were sexually assaulted by Alexie. But were they sexually harassed by him? Bullied or threatened? The accounts need to be looked at individually. Jeanine Walker seemed surprised that Sherman was interested in her beyond her poetry and basketball skills, yet she also admitted her only real interest in him was to advance her own publishing ambitions. He asked to kiss her, didn’t when she said no, and later apologized. Doesn’t seem to fit the definition of harassment. Erika Wurth traveled to one of Sherman’s readings upon his request, walked back to a hotel with him and agreed to go to his room after he kissed her in the lobby. In his room things ended when he picked up on her non-verbal objection to his advances. Yet, several years later she had another sexual encounter with him that ended badly? My inclination was to dismiss it because it seemed that she chose to put herself in that position with him again. A series of consensual choices hardly sounds like harassment, but maybe he was bullying and threatening in the angry email exchanges afterword...we didn’t really know. Later on her twitter account, however, Erika filled in some essential details about their second encounter. Sherman apparently lured her around her apartment building and pushed her up against a wall. How did NPR miss THAT critical piece of verifiable information? It involved a chipped tooth for heaven’s sake! And yes, that’s assault. Of the accounts given on NPR, Elissa Washuta’s seemed the most problematic. Sherman’s vulgar comment to her at the restaurant could absolutely be perceived as threatening. Hopefully he said it loud enough that someone else at the table witnessed his reprehensible behavior. Worse, Sherman and Elissa later worked together as colleagues at IAIA. On NPR she said he tried to lure her to his hotel room at a conference they both attended. Jacqueline Keeler later wrote an article in which Elissa described Sherman’s pathetic attempt at seduction--sending a picture of the bed in his hotel room with a box of condoms on the nightstand. Fortunately, that’s easily verifiable. Unfortunately, NPR didn’t seem to verify it. So if Litsa and a handful of other women had the intention of rallying grievances of every kind against Sherman--they succeeded. Among them, criticism of his writing, his speaking topics to adult audiences, his perceived arrogance, and his supposed obligation to promote other Native writers. However, these things have only detracted from the harassment/assault allegations. That said, it’s good that some blatant problems have been addressed, including Native American tokenism in publishing and the dependency of Sherman as a gatekeeper in the literary world. Also obvious--the need for dependable reporting options for all women writers, but especially Native American women who statistically run a higher risk (2.5 times other racial groups) of sexual harassment and assault. T., I understand many of the concerns you mentioned in your comment, but without more information, I honestly don’t know how I--or anyone else--would evaluate your experience with Sherman. I do know that in order to assess any harassment/assault situation, women deserve the best reporting methods and most complete, verified coverage possible from dependable sources. As ground-breaking and necessary as the Me Too movement is, I worry that some people are giving in to blind belief based on hearsay that is easily distorted, manipulated and magnified in our digital age. And I do know this: poorly handled news coverage with ill-fitting personal accounts of perceived harassment will only hurt the Me Too movement in the long run. We all need to do better.

Posted : Mar 28, 2018 02:33


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