In brief: Yesterday, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs announced that their book fair, featuring hundreds of small publishers, would not be open to the Seattle book-buying public due to "punitive" state and local taxes. AWP director of conferences Christian Teresi claimed that the AWP "never said the book fair was going to be open to the public." Today, Twitter user Patricia Lockwood discovered a web cache from April 2013 that showed AWP announcing in a FAQ that the book fair would be open to the public on Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Here's why this is important: For three days next week, AWP is going to be temporary home to the biggest bookstore in Seattle, stocked by hundreds of small publishers. Many of these books for sale at the AWP Bookfair are not available on the shelves of our local independent bookstores, our library system or, hell, even Amazon.com. And as it stands now, this bookstore will not be open to ordinary citizens of Seattle. That seems like a terrible waste to me. We don't just want to host arts conferences in Seattle for the monetary gain. We want them to be resources for the city, to engage the city in a conversation. We need the public to have access to these books and publishers that they would never otherwise meet.
I just got a call from AWP director of conferences Christian Teresi. Here's what he had to say about the cached FAQ matter: "The pages that Patricia Lockwood references are from last year before sales started for Seattle and before we were well into investigating the tax issues with the city of Seattle." He also told me that "I’m a little mystified by the reaction. But I am happy to say that we have revisited the issue for the umpteenth time with the city tax office and we are very hopeful that we are going to work this out and make a space for the public." Teresi says he hopes there'll be an announcement in the next 24 hours. (I've heard rumors to the effect that the city is currently reaching out to AWP to resolve this matter, but nobody from the city has been willing to confirm this on the record.)
Teresi also took the time to complain about my coverage of this whole affair. "I question your commitment to books," he told me, also arguing that I am not committed to communities centered around literature, and saying that I am instead interested in harming an "organization whose only mission is to help writers." He said the reaction has been unfair: "The reaction on social media, Paul—from you even, has been lacking detail and clarity," calling it "not something you’d see in the New York Times." He's right; I've never written for, nor do I expect to ever write for, the New York Times.
Teresi said that since the whole debate about the book fair being open to the public came out, he has also gotten many messages of support from exhibitors saying they're "happy with the conference not being open to the public." I pointed out that many exhibitors claimed on social media that the open-to-the-public days were by far their most profitable AWP shows. "Some people want it open to the public," he said. "That would be my personal preference." But he thinks that the social media uproar is unfairly maligning AWP: "There isn’t any conference that does what we do. Our registration rates are discounted. They’re really low. Compared to other comparably sized book exhibitions, they are really low." Teresi added, "you know, I’m not ExxonMobil."
Teresi may disagree with the way Slog and social media reacted to this story, but if the end result is that the AWP Bookfair is open to the Seattle book-buying public then just about everyone—Teresi, exhibitors, AWP fans, people who are not committed to books—will be cheering AWP on. I'll post more news as it comes.
UPDATE 2:35 PM: Patricia Lockwood hits the Wayback Machine again to suggest that the public sales day information was, in fact, available on AWP's website while tickets were on sale: