Jay Asher, the author of the young adult novel “Thirteen Reasons Why,” won’t be speaking in
Oklahoma City, after all.
Officials at the Oklahoma Writers Federation said Asher’s invitation to speak at the group’s May conference was rescinded after the organization learned of allegations of sexual harassment against the author.
“Mr. Asher has denied the accusations, but in the end understood our decision to go in a different direction,” said Jennifer McMurrain, OWF publicity director.
Asher’s book, “Thirteen Reasons Why” is a number one New York Times and international bestseller. Last year, the book was turned into a hit Netflix series. The story is about a teenage girl who commited suicide and a classmate who mysteriously receives tape recordings by the girl that explain her reasons for taking her own life.
Asher, in an interview with BuzzFeed News, said he didn’t think people would believe him. “It’s very scary when you know people are just not going to believe you once you open your mouth,” he said.
Asher had also been expelled from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Lin Oliver, the SCBWI executive director, said Asher violated the organization’s harassment code. The Associated Press reported that Oliver wrote in an email that claims were investigated, and
Asher was no longer a member and will not appear at any future SCBWI events.
However, Tamara Taylor, a spokesperson for Asher, said Asher was never expelled from the SCBWI, but left voluntarily. Asher told BuzzFeed News that he understood the situation the SCBWI was in and that they
had to protect themselves, but he was “harassed by these people” for almost ten years and
“couldn’t take it anymore.”
Deadline.com provided Taylor’s full statement: “In April 2017, Mr. Asher voluntarily agreed he would no longer attend SCBWI conferences. This was in response to hurt feelings of a group of authors with whom he had consensual relationships that ended poorly.”
Taylor said the authors were female co-workers of his, and they each chose “voluntarily” to enter in romantic relationships, including some “pursuing” him.
“Mr. Asher was married at the time of these relationships, as were many of the women. He is deeply sorry for the pain these alleged ‘consensual decisions’ caused his family, and others.” Taylor also stated that Asher has taken legal action and demanded that Oliver and the SCBWI remove their “false” statements.
Dana Tuley-Williams, system librarian at the Keith Leftwich Memorial Library at Oklahoma City Community College said, as librarians, they evaluate books for their quality as an academic resource, and an author’s personal actions doesn’t really affect the accessibility of the book.
Williams said there was one situation more than ten years ago where an author wrote a memoir and made up large portions of the story. “He was exposed as a fraud and there was a lot of uproar about it,” she said. James Frey wrote “A Million Little Pieces,” which detailed his recovery of being an alcoholic and a drug addict. It was a pick on Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club.
“What some libraries did was move his book from the biography section to the fiction section,” she said.
That’s the only situation Williams can recall where a library took action based on negative actions of an author.
“I’ve worked here 17 years and we’ve never had an incident like [Asher’s]. But the James Frey book I think we did end up moving it to fiction. If we begin scrutinizing the personal lives of authors, we’re going to be very unhappy,” she said. “Many of the great authors were not good people.”
“Thirteen Reason Why” checked out 21 times the last five years at OCCC, which according to Williams, is a lot for an academic library. “Thirteen Reasons Why” is available in three formats: ebook, audio and print.
“It’s been checked out enough that I’d like to look at the condition of it. Generally after 21 uses it gets pretty worn out,” she said.
Williams says the young adult genre is very popular at the Leftwich library, and that many people don’t know that it carries best-sellers or “pleasure reading” books. The library orders their books from their primary online vendor, Yankee Book Peddler, which offers a wide variety of books.
“We’ll base our purchases on book reviews, popularity, and of course curriculum, because it’s the priority for the college,” she said.
Currently, one of the most popular books at the Leftwich library is “Killers of the Flower Moon” by David Grann. It’s a non-fiction book about the Osage Indian murders in North-Eastern Oklahoma that took place about one hundred years ago.
Williams said that anytime a movie comes out that’s based on a book, they become very popular at the library. “We’re not just academic stuff here, we have our ebooks and our print books,” she said. “If we don’t have a book you want, come talk to us and we’ll get it for you from another library. Check us out.”