An open letter to Carolyn Reidy, Simon & Schuster CEO

My publisher has been in the news lately, and the news is not good. Though I know many have argued that writing about Milo Yiannopolous gives him publicity and motivates more people to buy his book, I felt like my own silence on the issue was a form of complicity. And I wasn’t comfortable with that. So I wrote a letter to S&S President and CEO, Carolyn Reidy. I know I’m opening myself up to white supremacist trolling by posting this letter publicly, but on the eve of the inauguration, it feels especially important to be vocal, to do what I can to avoid normalizing hate and abuse disguised as “free speech.”

 

Dear Carolyn Reidy,

First, I’d like to thank you and everyone at Simon & Schuster—especially my amazing editor Marysue Rucci—for taking the risk of publishing a collection of essays by an unknown writer. When I got the call from my agent letting me know that Simon & Schuster had made an offer on How to Fall in Love with Anyone, I pulled over, got out of my car, and jumped up and down on the side of the road. I was so excited.

One of the things I liked about Simon & Schuster from the start was your obvious commitment to ideas that challenge the status quo and push the cultural discourse in progressive directions with book by authors like Rebecca Traister and Alain de Botton and Issa Rae and Justin Simien, just to name a few. I felt proud to be in such good company.

I read a summary of your end-of-year memo about resisting the censorship that looms on the political horizon and I felt proud again. As a publisher, you understand that ideas have power, that individual voices can change the landscape of our country, and that (as you point out) right now those voices matter more than ever.

Maybe you can imagine my disappointment in Simon & Schuster’s decision to publish Milo Yiannopoulis’s forthcoming book. Many people in the media have conflated calls to boycott S&S over Yiannopoulis’s book deal with calls for censorship. But as you know Milo has a large platform and his ideas will continue to circulate without the company’s money and implicit endorsement. I’d love to see my publisher be the one who draws a line at hate speech, who acknowledges that online assault is often as destructive as physical assault, who continues to value the work of women writers, and people of color, and other marginalized voices, and who is bold enough to say no to people like Yiannopoulis who try to silence those voices with harassment.

I feel especially concerned for the writers without equally large platforms whose book sales will likely suffer as a result of widespread calls to boycott S&S. My friends and colleagues who have joined the boycott are the same people who prioritize buying books by women and writers of color. For these writers, the decision to publish Yiannopoulis is doubly destructive: S&S is promoting the work of someone who aims to undermine their basic rights, and enabling a boycott that may hurt their careers.

Personally, I find it difficult to argue with those who have decided not to buy or review my book when it is published later this year. I understand that now, more than any other time in my life, it’s important to act in ways that are in line with progressive values and in support of individual civil and human rights. I respect any thoughtful individual expression of those values, even if it impacts my career.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I am hopeful that in the future Simon & Schuster can find a way to “stand unequivocally for freedom of speech”—as you say in your memo—without endorsing hate and assault.

Sincerely,

 

Mandy Len Catron

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12 thoughts on “An open letter to Carolyn Reidy, Simon & Schuster CEO

  1. Good on ya! Mandy.

    I have also written to S & S, but as a mere occasional book-buyer. But then, without us book buyers where would S & S be? As you said, and as I said to S & S , it is still a free country. Yiannopolous can write what he wants and sell it without penalty, but he certain does not need the leg up offered by the prestige and marketing machinery of a major publisher. Should Trump’s regime prove even half as toxic as I expect, publishing will certainly be one of the businesses most negatively affected. Let Mr. Y find some backwoods vanity press. He doesn’t need our help.

    Marty Hykin

    >

  2. Thank you so much for your courage in speaking out. I have nothing that makes my voice more than a wail in the wilderness (and a body in a march), although I did tweet S&S that I would be boycotting them, so I am so very, very appreciative of those who have a louder voice making themselves heard. This is part of the love story!

    • Thanks, Hilary! I don’t know that my voice carries all that much weight either, but I did get a response from Reidy’s assistant along with the form letter sent to all authors. I’m please that Roxane Gay–who is in a position to get out of her contract–has chosen to do so.

  3. Mandy, I recently came across your TEDTalk “A better way to talk about love” and thought it was a very interesting viewpoint. So I was googling your name and came across your open letter to SS.

    I am disappointed to learn that you wanted SS to “stand unequivocally for freedom of speech” by somehow not publishing Milo’s book. I understand Milo is somewhat controversial, but that’s not a reason to denounce SS for publishing his book. Just because you don’t hold the beliefs of a certain person, it doesn’t give you the right for you and others to try to stifle freedom of the press by punishing SS.

    For a part of society that wants to be so inclusive, you sure are are exclusive to all others that don’t share your beliefs. Make the world a better place and let others have their beliefs without you trying to shut down free speech, or punish a company that does completely believe in free speech.

    • Hi: Thanks for taking the time to write a thoughtful response. I thought I might get some pushback on this, and I have had a couple lengthy conversations about it with friends on Facebook. But I really appreciate that folks who disagree with me have taken the time and effort to do so with civility and thoughtfulness.

      For what it’s worth, I think MY has the right (legally, constitutionally) to say whatever he wants to say and write what he wants to write. But no corporation is bound (legally, constitutionally) to give him money or a platform. S&S publishes plenty of folks whose ideas I disagree with. I don’t have the authority to change or stifle this and I think it’s important for our culture to have a diversity of viewpoints. But as I say in my letter, hate speech is different. I stand by that. MY is legally allowed to disparage women and minorities. I’m legally allowed to express my disappointment with S&S for giving him money and amplifying that voice. And you’re welcome to express your disappointment with me.

      I’m glad you liked the talk and glad you took the time to write a comment. I really am.

      Sincerely,

      Mandy

  4. Mandy, one last comment and I’ll let it go. I do appreciate what you are doing, and I know it angers all of us when we hear someone saying things that we perceive as hate speech. But I would only say that we shouldn’t shoot the messager. If you want to silence Milo, try to convince everyone you know using all means of social media to not buy his book. Don’t try to convince SS to not print it. I saw where some was boycotting SS because of this issue. This only hurts ALL authors trying to sell their books, including you. Boycotts of establishments never work as you would hope they would. It often hurts other innocent companies, or sometimes causes such a response that the reverse happens. You might even cause Milo to sell more books.

    I am planning to purchase you book, and hope to be further enlightened by your thoughtful words of wisdom.

    Al Heaton

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