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Margaret Atwood is among several authors who signed the letter and faced a barrage of criticism from young female writers on Twitter. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
Margaret Atwood is among several authors who signed the letter and faced a barrage of criticism from young female writers on Twitter. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

Authors wage social media battle over Steven Galloway's firing Add to ...

The Steven Galloway case is turning into an all-out CanLit civil war, with members of the country’s tight-knit literary community at one another’s throats in a social media battle over an open letter targeting the University of British Columbia.

Margaret Atwood, fielding accusations that invoke victim-silencing and rape culture, fired back at critics Wednesday in several tweets. “UBC’s process was good? Salem witch trials? Star chamber? Letter is about PROCESS, not guilt/innocence,” she tweeted. Joseph Boyden chimed in: “Yes indeed. This letter is about PROCESS, not guilt or innocence.”

Ms. Atwood and Mr. Boyden took much of the heat as outrage grew over the open letter, which called for “clarity and fairness” in UBC’s handling of the case against Mr. Galloway. The bestselling author was fired as chair of UBC’s creative writing program in June after an investigation into allegations, never specified by the university, but called “serious” in a memo when he was suspended a year ago.

Mr. Boyden, an award-winning author, spearheaded the letter, which calls for an independent investigation into how the matter has been handled.

“Justice ... requires due process and fair treatment for all, which the University appears to have denied Professor Galloway,” the letter concludes. More than 85 people have signed it, including Ms. Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Yann Martel and Madeleine Thien. Film director David Cronenberg has added his name.

But some are outraged at the letter’s contents and high-profile signatories, and question whether it is more concerned about Mr. Galloway’s rights than those of the complainants. By Wednesday, at least two authors who had initially signed the letter rescinded their support – Wayne Johnston and Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer.

“I signed it in the spirit of an open and honest inquiry and regret not being more sensitive to how its wording could cause harm,” Ms. Kuitenbrouwer posted on Facebook. “I stand for truth and justice. I support complainants in equal measure to those who stand accused of sexual crimes or institutional misdemeanours.”

On Wednesday, UBC creative writing program faculty member Nancy Lee broke her long-held public silence on the matter. The author – and once-close friend of Mr. Galloway – posted a Facebook message and tweets stating support for the program’s students.

“I stand with them in the consuming pit of disappointment that has opened beneath our feet,” she wrote. The post was directed at the writers who signed the letter. “Make no mistake, Canlit establishment, your words and actions are destructive.

“How can young, unpublished writers survive this climate? How do writing students imagine a career now? Your signatures represent future award juries, selection committees, grant adjudicators and publishers. ... CanLit, your utter disregard for their experience and your short-sighted self-interest are baffling.”

Novelist Jen Sookfong Lee is also concerned about what this all means for the careers of the complainants.

“None of them will ever be as famous as the people on that letter,” said Ms. Lee, who teaches at the Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University. “And that feels grossly unfair and silencing.”

The issue has pitted friends, acquaintances and colleagues against one another. Nancy Lee and author Lee Henderson, a friend of Mr. Galloway who signed the letter, exchanged tweets on Wednesday. “This is support – for all people, not one man. Due process is a right we all share,” Mr. Henderson wrote.

“Great! Can you rewrite the letter to reflect that?” Ms. Lee responded. “Because I’m pretty sure NO ONE who has ever felt marginalized reads it that way.”

Program graduate Andrea Bennett, who was once friends with Mr. Galloway, said she is “deeply disillusioned and disappointed” by the letter. “I wish that the signatories had as much consideration for students, complainants and victims as they do for Galloway.”

Award-winning novelist, playwright and poet Michael Redhill called for the open letter to be withdrawn. “It’s not a call for justice, it’s a cry for pain,” he wrote on Facebook, while also saluting all who signed it and opposed it.

“I think the community is in a lot of pain and I think it’s been in a lot of pain since this first came up,” Mr. Redhill told The Globe. “Nobody wants it to be true.”

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