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Staff at NYC cultural center resign after acclaimed author's event canceled

Acclaimed writer Viet Thanh Nguyen reading in 2017. His cancelled reading at 92NY led to staffers at the cultural center resigning.
Luca Bruno
Acclaimed writer Viet Thanh Nguyen reading in 2017. His cancelled reading at 92NY led to staffers at the cultural center resigning.

Staff from The 92nd Street Y, New York are resigning, after the storied cultural hub abruptly halted a scheduled reading by author Viet Thanh Nguyen.

Now the rest of the 92NY's poetry reading season – which was set to feature Emily Wilson, Roxane Gay, Tracy K. Smith, and more – is "currently on pause," according to a 92NY spokesperson.

On Friday, 92NY was supposed to host Nguyen, who is promoting his new memoir A Man of Two Faces. The acclaimed author has won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for his book The Sympathizer, and writes often about the experience of refugees. Earlier in the week, Nguyen joined more than 700 other writers in signing an open letter published in the in the London Review of Books calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

"We can only express our grief and heartbreak for the victims of these most recent tragedies, and for their families, both Palestinians and Israelis," reads the letter. "But the unprecedented and indiscriminate violence that is still escalating against the 2.3 million Palestinians in Gaza, with the financial and political support of Western powers, can and must be brought to an end."

A few hours before the reading was set to take place, a spokesperson for 92NY said the event was "postponed."

In a statement sent to NPR, the 92NY spokesperson said the center has always invited diverse viewpoints. "As a Jewish organization we believe the responsible course of action right now is to take some time to determine how best to use our platform and support the entire 92NY community, so we made the difficult decision to postpone the October 20th event."

Nguyen instead held the event at the McNally Jackson bookstore in Manhattan.

The poetry center's director Sarah Chihaya and senior program coordinator Sophie Herron confirmed to NPR that they both resigned from their posts following the cancellation of Nguyen's event, but did not comment further.

The 92nd Street Y, New York's Unterberg Poetry Center has been a hub for literary events and readings since 1939. It has a long history of hosting canonical writers such as T.S Eliot, Langston Hughes, Marianne Moore, to more contemporary authors such as Sandra Cisneros and Lorrie Moore.

When contacted by NPR, Nguyen said he hasn't been in touch directly with the board or any spokespersons from 92NY. On Instagram, he wrote "I have no regrets about anything I have said or done in regards to Palestine, Israel, or the occupation and war."

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Andrew Limbong is a reporter for NPR's Arts Desk, where he does pieces on anything remotely related to arts or culture, from streamers looking for mental health on Twitch to Britney Spears' fight over her conservatorship. He's also covered the near collapse of the live music industry during the coronavirus pandemic. He's the host of NPR's Book of the Day podcast and a frequent host on Life Kit.