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Roxane Gay calls out writing group for 'fatphobic' treatment of Sarah Hollowell

‘This is unacceptable. And cruel. And cowardly,' … Roxane Gay.
‘This is unacceptable. And cruel. And cowardly’ … Roxane Gay. Photograph: Jennifer Silverberg for the Guardian

An American writers’ workshop that has counted Joyce Carol Oates, Jeffrey Deaver and Clive Cussler among its faculty has been called out by Roxane Gay for “fatphobia”, after a writer’s appearance was criticised during a vote to give her a public-facing role.

Gay, who has herself been on the faculty for the Midwest Writers Workshop (MWW), turned to Twitter on Tuesday to lay out how the workshop’s organisers treated the writer Sarah Hollowell. According to Gay, Hollowell has worked for MWW for five years, and was voted to be on its organisational committee. But when her appointment was being discussed, “someone said ‘do we really want someone like her representing us?’ That person elaborated ‘someone so fat. It’s disgusting’,” claimed Gay.

Gay, the author of essay collection Bad Feminist and the memoir Hunger, said that only two people in the room defended Hollowell, and that the author was not then brought on to the committee. “This is unacceptable. And cruel. And cowardly, Midwest Writers Workshop. And you thought you could get away with it. You very nearly did,” wrote Gay, calling on the workshop to issue a “public and genuine” apology to Hollowell, and forbidding it to use her name as a past faculty member in its promotional materials again. “I’m too fat and disgusting to be associated with you,” she wrote.

Hollowell herself said that “there are a lot of good people” at the MWW, but that “I have been hurt in a very real way and I don’t think it should be hidden”.

The workshop subsequently issued an apology to Hollowell on Wednesday, in which its director Jama Kehoe Bigger said: “We screwed up.”

Describing Hollowell as “a close friend of our conference”, Bigger said that the “insensitive comment” was made last autumn by a committee member. Bigger wrote that she knew the comment was “flawed”, but “did not believe [it] was an accurate representation of her true feelings about Sarah or this committee member’s longstanding commitment to inclusivity and diversity at our workshop”.

She said she had accepted the member’s apology, and the group unanimously voted to invite Hollowell to join the committee. “My mistakes that afternoon were in not formalising that vote, deciding to postpone adding all new members suggested, and in not taking further immediate action to address the misgivings caused by what was said in the room that day. This I should have done not just with every member of the committee, but with Sarah personally,” wrote Bigger.

She said that she has now “reached out” to Hollowell with an apology, along with an invitation “to help us define what ‘making this right’ looks like to her”. The committee member who made the comment has been fired, she added.

Gay called the apology “a start”, adding in a reply to the workshop: “I hope you give Sarah the time and space to feel hurt and consider your apology.”

Hollowell wrote on Twitter: “I’m still in an emotionally fraught place so I don’t know yet how to respond to this. I wanted to put it out there, though, because I know many of you have been wanting a public statement and apology. It feels genuine to me. It feels like a good start.”

This article titled "Roxane Gay calls out writing group for 'fatphobic' treatment of Sarah Hollowell" was written by Alison Flood, for theguardian.com on Thursday 11 January 2018 01.04pm

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