Amélie Wen Zhao was an up-and-coming young-adult fiction writer. She was also a social media success story. She found an agent with Park Literary over Twitter, during an event in which marginalized creators pitched story ideas. In January 2018, she announced on Twitter that she was going to be published, as her pitch “sold at auction in a high six-figure deal with Delacorte,” according to Vulture.
Zhao, a Chinese immigrant to the U.S., was to publish “Blood Heir,” the first in a series of three books. The story was “a loose retelling of Anastasia with a diverse cast of characters and a hefty dose of blood magic,” Vulture author Kat Rosenfield wrote.
Zhao was instantly accepted in the young-adult literature community — for awhile. She supported writers of color and spoke out on diversity issues. But she didn’t alienate anyone, writing in one tweet: “I’ve been asked several times why I didn’t write a Chinese #ownvoices novel. I don’t want to be boxed into the permanent ‘Other;’ I want diverse books written by PoC to become part of the mainstream.”
That all changed a week ago when vicious rumors began circulating in the community about her. Some influencers started claiming someone was harassing people who didn’t like her book and disparaging “authors of color.” One woman named Zhao as the culprit, though no proof was provided.
Rosenfield reports that more accusations surfaced, including charges of plagiarism and racism over a scene in her book that involved a slave auction. “Blood Heir” has not even been published, though Rosenfield writes that some reviewers have received advance copies.
The attacks on Zhao became so bad that she released a public apology on Twitter and asked her publisher to pull the book.
“It was never my intention to bring harm to any reader of this valued community, particularly those for whom I seek to write and empower,” Zhao wrote. “As such, I have decided to ask my publisher not to publish ‘Blood Heir’ at this time.”
She included the reason why she wrote about a slave auction. She did not intend to evoke thoughts of American slavery, but was instead writing “a specific critique of the epidemic of indentured labor and human trafficking prevalent in many industries across Asia, including in my own home country.” These issues are still happening today.
But American social justice warriors can’t look past themselves and their own perceived victimhood, and read anything about slavery as pertaining to America’s own history, ignoring the horrors that are still going on in the world today. It didn’t matter that Zhao was actually writing about a problem in Asia, she was locked into the American social justice view of slavery.
“The narrative and history of slavery in the United States is not something I can, would, or intended to write, but I recognize that I am not writing in merely my own cultural context. I am so sorry for the pain this has caused,” Zhao added in her statement.
Do other people get to decide an author’s intent? Books are regularly discussed, so it was possible for Zhao’s book to be used as a discussion topic relating to slavery throughout history and around the world, but the chattering class didn’t want this to happen. Instead, they silenced a minority woman.
Delacorte Press, Zhao’s publisher, accepted her decision to cancel the book, but hopes to publish it at a later time if Zhao wants, a company spokeswoman told The New York Times.
“We respect Amelie’s decision, and look forward to continuing our publishing relationship with her,” the spokesman said.