Sundress Publications is glad to give space to the writing community at large to have broader discussions on important topics. Recently, we have hosted discussions on issues such as plagiarism and now we offer up space to a roundtable on accountability in publishing. E. Kristin Anderson leads the discussion among the writers Hannah Cohen, Kenning Jean-Paul Garcia, Kolleen Carney Hoepfner, Kanika Lawton, and Nathan Alan Schwartz. This is a 4-part series. While we may individually agree (or disagree) in whole or in part with any or all of the participants, the views expressed in these roundtables are not necessarily representative of Sundress Publications, Sundress Academy for the Arts, or any other part of the collective.
In our first session of Accountability Roundtable, E. Kristin Anderson introduced readers to the current cultural need for more discussions on public call-outs in our media-driven society. Here are some of her words . . .
“Social media has delivered us into a culture of expediency. Careers can fall apart in an afternoon. Every single thing we say and do can be recorded and reported and spread faster than ever before. We all know that words have power, and that power has grown exponentially in the age of the “like.” With great power comes great responsibility—I know you know this, too.
Our community includes writers coming from so many different backgrounds and levels of experience. So how do we have discussions about ethics in the most ethical way possible? How do we know when to “cancel” someone and when to call them in and hope they can do better next time?
With all of this to consider, we hope that we can answer some of these questions. . .”
• E. Kristin Anderson (EKA): (moderator) (she/her)
• Hannah Cohen (HC): (she/her)
• Kenning Jean-Paul Garcia (KJPG): (xe/xyr)
• Kolleen Carney Hoepfner (KCH): (she/her)
• Kanika Lawton (KL): (she/her)
• Nathan Alan Schwartz (NAS): (he/him)
EKA: It’s really hard for us when one of our literary heroes turns out to be abusive. What do we need to do better in this community when someone held in a high position, someone largely respected and idolized, falls from grace, so to speak?
KL: I think the idea of idolizing anyone, including writers, can lead to heartache; like I said earlier, we all make mistakes and we, hopefully, learn from them. But having “heroes” that we elevate to this pillar of infallibility is unfair. They will do something wrong, and we have to contend with that.
Of course “kill your heroes” is wishful thinking; when big names in the literary community turn out to be abusive, the last thing we should do is immediately blame the victims.
I mentioned a close friend of mine being harrassed and gaslit by an abuser who is both marginalized yet have considerable clout in the community. They are in communication with others who have also been harassed by this person and their followers, and at least one of them have quit the community because of the backlash they’ve faced. I made the mistake of looking through this person’s Twitter (when they shared screenshots) and seeing some of the replies horrified me; there were people talking about physically hurting the victims to give them “something to whine about,” saying that they’re all white racists when the majority of their victims are POC, and repeating the classic “how can you be abusive when you’re so nice to me?” line.
People with clout in this community are not held to the same standards as the rest of us. On Twitter, I responded that everyone is on board with “believe survivors!” until the abuser in question is someone you admire, and then it’s “shame, mock, and gaslight survivors and anyone who stands by them.” People don’t want to confront the fact that their heroes are just as capable of doing horrible things as everyone else.
If we want to do better we need to actually follow through when we say “believe survivors.” When there is corroborating, hard evidence from multiple people, especially from those who do not know one another (such as the case with my friend), that warrants investigation and open dialogue, not doubling-down and victim-blaming. We will never move forward until our most vulnerable, marginalized members can advocate for their own safety and well-being without fear of ostracization for going “against” someone more established than them.
KCH: I understand how hard it must be to find out someone you’ve looked up to is not a good person or is even just plain evil. But it’s not great to make caveats for people just because you like their stuff. I know from experience that it hurts when people make excuses for people who have abused you. I try not to do that.
