The past week has been pretty frustrating for the Singaporean literary community, when Singapore’s independent bookstore, BooksActually, was dragged in a huge controversy when the founder’s ex-wife, Renée Ting, revealed the dark secrets of the bookstore. Her allegations was specifically against her ex-husband, Kenny Leck, who reportedly, harassed and pursued relationships with several female employees. This shocking reveal was more mortifying when a few more allegations came to light post-Renée’s claims.
Now, the writers who make up Singapore’s literary community have formulated a joint statement in response to these revelations. This statement was released by 40 authors, on 27th September from BookActually’s publishing arm, Math Paper Press. 6 of these writers were unnamed and some popular names in the statement included, Alfian Sa’at, Ng Yi-Sheng, Cyril Wong, Daryl Qilin Yam and Felix Cheong.
Their statement reads:
“As members of the literary community, we were angry and disheartened to read about the accounts of past employees at BooksActually. We do not condone any behaviour that is non-consensual or exploitative in any way. We acknowledge their hurt, and honour the courage of these people for speaking up.
The bookstore has provided space for a diversity of writers for more than a decade. As authors who have been published by Math Paper Press, the publishing arm of BooksActually, we acknowledge the contributions that BooksActually has made to our literary scene.
Nonetheless, we believe that any wrong must be righted and perpetrators must be held accountable for their actions. We also acknowledge that our writing community should do better, and that scarce resources should never be an excuse for unacceptable behaviour. We commit to creating a transparent and safe community where no one should have to suffer in silence; we’ll actively work to welcome all into the conversation.
We urge BooksActually and its present owner, Kenny Leck, to account for past mistakes and work on guaranteeing a safe and healthy environment for its employees. We welcome the decision to transfer Kenny’s ownership of the bookstore to the team, and await to see how the transfer of ownership will transpire within the bookstore. If BooksActually wishes to receive the support of our writing environment, we need them to fulfil their promises of outlining and enforcing better procedures and policies, including an anti-harassment policy.
We hope that BooksActually emerges from this controversy and becomes a bookstore we can depend on and love.”
Alfian took to Facebook to release another separate post on his personal page that explained why some authors chose to remain anonymous. He said, “Some authors wanted to sign but unfortunately could not get clearance from their workplaces (either in time, or the process would have been too difficult). To show their support, they have signed but exercised the choice to remain anonymous.”
Prior to the release of this joint statement, Alfian also posted another post reflecting his thoughts that reads, “This is a statement that has been released by the five employees working at BooksActually. Kenny Leck, who has been accused of, among other things, exploitative labour practices, workplace abuse and sexual harassment, has stepped down as sole proprietor of BooksActually and Math Paper Press. Now collective ownership is in the hands of the five employees. For those who have advocated for the boycott of BooksActually, will this news affect those plans? There are five people, who are not Kenny Leck, whose livelihoods depend on the bookstore staying afloat. While the new owners have vowed to strengthen their HR and anti-harassment policies, these solutions are also quite future-oriented. I think there also needs to be some form of restitution to past employees, especially recompense for missed salary payments. As a writer who has been published by Math Paper Press, I will be donating a portion of the advance I received for the publication of “The Invisible Manuscript” to the women who spoke up in the Rice Media article. I am doing this because it feels terrible to know that because I was paid as an author, this resulted in less pay for staff who were stocking and selling my books. I am also not advocating that all MPP authors take this course of action, as I am doing so from a position of privilege (a full-time job). But this is what I would rather do, given these latest developments, than to boycott BooksActually completely. I also hope that Kenny will address the allegations lodged against him in a more comprehensive and transparent manner, and to seek the forgiveness of those he has wronged in the past. While a public apology is welcome, it is important that he reaches out to the different individuals privately and make amends, because I think it’s these acts of healing and repair, away from the public eye, that matter.”
Apart from this joint statement, the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) have also given their statement pertaining this matter. They stated that these allegations against Kenny Leck were credible. Shailey Hingorani, the head of research and advocacy at AWARE, said that she applauded the women for the “tremendous courage” it took to come forward with their stories. Adding on, she also understood why these women took a while to come forward with the allegations. She said, “Experiences of this nature – involving abuse of power, manipulation and grooming of young and vulnerable persons – can be extremely hard for victim-survivors to parse, and it’s understandable why many of them took a while to process their interactions with Leck. Indeed, the women who have spoken up against Leck did mention that he would declare himself powerful enough to ruin their careers in the arts industry.”
Hingorani has also pointed out that the allegations involved various forms of abuse. For example, the allegation by his ex-wife, included domestic violence. Further highlighting this, she said, “Leck was not just her boss but her husband, and he took steps to isolate her from her family – a common hallmark of domestic abuse.”
The other forms of abuse prevalent in the allegations included, “unfair labour practices and exploitation”, where Leck reportedly withheld or delayed salaries and deprived staff of designated breaks during the day.
In light of this issue, AWARE would also be temporarily suspending their partnership with the bookstore for membership benefits. Previously, members of AWARE would receive discounts to BooksActually’s online store but now Hingorani has stated that, “We may reassess our relationship after confirming with their new team that policies and procedures to address and prevent workplace harassment are in place.”
Indeed, these allegations are scary. Hopefully, the women who have been wronged by Leck, get the justice they deserve and may this incident be a strong reminder to all the perpetrators out there to stop harassing women.