The controversy surrounding Sherry Jones’s novel The Jewel of Medina “ which Random House U.S. decided to pull earlier this month, citing fears of terroristic violence “ continues to grow. Two weeks ago, none other than Salman Rushdie, also published by Random House, weighed in on the matter, condemning his publisher for canceling publication of the book. This week, criticism hails from another, less high-profile source. The Guardian reports:
An American book prize has blacklisted Random House following its cowardly self-censorship of Sherry Jones’s novel The Jewel of Medina. The Langum Charitable Trust, which awards two yearly $1,000 (£550) prizes, has said that until the novel is published, it will not consider submissions of any books, for any of our prizes, from Random House or any of its affiliates.
Describing Random House’s decision not to print the novel as a threat to literature deserving of serious remonstrance, the trust’s founder, David Langum, outlined his rationale:
No one should expect that publishers print every piece of trash that comes into their offices, and The Jewel of Medina may be neither good literature nor good history, he said. That is beside the point since Random House had already paid a $100,000 advance, arranged for book club publication, and foreign publication. It changed course and self-censored solely on the political grounds of fear of offending Muslims or fomenting violence.
That form of cowardice will only lead to more and more of this form of self-censorship and is an attack on the integrity of literary publication, Langum continued. We must stand up to it, in whatever ways are available to us. The form that was available to our small foundation was to put Random House out of the running for our prizes.
While it’s hard not to admire Langum’s pluck, his indignation at Random House’s political manoeuvering does seem a little out of place. Surely, condemning an author because of the actions of his or her publisher is also a threat to literary integrity.