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2/16/21 Update on Aunt Lute and SPD

First and foremost, we at Aunt Lute want to express our appreciation for the ways several members of the Bay Area literary community have demonstrated their care and attention to our relationship with Small Press Distribution, supporting the intention on our part to commit to the standards we set forward in our mission.

We also want to acknowledge the courage it took for Damaged Book Worker to come forward about their experience working at SPD and their interactions with SPD management and board, as well as their labor that has continued this conversation and updated the public. We want you to know that we appreciate the hard work you have done.

We want to offer an update on where Aunt Lute is in our engagement with SPD, in light of their latest steps toward an accountability process for addressing recent allegations of financial abuse, hostility, exploitation, retaliation, and gaslighting made by former and current staff.

We value our relationship with SPD, an organization that has been instrumental in Aunt Lute’s survival over the past few years and especially throughout the recent hardships due to Covid-19. And in truth, at this time our survival is entirely reliant on SPD. Further, as SPD moves through their accountability process, Aunt Lute is currently undergoing our own, taking steps toward a more equitable workplace, addressing past harm, and restructuring our business to do even more for marginalized peoples, particularly Black and trans folks.

We were concerned about the SPD board having allowed Brent Cunningham to function as the main channel of communication between staff and board while he is directly implicated. We also, at first, wanted to recognize that the board’s subsequent initiation of a process that involves the past and present staff in the ongoing resolution of the problem is the way forward. Our stake in SPD arriving at a process that centers those who have been harmed and builds accountability into the very fabric of the organization lies not only in our necessary business association with them, but also in our need to see success in these areas as not only possible, but the most rewarding path forward, for all of our sakes.

On January 13th, we reached out to SPD’s board to voice our support for SPD’s staff, expressing our concerns for the ways in which SPD’s initial response to the situation conflicted with our values as an organization. We made clear that we were taking our own steps towards a more equitable workplace and offered support for their finding a just resolution of the situation that would directly involve staff, both past and present, including Damaged Book Worker, in that solution.

Thus, when we learned, in the board’s most recent letter to staff, that they had brought in outside help to evaluate the working conditions and to meet with former and present staff, we were cautiously optimistic. However, that optimism has been considerably dimmed by recent developments.

These include concerns expressed by some former and current staff, and Damaged Book Worker, that their input was not taken into account in the process of selecting an organization for workplace assessment and mediation, and that they will therefore not be participating, as well as J. Worthen’s recent post titled Toxic: A Farewell to SPD & Hostile Workplaces, which details their experience of a toxic work environment at SPD, in particular with the ED, both before and after Damaged Book Worker’s initial post.

Reading this piece, in addition to all of the testimonies that Damaged Book Worker and others have shared, we realize we have lost so much of our trust and hope that the Board and this investigation will be able to adequately assess and restructure SPD to treat their workers, volunteers, and staff members with the respect, dignity, and justice that they deserve.

The truth is that this is a complicated situation. Radical transformation and progress are not positions we achieve but rather are a continuous effort, a perpetual state we intend on occupying as long as we exist. We are glad, therefore, to be part of a broader community that continues to strive towards social justice goals. We are still figuring how to move forward, but it felt important to say something now about our deep concern regarding the harm the SPD community has experienced and is continuing to experience.


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