The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Colson Whitehead has announced that he will not be part of a Free Library author event scheduled for Wednesday.
The cancellation comes after the library’s Black employees posted an open letter last week to the Free Library’s leadership voicing complaints that they are paid less than white colleagues, face routine racism, and have been asked to return to work without plans in place to keep them safe from the coronavirus.
“I love doing events at the Free Library,” Whitehead tweeted. “But I am canceling my appearance next week as I am told the situation has not improved.”
On Monday, when library employees returned to work, they found expired hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes. On Tuesday, during a virtual town hall meeting, city officials apologized and said they would replace the outdated supplies.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 the letter declined to meet with her.
Kalela Williams, a Black employee who works as the director of neighborhood enrichment programming at the library, said the group didn’t ask Whitehead to pull out of the event.
“I was looking forward to Colson Whitehead’s reading, just like anyone else,” she said. Still, she said, “I think it’s crucial to have people who are in positions of acclaim stand up on our behalf.”
Whitehead’s novel The Nickel Boys is the winner of the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. His 2016 novel, The Underground Railroad, won both a Pulitzer and the National Book Award.
In a follow-up tweet, Whitehead pointed to his website, where he has a schedule of other virtual events he’ll be participating in next week.
Neither a representative of the Free Library nor Whitehead was immediately available for comment.
The Free Library said the event has been canceled and all tickets will be refunded in the coming week.