Jul 20, 2023 - News

Organizers call out Smithsonian for canceled Asian literature festival

Photo: Salwan Georges/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The Smithsonian abruptly canceled an Asian American literature festival set for next month — and organizers disagree with the institution on why.

Why it matters: The cancellation of this year's Asian American Literature Festival — the first to be held since 2019 — has stunned participants and event planners, the Washington Post reports.

Driving the news: The Smithsonian's Asian Pacific American Center (APAC) blamed "unforeseen circumstances" in the event cancellation notice on its website, WTOP reports.

  • When reached for comment this week, the Smithsonian told WTOP that event planning "did not meet Smithsonian expectations" and the institution has decided to explore a virtual format this year and a different, larger event next year.

Yes, but: In a July 17 open letter to Smithsonian leadership first obtained by WTOP, festival partners and participants say planning had been on track when the event was canceled earlier this month.

  • Organizers and participants say the decision — and the Smithsonian's explanation — unfairly and falsely puts the blame on the planners.

What they're saying: "In this decision and its execution, there has been a flagrant lack of accountability for the harm caused," particularly at a time when anti-Asian violence has been on the rise, the letter states.

  • It also says organizers were asked to provide the Smithsonian with information on sensitive or controversial content that will be included in the festival. They say the festival was canceled after that information, which noted programming on trans and nonbinary people, was sent.
  • "There is no Asian American community without its trans and nonbinary members; there is no Asian American literature without trans and nonbinary writers," the letter adds.

A Smithsonian spokesperson didn't return Axios' requests for comment on the letter.

What we're watching: The letter, which has been signed by more than 1,500 people, asks the Smithsonian to retract its statement on the cancellation and calls for the resignation of Yao-Fen You, APAC’s acting director.


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