Free Speech on the BookExpo Agenda

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The importance of defending freedom of speech will be discussed on several occasions during BookExpo 2017. Both American Booksellers for Free Expression (ABFE) and PEN America are sponsoring programs, and two people who have been fighting censorship for decades will be honored at the American Booksellers Association’s Celebration of Bookselling and Author Awards Lunch.

The ABFE program is “Selling Controversial Books: A Conversation,” which will be held on Friday, June 2, from 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. in Room 1E10 of New York’s Javits Convention Center.

Booksellers are periodically faced with decisions about how to handle the sale of difficult books. American Psycho, The Satanic Verses, and the Harry Potter books were the targets of boycotts and protesters. Milo Yiannopoulos’ proposed book Dangerous is the most recent example. What should booksellers do when a customer complains about a title? How should they handle an inventory selection that they find personally offensive? Should they display it, stock it but not display it, special order it, or refuse to sell it altogether? And what are the consequences of pressuring a publisher to cancel a controversial title?

At the ABFE program, four booksellers will discuss their answers to these difficult questions. The members of the panel are Amy Stephenson, store manager of The Booksmith, and Vanessa Martini, associate buyer at City Lights Booksellers, both stores in San Francisco; Lissa Muscatine, co-owner of Politics and Prose Bookstore in Washington, D.C.; and Mitchell Kaplan, owner of Books & Books in Miami.

“PEN America Presents the First Amendment Resistance” will be held on Thursday, June 1, from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. in Javits’ Room 1E14. The PEN program will be a panel discussion of “today’s age of fake news and viral provocation and the role that the publishing industry can play within it.” Brooke Gladstone, co-host of WNYC’s On the Media, will moderate the discussion featuring Zoe Quinn, a video game developer who was a central figure in the “Gamergate” controversy in 2014; activist and Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors; New York Post columnist and Commentary magazine editor John Podhoretz; and author and lawyer Scott Turow.

Also on the BookExpo agenda is the presentation of the first Joyce Meskis Free Speech Award at ABA’s Celebration of Bookselling and Author Awards Lunch on Wednesday, May 31. Named after the owner of Denver’s Tattered Cover Book Store in recognition of her important role in defending the First Amendment, the award will be presented to Michael A. Bamberger, who has represented more than 40 bookstores in two dozen lawsuits challenging censorship laws. Bamberger is general counsel of Media Coalition, which defends the First Amendment rights of businesses that produce and sell books, magazines, and other media.