THE LATEST big news in publishing are the charges of sexual harassment taking place at writers conferences put on by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). This must-read post at School Library Journal is revealing on several levels– particularly if you read the comments, of which there are many. It reminds me of a fish tank in which the fish have begun feeding on themselves.
There are as many dramatic moments within the comments, in fact, as in a novel. One is when author and diversity advocate Tristina Wright is herself accused of harassment. Another is when the son of SCBWI‘s founder Lin Oliver jumps in to defend his mother against charges of inaction.
Before making any kind of judgement about this matter, one should understand what writers conferences are about. Aside from making money off wannabe authors, they’re about networking, schmoozing, and socializing– often accompanied afterward by ample amounts of booze. Introvert writers away from home, brushing up against– and no doubt lavishly complimenting– well-known writers. Stuff will happen.
(Well-known author Sherman Alexie, one of the accused, at a Weinstein Books party.)
The situation with SCBWI is especially pronounced. According to photos, women outnumber men at their conferences ten-to-one. Put a wandering male in that situation– especially one with a too-healthy ego– and he’s going to feel like a kid in a candy store. An environment designed for a stray predator.
(Photo from recent SCBWI conference.)
Might the problem be with the conferences themselves? Beyond this, with the way the entire industry is set up, putting writers– the talent– in a position of marked inferiority?Making them face from Day One a series of barriers to leap over and hoops to jump through: instructors, agents, editors, publishers; each one holding the carrot, the desired book contract, at arm’s length. Does anyone believe that with this situation, a ton of machinations, ass-kissing, and real abuse would not take place, human nature being what it is?
There has to be a better way. At New Pop Lit, we’re devoted to finding and constructing that better way.