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Small Press Book Fair spat gets ugly

Last December, Quillblog noted a spat between Toronto Small Press Book Fair organizers Myna Wallin and Halli Villegas and one of the event’s founders, poet Stuart Ross. The controversy stemmed from comments posted by Ross on his blog criticizing Wallin and Villegas for poorly promoting the November event. The debate was then continued in various online forums, becoming increasingly personal and nasty.

According to a recent article on the website Reading Toronto, the disagreement has taken an even uglier turn, with Villegas and Wallin threatening legal action against Ross.

Wallin and Villegas allege that Ross has engaged in a campaign of “defamation of character and interference in our professional lives.” They also claim that Ross has conducted a “two-month campaign of personal and public harassment and defamation” and assert that he has done so “with clear intent to ruin our professional reputations.”

This information has come to light in a singularly unusual manner: it was made public by Wallin and Villegas themselves in a mass email to the Lexiconjury discussion group. Inevitably, their email has subsequently achieved a far wider circulation by being forwarded by various members of the group to parties beyond it.

The article is exhaustive and fleshes out some of the issues at play regarding free speech and community-building. And it illustrates how a whole lot of people are in a tizzy over the affair (just read the comments sections here and here). This bit, toward the end of the article, gives you a good sense of the escalating stakes in the debate:

In the absence of any substantiation of these very serious allegations, it is unclear how much Wallin and Villegas are demanding Ross recant, and how much control they now seek to dictate not only over his involvement in small press publishing and the Small Press Book Fair, but over his writing career “ his blog, his widely read “Hunkamooga” column, his past and forthcoming poetry books and novel, his participation in literary events, his work as a literary editor and instructor, his collegial and personal relations “ more broadly. Given the duration and extent of Wallin and Villegas’ campaign against Ross, it is unclear how much further they intend to go “ or how Ross might respond upon provocation.

(Thanks to Bookninja for the link.)