A young adult author was disinvited from a literature festival after the hosting library objected to her lesbian-themed erotica.
Julia Watts of Knoxville, Tenn. has written 18 books about kids in Appalachia, with genres ranging from historical, paranormal, and teen romance. Watts was recently invited to be a panel speaker at the "LitUp Festival: Arts and Innovation for the Next Generation," held at the Knox County Public Library on October 13. In addition to panel speakers, the festival will have a literary scavenger hunt, an escape room, and career advice.
The 49-year-old had planned to speak about her 2018 book Quiver, centering on the cultural differences between two female friends, one of whom identities as gender non-binary and the other as evangelical Christian.
But last week, Watts got a phone call from a local bookseller who she says, was the messenger: The library was rescinding its invitation due to lesbian erotica anthologies that Watts contributed to and co-edited more than a decade ago.
The questionable anthologies are Once Upon a Dyke (2004), Stake Through the Heart (2007), and Tall in the Saddle (2007). “It was like traveling back in time,” Watts tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “These are very mild — more lesbian romance with a bit of sexuality.”
The author points to other writers who have alternated between young and adult content such as Judy Blume, Shel Silverstein, and Roald Dahl, adding that she wouldn’t have discussed her mature subject at the festival.
Watts says she was blindsided by the library’s decision. “No one spoke to me directly,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “It felt very strange to be shut out out like that. You would have thought someone researched my work before inviting me.”
The author has visited the library regularly for 20 years, ever since she moved to Knoxville from Kentucky. “I probably wrote those same essays in the library,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
Mary Pom Claiborne, who works in communications for the library tells Yahoo Lifestyle in a statement, "....We looked for authors representing diverse genres in teen literature including LGBTQ+ authors. Julia Watts was invited to present. It later came to our attention that some of her work is marketed as erotica and does not differentiate between her teen and adult work. Based on that alone, the Library decided to change course. We have reached out to Ms. Watts to offer our sincere apology, and deeply regret this situation. We remain committed to presenting authors who represent different genres of teen literature for this event.”
Watts says the library has apologized in a voicemail and an email. However, she’s no longer angry— and has made new plans for October 13.
As Watts tells Yahoo Lifestyle, “I’ve been asked by the University of Tennessee to speak on a literary panel about censorship.”
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