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A Bookish Legal Defense Fund

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[August 16, 2021]

Well, it's been over a year since this situation transpired. We are currently waiting out the two-year statute of limitations. In June 2022, if Dawn still has not initiated any official legal action, we'll be donating the funds (less our own legal fees) to a charity or organization promoting racial justice. Thanks again for your donations and your support. <3


Another literary community member has received a cease & desist letter from Meyer Njus Tanick on behalf of Dawn Frederick. We are adding Kay Taylor Rea to our defense and to this open letter.


Unfortunately, we have to update our campaign to include Laura Zats, founder and literary agent of Headwater Literary Management and co-host of the award-winning Print Run podcast. Dawn Frederick’s lawyers sent Laura a cease & desist letter on June 11, 2020, less than 24 hours after our statement went public, threatening legal action for Laura’s retweets.

********THE STORY********

We are raising money for a legal defense fund in response to cease & desist letters we received from literary agent Dawn Frederick's lawyers, claiming "accusations that she is racist" when we criticized her for calling the police on "looters" in St. Paul, MN.  If she proceeds with this case, we will need help defending ourselves.

Here is our open letter response to Dawn: 

On June 8, 2020, we received cease and desist letters from a lawyer on behalf of Dawn Frederick, literary agent and founder of Red Sofa Literary. The letters demanded that we delete our respective posts regarding Dawn’s actions and further, publish retractions stating that “she did not make any racist or other improper statements,” validating the behaviors that we had previously condemned. Failing this, we were told Dawn will pursue legal action against us for defamation. We interpret these demands as an attempt to not only silence us, but to compel us to lie for her. We refuse.

After we and others spoke out against her tweets, Dawn posted a public apology on her website owning up to her wrongdoing, but then turned around to privately send threatening letters to people who spoke up. In that apology, Dawn admitted that her actions were “careless,” that “[t]he authors and agents who may now question whether or not we share the same ideals have every right to feel this way,” and that her “actions were tone-deaf and the product of [her] own privilege.” That she is now threatening to sue people for agreeing with her apology makes it impossible to interpret the apology as anything but insincere. So, which is it, Dawn? You said in your apology that you would “work to be better.” Is this what “better” looks like?

Our industry has been persistently plagued by systemic issues of racism, discrimination, and failures of inclusion, despite repeated efforts by the literary community (led by Black women) toward holistic and long-lasting improvement. The recent global uprising of protests against the state-sanctioned murders of Black people have brought heightened awareness to the vast shortcomings in publishing, leading to long overdue reckonings and demands for accountability. But too many voices continue to be suppressed by people in positions of privilege and power who exploit our fears of retaliation and career ruination. 

We are making this public because the book industry still lacks the necessary transparency to fully see and address the many faults in our whole institution. We want to push back against these intimidation tactics so that we can help foster an environment where we can speak our truth about racist practices and other insidiously problematic behaviors without fear of retribution. We need to continue to call these things out. And we need to see people accept responsibility and engage in actual growth, not pandering.

We ask for the community’s support in breaking this cycle of silence. This is not just about one agent, one threat, one voice, but about delegitimizing threats of lawsuits as tools of silencing overall. We hope that this open letter, also sent to her lawyers directly, will serve as a next step on the long journey to sustained change. We will not comply with Dawn’s demands and as such, we are asking for donations to our legal defense fund. We sincerely hope that Dawn is truly committed to being “better” and will decline to pursue these baseless defamation cases against us--she will lose. If she chooses to drop this, all funds raised will be donated to the Minnesota Freedom Fund. [edit June 16 2020 11:22AM ET: Should the Minnesota Freedom Fund be overwhelmed by donations by the time ours would be ready, we will divert the funds to an equivalent organization.]

If any others have received a letter, we are with you. Please reach out to any of us.

Beth Phelan 
Isabel Sterling 
Kelly Van Sant
[edit June 22 2020 7:19PM ET: Laura Zats, Kay Taylor Rea]


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Fundraising team (2)

Beth Phelan
Raised $1,220 from 27 donations
Brooklyn, NY
Samatha Adams
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Raised $10 from 1 donation
This team raised $14,948 from 407 other donations.

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