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SinC's National Board Issues a Response to Donald Maass's SinC Into Great Writing Event
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Recently, it was brought to the attention of the Sisters in Crime Board of Directors that inappropriate and discriminatory comments were made by Donald Maass, presenter at our SinC Into Great Writing public event in Dallas, on Wednesday, October 30, 2019.

The Board discussed the incident during our annual meeting on Thursday, October 31, 2019. By Friday, November 1, the members of the Board tasked with an appropriate response agreed on several steps:

  1. to communicate the complaints and to reiterate our zero-tolerance policy with Mr. Maass, including giving him a reasonable opportunity to respond;
  2. to draft a communication to workshop attendees;
  3. to draft a communication to our general membership;
  4. to draft a public statement; and
  5. to decide on a reasonable timeline within which to accomplish all these steps as well as within which to release these communications.

As stated clearly in our Code of Conduct: “Harassment and discrimination are behaviors that threaten, alarm, or make someone uncomfortable. … Sisters in Crime will not accept or tolerate offensive, abusive or other unwanted behavior which discriminates, violates personal dignity, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or humiliating environment (e.g. physical, psychological, verbal, or any other form of harassment).” Not only are all meetings and board actions to be free of such discrimination and harassment, but we hold “anyone acting at any time or in any place under the banner of Sisters in Crime” to be accountable for upholding this Code of Conduct.

Sisters in Crime takes very seriously the safety and dignity of our community. We have apologized directly to the attendee most acutely impacted by Mr. Maass’s comments, and we have listened to several others who expressed sharp discomfort and anger at his discriminatory words. We reached out to Mr. Maass to express our condemnation of his comments, and to reiterate our zero-tolerance position. He has asked for us to share his response in its entirety and we have done so below.

Sisters in Crime is committed to creating safe spaces for our members and the community at large, which includes the right for all to be free of harassment and discrimination. Moving forward, we are considering ways to more thoughtfully and more carefully select and vet speakers for our Sisters in Crime programs, including increased clarity regarding our Code of Conduct and its application to speakers presenting at a Sisters in Crime event. Our Code of Conduct is available in its entirety here.

For further comment, please contact president@sistersincrime.org.

Donald Maass’s full statement

“To Sisters in Crime Board of Directors, and to participants of the SinC Into Great Writing series workshop, “Writing the Breakout Novel”, presented by me on Wednesday, October 30, 2019 in Dallas:

It was an honor and privilege to present my workshop to SinC in Dallas this year. I have received enthusiastic feedback from many participants, but the SinC Board has also made me aware of participants who found certain remarks by me offensive.

In particular, in setting up a writing prompt having to do with a story’s social strata and the conflicts between them, I used as an illustration my own (seemingly) placid suburban neighborhood in British Columbia. I spoke of absentee Chinese owners of houses, and also referenced the Chinese gardeners who work in the neighborhood. My intention was to illustrate resentments that might be felt between social classes, but in speaking I realize now that I did not clearly separate myself from supposed (but in reality, actually very minimal) racial antipathy in my area.

Furthermore, in retrospect I see that I unintentionally cast Chinese and Chinese-Canadians as “sinister”, and also as menial laborers. Those of course are hurtful and untrue stereotypes. I in no way believe in or support such views, did not intend for my illustration to come across like that, and am embarrassed that I created a moment that is hurtful, harmful and unacceptable, or the impression that I might hold such views. I sincerely apologize to the SinC Board and workshop participants.

It was an insensitive white guy action, needless to say, and indeed in the moment I fleetingly wondered if I had offended. I should have listened to that inner voice. I had!

Teaching a live eight-hour workshop in a manner that is freewheeling and entertaining is always a risk, and on that occasion, at that moment I did not adhere to my own high standards and firm beliefs. I have spent much of my career as a literary agent seeking to bring diverse voices into genre fiction publishing, and am proud of my small role in doing so. My understandings, professional practice and (I hope) actions work always toward inclusiveness, opportunity and against hatred and stereotypes—especially stereotypes, which do not belong in excellent fiction!

If in a workshop moment, operating on insufficient sleep due to extreme travel delays the day before, I momentarily lost my grip on those values then I am truly sorry. SinC maintains a zero-tolerance policy that states that the organization will “’not accept or tolerate offensive, abusive, or other unwanted behavior which discriminates, violates personal dignity, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or humiliating environment (e.g. physical, psychological, verbal or any other form of harassment).’ We define harassment and discrimination [as] behaviors that threaten, alarm, or make someone uncomfortable.”

That is exactly right. I wholeheartedly agree. My Chinese and Chinese-Canadian neighbors back home are friendly and enjoyable. Their kids go to school with my kids. There are many (though not exclusively) skilled and creative Chinese and Chinese-Canadian gardeners working around us and they are wizards. You should see the topiary! Moreover, I am thrilled to live in the vast and rich multi-cultural community that is the Lower Mainland of British Columbia.

I hope that SinC and workshop participants will accept my apology and recognize that that an insensitive moment of speech in no way represents my actual and lifelong beliefs and values, and that I sincerely regret any harm that I may have caused.

-Donald Maass, November 5, 2019”

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