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October 24, 2023 10:53 am

Major New York Center Pauses Literary Series After Backlash for Pulling Event With Author Who Slammed Israel


avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

Viet Thanh Nguyen speaks during day 3 of the ‘Hay Festival Queretaro’ at Teatro de la Ciudad in 2022. Photo: Cesar Gomez / SOPA Images/Sipa U via Reuters Connect

New York City’s cultural and community center known as 92NY announced on Monday that it was putting a pause on its literary reading series after facing criticism for canceling an event with Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen, who has lambasted Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip amid the ongoing war between the Jewish state and Hamas.

On Friday, 92NY, formerly known as the 92nd Street Y, called off an event set to take place at the center that night with Nguyen, who is also a New York Times contributing opinion writer. He was scheduled to discuss his memoir, A Man of Two Faces, at a gathering organized by 92NY’s Unterberg Poetry Center. The event was instead moved to a bookstore in downtown Manhattan and organized by Bernard Schwartz, the poetry center’s executive director. Nguyen confirmed the news on Instagram.

Earlier that week, Nguyen joined 750 writers and artists in signing an open letter condemning Israel’s “unprecedented and indiscriminate violence” against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the country’s “grave crimes against humanity.” The letter further accuses Israel of “ethnic cleansing,” genocide, and the “occupation of Palestine.” Nguyen — who is also author of The Sympathizer and writer for the HBO series based on the novel — shared text from the open letter in an Instagram post on Thursday and reiterated his support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel.

92NY confirmed in a statement on Saturday that the decision not to go ahead with Friday night’s event was because of Nguyen’s comments about Israel.

“We are a Jewish institution that has always welcomed people with diverse viewpoints to our stage,” said the center, which is funded by the UJA-Federation of New York. “The brutal Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on Israel and the continued holding of hostages, including senior citizens and young children, has absolutely devastated the community. Given the public comments by the invited author on Israel and this moment, we felt the responsible course of action was to postpone the event while we take some time to determine how best to use our platform and support the entire 92NY community.”

A number of writers have since announced their decision to cancel upcoming scheduled appearances at the 92NY “in solidarity” with Nguyen. Critics Christina Sharpe and Saidiya Hartman, and novelist Dionne Brand all backed out of an event on Wednesday. Poet Paisley Rekdal and critic Andrea Long Chu announced separately their decisions to do the same regarding other upcoming events. In a series of posts on X/Twitter, Chu accused 92NY of being a “pro-war nonprofit” that has “endorsed genocide” for siding with Israel, and also alleged that Israel was practicing apartheid.

Sarah Chihaya, the poetry center’s director, and Sophie Herron, the senior program coordinator, also resigned, according to the New York Times. On Monday afternoon, 92NY said that the 2023-24 literary series was “on pause given recent staff resignations.”

In 2020, Nguyen penned a 2,000-word essay for the New York Times in which he condemned “Israeli settler colonialism.” He said on Sunday in an Instagram post, “I have no regrets about anything I have said or done in regards to Palestine, Israel, or the occupation and war.”

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