HC: I think we all have read or admired the work of artists and writers who turned out to be pretty terrible people. For example, I can’t deny the influence of Anne Sexton in my work, but she sexually abused her daughter Linda. I do think the difference is nowadays we don’t HAVE to financially support or share these works as opposed to even just five years ago. But I keep thinking about this essay by Claire Dederer in The Paris Review about who gets to be monstrous while also being an artist. It was published a few years ago and mostly focuses on Woody Allen (which, duh, ew) but I think it’s applicable to any sort of famed arts person, especially abusive men.
KJPG: There are terrible folks whose work I truly enjoy and wonderful folks whose work I find to be unbearable. This is a reality that I have to deal with. I don’t separate the art from the artist instead I try to have a discussion with myself about the work and I try not to promote the artist as much as their aesthetic. At any rate, we need to think about why folks are being lionized in certain ways. We need to find those aspects. Really zero in on ideas more so than personalities and personas. For me, Morrissey isn’t the only person doing what he does and as it turns out I can get the same effect from listening to other folks. I still listen to Bona Drag though. Just on the low. I’m not out here trying to make more Moz fans.
NAS: If I’m going to be honest here, Kenning said things perfectly.
EKA: Ultimately, if we have abusers in our community, that means we have victims. We have people who are hurt or even traumatized by the actions of the people we call out. What are good practices for supporting and advocating for those harmed by abusers and problematic people in our community?
KL: We need to listen, and that involves putting aside our own opinions until we hear what they have to say. But we shouldn’t push victims to disclose any more information than they want to—being privy to such information means that they trust us to a) listen to them and, b) use this information appropriately. If they don’t want to disclose names or wish to remain anonymous, we need to respect that.
We also need to use whatever privilege or power we have to advocate for those who don’t have our advantages. I’ve gotten harassing DMs for standing up for my friends and other writers both on L’ÉR’s Twitter and my personal account. I’ve been called slurs I hadn’t even heard of before, but I’ll speak up over and over and over again because I want to use my platforms for good. The last thing I want to do is sit on my hands while I see others getting harassed, especially if I can do something to help them.
As well, we need to center victims before abusers, no matter how their abusers may identify, or what power they hold in the community. I can only speak personally, but I’d rather people come for me than someone who is younger and more vulnerable. I have a soft spot for younger writers, and I want to do my best to help shape the community into something that doesn’t just say it’s welcoming and inclusive, but actually is; words can only mean so much without action.
Doing the right thing is hard, and God knows so many of us have felt the backlash that comes with it. But accountability means holding ourselves and each other to standards that will help mold this community into something that’s actually worthy of the diverse, incredible, and necessary voices that make it up.
At least I can sleep at night knowing that my conscience is clear.
KCH: Everything Kanika says is gold here!
KJPG: We need to give folks the space to speak or not speak. This means giving them room to be removed from questioning until they are ready for those. For some folks, they will never be ready for questions and we as supporters need to understand that too.
EKA: I agree with what’s been said here, and I want to add that we need to remember that what might be juicy gossip to you is somebody else’s trauma. There’s a lot of rubbernecking in the literary community and I think sometimes we need to stop and, like others have said above, give space to victims and those affected by literary bad actors. I’ve had people demand information from me and shame me when I wasn’t willing to share details about garbage that’s happened to me or my friends in literary spaces. That’s not okay. And like Kanika said above, we also need to be aware that if someone has entrusted us with information about their own abuse or harassment that even if they say it’s okay to talk about we need to center that person’s agency and consider their privacy in any discussions that come from that information.
NAS: I agree with everything said here!
EKA: If you have any resources or other articles on this topic you’d like to include, please share them below and let us know how they were helpful to you!
HC: I wrote an essay about the time I alerted a literary journal about one of their contributors. Spoiler alert: it did not end well.
KCH: Hannah’s essay is essential. If I were teaching a course on running a literary journal, it would be on the syllabus.
EKA: I just want to link again the article by Claire Dederer that Hannah mentioned during this conversation. It’s an important read, and it’s also very engaging.
