Greater than 1,100 students, poets, writers, and supporters have signed an open letter outlining considerations and calls for directed on the Smithsonian Establishment after the abrupt cancelation of the 2023 Asian American Literature Competition (AALF). The letter, written by AALF companions and members, alleges that the Smithsonian’s Asian Pacific American Heart’s (APAC) discover of the occasion’s cancellation only one month earlier than it was set to happen reveals “a flagrant lack of accountability for the hurt prompted” to each APAC workers and competition members.
“The competition in earlier years has created an unprecedented alternative for Asian American and Asian diasporic writers to construct group and attain new audiences; the cancellation is detrimental not solely to the careers of those artists and the futures of those organizations, but additionally to the broader literary group and the Asian American group as a complete,” reads the letter, whose signatories embrace poets George Abraham, Nellie Wong, and Wo Chan, illustrator Matt Huynh, and authors Ryan Lee Wong, Debbi Michiko Florence, and Melanie Conklin.
The letter additionally requires the “rapid resignation” of APAC Appearing Director Yao-Fen You, who despatched an e-mail discover of the occasion’s cancelation to solely a fraction of concerned members on July 5. Per You’s e-mail, the competition’s third iteration, slated for the weekend of August 4, wouldn’t be happening “resulting from unexpected circumstances” with no additional explanations, the Washington Post reported final Friday. Smithsonian spokesperson Linda St. Thomas knowledgeable the Put up that the competition was canceled as a result of it “was nonetheless in a growth stage” and “couldn’t be executed to the [Smithsonian’s] high-level requirements,” stating that “the competition organizers had been unable to arrange a full packet of confirmed supplies” by a selected date. St. Thomas additionally said that “no publicity had been finished and members had been notified instantly.”
However in conversations with Hyperallergic, members of the workforce and members who labored with them refuted any claims that this system was nonetheless being developed.
Cathy Linh Che, government director of the NYC-based literary nonprofit Kundiman, stated that the Smithsonian’s claims in regards to the occasion’s strategy planning stage are “false” and that the schedule had been finalized by early Could. These accounts had been corroborated by contracted program coordinator Kate Hao, who labored on the occasion planning workforce from February 2023 until July 5, when she obtained her cease work discover from the Smithsonian minutes after You’s cancellation discover went out.
Hao instructed Hyperallergic that she had by no means communicated with You, expressing her frustration and confusion with the abrupt cancellation.
“I used to be a core member of this workforce, and didn’t hear from You as soon as,” she stated. “If there have been true considerations about our progress, why didn’t she attain out? Why did she determine to cancel with completely zero discover or good religion engagement with the planning workforce within the lead-up to the choice?”
Hao additionally famous that St. Thomas’s assertion that no publicity had been finished for the occasion was “demonstrably false,” pointing to APAC’s “save the date” Instagram post in regards to the occasion that went up on June 1 and was reposted by a number of would-be members. She additionally reiterated that not each participant was notified of the cancellation — herself included. “It was APAC operations workers who forwarded [You’s] discover to me,” she stated.
The open letter’s first demand known as on the Smithsonian to recant on the “public assertion blaming competition planning workers” for the occasion’s cancellation and to challenge “an actual clarification.”
The letter additionally speculates that the occasion could have been canceled partly due to the trans and nonbinary content material included in this system. On July 5, planning workers offered You with a doc consisting of all the scheduled programming, which included the Trans and Non-Binary Studying Room spearheaded by nonbinary trans poet and author Ching-In Chen, to be vetted for delicate or controversial content material per the Smithsonian Directive 603. You despatched her cancellation discover that night itself, prompting questions from some members.
Hyperallergic has reached out to the Smithsonian relating to these claims.
“The timing is suspicious,” Chen instructed Hyperallergic. “I do know that workers has needed to submit this system report for earlier iterations of AALF and bought approval with out a downside, so this raises questions.”
“I participated in AALF 2019, the place I used to be a co-speaker for the Secret Histories talk,” Chen defined. “I had issued a problem to our group to show and embrace extra trans and nonbinary voices and tales and writers. The Trans and Non-Binary Studying Room was going to highlight that work throughout the competition, and I believe it was a testomony to the planning workforce’s dedication to incorporating that on this yr’s iteration.”
The letter additionally requires the Smithsonian Establishment to host the Studying Room as a standalone occasion later this yr. Different calls for embrace guarantees of a 2024 iteration of AALF, extra clear and collaborative decision-making processes for the competition transferring ahead, and full honoraria and paid lodging on the resort venue for all members who aren’t in a position to cancel their journey plans.
St. Thomas instructed Hyperallergic that an up to date assertion addressing the open letter is forthcoming. Planning workforce members employed immediately by APAC couldn’t instantly touch upon the letter.