Black Lawrence Press
November 22, 2014

Letter from the Editor

I’ve received many messages in the past month regarding Black Lawrence Press’s decision to remove a novella by Elizabeth Ellen from a forthcoming anthology. I’ve been called a censor, a McCarthyist, and a coward. I’ve been asked why I cut a piece of creative work from a text because the author voiced unpopular opinions in another piece of writing. I’d like to respond to those messages with a more thorough explanation of my position.

In Elizabeth Ellen’s essay “An Open Letter to the Internet” she identifies and shames victims of sexual assault and defends the perpetrators. Victim shaming is unacceptable, and here’s why: shame breeds silence. That silence is home to private suffering for the victims and opportunity for the perpetrators—opportunity to live without the consequences of their actions, opportunity to assault the victim again, and opportunity to assault others. When I chose to remove Elizabeth Ellen’s novella from the anthology—and it was ultimately my decision—I was taking a stand against her essay while also taking a stand for victims of sexual assault.

The title of our forthcoming anthology is The Lineup: 25 Provocative Women Writers. I’ve been criticized for removing Ellen from this text for being too provocative. That’s not the case. Victim shaming is not provocative. It’s pernicious. It visits new cruelty upon people who have already suffered great injustice. It’s indefensible.

I’d also like to address the allegations of censorship that have been directed at Black Lawrence Press. The novella that I pulled from The Lineup is titled “Winter Haven, Florida, 1984” and was published in her collection Fast Machine. I’d like to be quite clear here: I did not censor Elizabeth Ellen. I chose not to re-publish a piece of her work that is already available to the public. I chose to distance myself and my press from her in order to express my own stance that victim shaming is a hateful, harmful practice.

As the Executive Editor of Black Lawrence Press, it is my job and my honor to enter into publishing relationships with writers whose work I admire. Deciding to end a publishing relationship is not something that I take lightly. In this case, however, I followed my conscience. Since the news of our decision broke, I’ve received plenty of vitriolic emails, as described above. I’ve also received dozens of messages from victims of sexual assault and their allies thanking me for taking a stand. To them I say: You are welcome. I did this for you.

–Diane Goettel