May 18th, 2007 5:33 pm | by Paige Richmond News | Posted In: CLEAN UP

Powell's Books not racist toward African-Americans, just poets

It's your typical case of “he said, she said”—except he's Michal Drannen, the director of regional marketing and publicity at Powell's Books, and she's Rochell “Ro Deezy” Hart, a local poet and activist who claims that Powell's refusal to host a reading and signing for her latest book is discrimination.

A competitor at the Annual Poetry Slam in 2000 and a self-described Black Nationalist, Hart believes that Powell's denied her request for a reading because she's “too black” for them. She's asking all of her fans to call or email Drannen, who is charge of booking all events at the world's largest book store, and demand that she be allowed a reading to promote the release of her newest book, What Else Did You Think I Would say: Poems about Politics, Passion, Resistance and Love. (You can see the form letter that she suggests her supporters send here.)

“I don't host our readings, I coordinate the readings,” says Drannen. He points out that since he usually communicates with an author's publicist over the phone or via email before booking an event, he rarely knows an author's skin color beforehand.

The real reason that Powell's won't book Hart, according to Drannen, is that poetry readings aren't good for business. Readings are an opportunity for Powell's to sell books, and Drannen claims, “We don't see very good attendance for poetry readings or very good sales for poetry readings.

Hart disagrees. “I've attended a number of poetry events at Powell's and they've been well attended,” she says. But Hart makes a number of claims that Drannen says are simply untrue:

1. Hart claims Powell's would not stock her book A Black Girl's Song, until Roy Jay of the African American Chamber of Commerce filed a complaint against the store.

Drannen says this is simple “untrue.” He asserts that Powell's hesitated to stock her book because it's published by PublishAmerica, a trade publisher whose contract terms make it difficult for Powell's to make a profit without selling the book for almost $30.

2. Hart claims Powell's stocks all of six of her books, and allows pre-orders of her newest book on the website.

Drannen asserts that they've only ever stocked one of her books in the stores new and two of her books used and are only selling What Else Did You Think I Would Say online. And since Powell's doesn't release its sales information, Drannen won't disclose how well Hart's books sell. But he admits they're not popular titles.

3. Hart claims that 78 people have sent emails to Drannen requesting a reading.

Drannen claims he's received six emails so far.

He also points out the choice not to book Hart is “absolutely nothing personal.” Powell's receives two to three times more requests for events than they can book in their stores, and he regularly turns away local authors and professors from PSU and Reed College who have just published books.

Hart isn't giving up without a fight. Some of her supporters have suggested holding a reading in front of a Powell's location, and she's entertaining the idea. But all she wants is a reading inside.

“If Powell's were to offer me a reading today, I'd definitely accept,” she says.
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