Publishers against the People of the Book

The publishing world isn’t making it easy for Jewish writers (

Writing stars such as Saul Bellow and Philip Roth illuminated the postwar era, a veritable golden age for American Jewish authors. The People of the Book were storytellers for popular consumption, and publishers eagerly kept those stories coming. What was once a love affair between Jewish writers and the publishing industry, however, is looking more like estrangement in 2021. 

There was, for example, the case of April Powers, the black Jewish chief equity and inclusion officer for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Reacting to the spring’s stateside surge of antisemitism that coincided with Israel’s war against Hamas, Powers posted a statement opposing domestic antisemitism. After being criticized by one SCBWI member for “not including a comment about Islamophobia and Palestinian discrimination” and hung out to dry by the organization, Powers departed. 

Then there was Haley Neil, a new Jewish young-adult novelist, who reportedly felt compelled to rewrite her first novel, debuting in February. Why? Hostile critics left 1-star reviews on Goodreads, because the story was rumored to take place on a Birthright trip to Israel, a popular tour for young Jews to reconnect with their heritage. Bloomsbury’s director of publicity for children’s books emailed the Washington Examiner, “We don’t comment on specific changes made in the editorial process,” before adding, “It’s worth noting that early commentors were not responding to any draft of the book, as it was not released.” 

Most recently, of course, was the brouhaha over Irish novelist Sally Rooney’s announcement that her latest book wouldn’t be translated into Hebrew, unless it could be done in a way that satisfied major anti-Zionist campaigners. (It obviously cannot.) Notably, there was no outcry from the publishing world over this blatantly discriminatory act. Rather, 70 publishers and writers have signed a public letter supporting Rooney.

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