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Smithsonian Cancels Literature Festival Leaving Trans AAPI Community Disheartened

Smithsonian Cancels Literature Festival Leaving Trans AAPI Community Disheartened

<p>Smithsonian Cancels Literature Festival Leaving Trans AAPI Community Disheartened</p>

Organizers say they expect a more forthcoming answer about why the event, which included a trans and nonbinary reading room, was suddenly scrapped.

The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center unexpectedly canceled the annual Asian American Literature Festival last month, resulting in financial losses for partner organizations and guests. Organizers and community supporters are calling on APAC and Smithsonian to explain the cancellation.

Aside from the financial loss, Asian-American writers at this year’s festival are dealing with the emotional effects. Some have speculated that a trans and nonbinary reading room was among the reasons for the festival’s cancellation, independent news site Prism reports.

As a result of “unforeseen circumstances,” APAC’s Acting Director Yao-Fen You informed organizers on July 5 that the festival would not be able to proceed.

You sent the email after a report flagging “potentially sensitive” issues in the festival’s programming was submitted by staffers. According to Prism, You requested the Festival Director Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis, to submit a report which mentioned the Trans and Nonbinary Reading Room. It was described as possibly one of the festival’s most “sensitive” occurrences because of the growing number of book bans directed at transgender and nonbinary writers, according to the Washington Post.

Within hours of Davis’s report being submitted, You emailed out news of the cancellation.

Other community partners informed the curator of the Trans and Nonbinary Reading Room, Ching-In Chen, of the cancellation.

“I think everyone was confused,” Chen explained. “I was upset because I’d spent a lot of time making the [reading] list, talking to the bookstore, talking to River [Ying Dandelion], talking to everyone else who was going to be at the festival.”

Chen lost over $2,000 in curation fees and other expenses because of the festival’s cancellation. Furthermore, $500 of commitments were lost to purchase works by transgender and nonbinary writers.

Late in June, transgender poet Yanyi was still regularly communicating with other coordinators and APAC staff, so the cancellation struck him as “out of the blue.”

In their initial announcement, Smithsonian officials explained that the festival was postponed due to logistical difficulties.

“We want to stress that this hard decision was made in the best interest of the festival and its participants and had nothing to do with content,” Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III and Undersecretary of Museums and Culture Kevin Gover said in a statement sent to participants and posted to social media, the Post reports. “The Smithsonian remains committed to sharing the histories and narratives of all Americans, including those in the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander and LGBTQ communities.”

Organizers of the festival have rejected that explanation.

“I think it’s a complete abuse of power for [APAC’s] acting director to have unilaterally suddenly canceled the Asian American Literature Festival in this manner,” Cathy Linh Che, the executive director of the literary nonprofit Kundiman, which is a festival partner, told Prism. “To claim A/V issues when we had run this twice before, including once at the Eaton hotel, and the Eaton had already been long booked, is also outrageous.”

“This walking back of the cancellation [by the Smithsonian] indicates to me that the vision of the festival organizers and the community of writers at large did not align with the interests of the Smithsonian leadership,” Chrysanthemum, a trans poet who was to participate in the reading room said. “It felt like an intentional decision to sacrifice community belonging over politics.”

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