The sexual harassment charges against Sherman Alexie, which have recently bubbled up via social media, have left independent booksellers in a difficult position.
The bestselling author has been a vocal champion of indie stores throughout his career, having launched the Indies First campaign in 2013 by publicly asking authors to handsell books at indies on Small Business Saturday. And, while most of the indie booksellers PW contacted said they felt the allegations leveled against Alexie were credible, many also felt they didn’t necessarily need to stop selling his books.
Tattered Cover co-owner Len Vlahos said the Denver-based chainlet has a long history of carrying “any Constitutionally-protected material” that it thinks its customers want to read. Noting that he and his colleagues don’t pass judgment on any books Tattered Cover carries, Vlahos said that philosophy extends to authors as well. As such, Tattered Cover will continue to carry Alexie’s books.
Left Bank Books co-owner Jarek Steele said he and his colleagues are “very upset” by the allegations against Alexie, and believe the women who have come forward with their stories of harassment and abuse. While the store will not stop selling Alexie’s titles, it will discuss with its customers any controversial books or authors. “The members of our staff have great insights and are good listeners,” he said.
Tracy Taylor, manager of Seattle’s Elliott Bay Bookstore (which is Alexie’s local indie), said the business does not pull books from its shelves “unless they’re not selling.” Therefore, Elliott Bay will continue to stock Alexie’s titles. She qualified that statement, though, by disclosing that store’s personnel are engaged in an ongoing discussion on how best to respond to these types of allegations. “We are very concerned and we are listening,” she said.
Other indies, however, are scrubbing Alexie’s titles from their shelves, including Women Children First in Chicago, which pulled Alexie’s books, although it will fulfill special orders for them.
Danielle Foster, co-owner of Bookworks in Albuquerque, says that she will not be re-ordering Alexie’s titles. She said the store, which works with various New Mexico reservations and schools with large numbers of Native students, and has held numerous events with Alexie over the years, supports the women who made the allegations against the author. Nonetheless, the store is “not making a big deal out of [not re-ordering these books].” The store will special order any titles by Alexie that a customer requests, but will focus on promoting “other Native American authors [with books] on our shelves,” like There There author Tommy Orange. “I feel that’s the best approach,” Foster said.
At the Washington, D.C. pop-up Duende District, Angela Maria Spring said it was “an easy decision” to pull Alexie’s books. The author, she said, “faces multiple accusations of preying on women, many of whom were from the community he purports to represent.” Spring disclosed that a friend, who is a children’s book publishing professional, had confided in her a few months ago about several instances in which she experienced Alexie’s inappropriate behavior. It was then, she said, that she decided then to stop selling his books.
“The main reason this behavior is tolerated privately…is because these authors make a lot of money [for] the industry,” Spring told PW. “To sell their books knowing they have hurt others is to not only be complicit in the culture of abuse and harassment but, to go even further, to be actively supportive of that culture.”
An earlier version of this story contained erroneous information concerning Bookworks and has been corrected.
This story has been updated.