Avid Bookshop shutdown their annual book fair at Athens Academy on March 7 in response to a parent complaining about a featured book that included a gay character.
The book in question, titled “The Best Man,” is written by award-winning author Richard Peck and tells a “story of small-town life, gay marriage and everyday heroes,” according to Avid’s website. The book is classified as a children’s middle grade book by Penguin Random House.
The book fair held for Athens Academy was for students 3-9 years old, according to a statement from Athens Academy. Avid’s website lists “The Best Man” most appropriate for readers ages 9-12.
In the statement, Athens Academy Head of School John Thorsen said inclusion of “The Best Man” at the book fair caused several parents to become concerned since the book discusses situations those parents are “not yet prepared to discuss with their young children.”
In response to these complaints, Avid was asked by Athens Academy administration to place the book in a secure location out of the potential access of the children at the bookfair, according to Caleb Huett, a manager and bookseller at Avid and gay author featured at the fair.
“Moving the book and putting it in a separate space is kind of a classic move,” Huett said. “This idea of taking the thing that someone is uncomfortable with and moving it and putting it in a different place, seeing that as still fine. To us and historically, that is not much better, so we were not very comfortable with that.”
In the statement by the Academy, they said this situation is “an anomaly that does not accurately reflect the values of inclusivity and diversity that we hold dear to our hearts — the same values we will continue to hold dear.”
Huett, who was present for this interaction and was approached by the head of the lower school, said the Athens Academy administration mentioned wishing to “take the path of least resistance” when addressing this parent complaint.
“We believe it is our duty to ensure that the path of least resistance is not always at the expense of the marginalized,” Avid’s post about the incident said.
In the statement, Thorsen specified the academy does not support “censorship or discrimination in any form” and hopes they are not to perceived as doing so as a result of the event.
“I wish to apologize to our community, the team at Avid, and the broader community for this miserable situation,” Thorsen said.
Moving forward, Avid has made no decision on whether they will collaborate with Athens Academy for future book fairs.
“It is not off the table,” Huett said. “We were upset with how the situation was handled, but this is an opportunity for the school to figure out what its values are and what it wants to do moving forward.”
To compensate for the early cancellation of the collaborative book fair, Avid is hosting an in-store book fair benefitting the Athens LGBT Youth Group from March 8 to 11 at its Five Points location.
Avid will be donating 10 percent of all proceeds from the sale of books in all children sections to the Athens LGBT Youth Group.
“We fully and completely support the queer community,” Huett said. “A huge part of our management is queer, so it is built into the bones of our business. We are excited to defend these kids and get to know the energetics of this problem, one that everybody knows, especially queer people, is happening all the time.”
In a Facebook post, Janet Geddis owner of Avid, commented on the response from Athens Academy. Geddis said she feels hopeful about the progress made so far, but that there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.
“It bodes well that the leader of this institution is open to candid conversations and that he wants to create a more inclusive environment,” said Janet in the post. “We are still so sad and frustrated about the censorship that took place this week, but I want to reiterate that our relationship with Athens Academy leadership is open and respectful.”