A total of six authors have now canceled virtual events at the Free Library of Philadelphia after Black employees signed an open letter to administrators detailing complaints of being underpaid, facing routine racism, and lacking adequate protection from the coronavirus.
Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Colson Whitehead was the first to cancel, last week, in solidarity with Black employees. Now others have followed suit.
On Monday, Princeton University professor Eddie S. Glaude Jr. tweeted that he would not participate in a July 16 virtual event for his new book, Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own.
“I was excited about discussing my new book, Begin Again, at the Free Library in Philadelphia,” Glaude’s tweet read. “But I read the open letter from concerned Black workers at the library and concluded that I cannot, in good conscience, participate. I have canceled the event.”
On Tuesday, British author and broadcaster Adam Rutherford also took to Twitter to announce the cancellation of his Free Library event, slated for Aug. 13.
“US friends: I cherish speaking at the Free Library of Philadelphia,” Rutherford tweeted. “However, given the ongoing prejudicial treatment of Black employees there, I am withdrawing from my event (8/13) on racism and science.”
Both Rutherford and Glaude sent additional tweets pointing to the open letter sent by Black employees.
Disability rights activist Alice Wong and comedian/actress Maysoon Zayid had a joint event scheduled for July 15. The virtual discussion has been canceled.
“This was an easy decision,” Wong tweeted. “Solidarity isn’t transactional. It’s just the right thing to do. Period.”
“Our July 15 event with Alice Wong and Maysoon Zayid has been canceled by the author in solidarity with the Concerned Black Workers at the Free Library of Philadelphia,” the Free Library noted on the web page for the virtual event.
Emory professor Carol Anderson’s Aug. 4 event has also been canceled, according to the Free Library’s website, which did not cite a reason but offered a link to the Black employees’ open letter.
“I feel really supported,” said Jamie Bowers, an electric resources coordinator who is one of the library’s Black employees. ”Libraries are not immune to the systematic racism that you see across nonprofits and cultural institutions. ... We are not represented in any kind of large way on the board or on the executive staff.”
Kalela Williams, a Black employee who works as the director of neighborhood enrichment programming at the library, said that the library has not addressed the cancellations publicly with employees, who have found out by routinely checking the library’s events page.
The library’s Black employees wrote their open letter June 25. Then, when they returned to work last week, they found expired hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes.
During a virtual town-hall meeting last Tuesday, city officials apologized and said they would replace the outdated supplies. At the same meeting, Siobhan A. Reardon, the head of the Free Library, said she was working with the library’s board of trustees to respond to the letter after the Black employees who signed it declined to meet with her.
“We’ve had enough meetings,” Williams said this Tuesday. “We’ve talked about this for years.”
Free Library administrators declined to comment on the cancellations, and the library’s website now lists all summer author events as canceled. Whitehead’s scheduled appearance was a ticketed event, and the library has said all ticket-holders will get refunds in the coming week.