Thank you to everyone who took the time to read these thoughts. It’s our hope to help deepen engaging conversations. We hope this gave you a place to start.
AND, ONCE AGAIN, THANK YOU TO THESE PARTICIPANTS!
E. Kristin Anderson is a poet and glitter enthusiast living mostly at a Starbucks somewhere in Austin, Texas. A Connecticut College alumna with a B.A. in classical studies, Kristin’s work has appeared in many magazines including The Texas Review, The Pinch, Barrelhouse Online, TriQuarterly, and FreezeRay Poetry. She is the editor of Come as You Are, an anthology of writing on 90s pop culture (Anomalous Press) and is the author of nine chapbooks of poetry including Pray Pray Pray: Poems I wrote to Prince in the middle of the night(Porkbelly Press), Fire in the Sky(Grey Book Press), 17 seventeen XVII(Grey Book Press), and Behind, All You’ve Got (Semiperfect Press, forthcoming). Kristin is a poetry reader at Cotton Xenomorphand an editorial assistant at Sugared Water. Once upon a time, she worked the night shift at The New Yorker. Find her online at EKristinAnderson.com and on twitter at @ek_anderson.
Hannah Cohen lives in Virginia and received her MFA from Queens University of Charlotte. She is the author of the poetry chapbook Bad Anatomy(Glass Poetry Press, 2018). She’s the co-editor of the online literary journal Cotton Xenomorph. Recent publications include Berfrois, The Rumpus, Entropy, Cosmonauts Avenue, SWWIM, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, and elsewhere. She was a finalist for Best of the Net 2018 and has received Pushcart Prize nominations. Her website is hannahlewiscohen.com. You can follow her on Twitter for Twin Peaks humor, adorable cat pictures, and endlessly screaming into the void at @hcohenpoet.
Kanika Lawton is a Toronto-based writer and editor. She holds a BA in Psychology with a Minor in Film Studies from the University of British Columbia and is completing her MA at the University of Toronto’s Cinema Studies Institute. She is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of L’Éphémère Review, a Pink Door 2018 Fellow, and a multiple Pushcart Prize nominee. Her work has appeared in Ricepaper Magazine, Vagabond City Literary Journal, Hypertrophic Literary, Longleaf Review, and Glass Poetry. She is the author of the micro-chapbooks Wildfire Heart (The Poetry Annals, 2018), Loneliness, and Other Ways to Split a Body (Ghost City Press, 2018), and Monster (Girl) Theory(post ghost press, 2019).
Kolleen Carney Hoepfner’s poetry and other writings can be found in Rabid Oak, Memoirs Mixtape, Glass, Occulum, and elsewhere. Kolleen serves as Editor in Chief of Drunk Monkeys, and is the Managing Editor and Social Media Coordinator for Zoetic Press. She is the author of Your Hand Has Fixed the Firmament (Grey Book Press) and A Live Thing, Clinging with Many Teeth (Spooky Girlfriend Press). Her main goal in life is to have Alec Baldwin smile at her. She lives in Burbank, California, with her husband and children.
Kenning Jean-Paul García is a diarist, humorist, performer, and antipoet. Xe was raised in Brooklyn, NY but currently resides in Albany, NY where xe studied linguistics. As it would turn out, xe never really got to use xyr understanding of Sumerian and Akkadian as a cook nor while working the graveyard shift in one of the nation’s biggest box stores. #sigh Anyway, xe is the author of the no(t)vel – OF (What Place Meant) and Slow Living (West Vine Press) as well as the speculative epic ebooks – Past and Again and Playing Dead. Xe is also an editor at Rigorous.
Nathan Alan Schwartz likes to dance with the devil in the pale moonlight. He is also the EIC of FIVE:2:ONE.
A 501(c)3 non-profit literary press collective founded in 2000, Sundress Publications is an entirely volunteer-run press that publishes chapbooks and full-length collections in both print and digital formats, and hosts numerous literary journals, an online reading series, and the Best of the Net Anthology.