North Carolina Booksellers Continue to Foster Conversation on H.B. 2

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As booksellers around North Carolina open their doors to create venues for discussion and education about the controversial House Bill 2 (H.B. 2), authors and customers are showing their support by speaking out, attending events, and making purchases.

Jamie Fiocco, owner of Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, has been working with author Felicia Day on an event scheduled for April 27, at a time when many authors, performers, and companies are deciding to stay out of the state in a show of opposition to H.B. 2.

Day, the author of You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) (Touchstone), created a YouTube video to share her feelings with her 2.8 million Twitter followers about North Carolina’s legislation and her decision to attend her scheduled event.

Though Day said she was feeling conflicted, especially as some authors pulled out of events in protest of H.B. 2, seeing Flyleaf’s efforts to show its support for the LGBTQIA community convinced her to travel to Flyleaf for the event. Among other actions, Flyleaf changed its logo to include the rainbow pride flag, it hosted a seminar to educate small business owners about current legislation, and it organized bookstores around the state to rally against the bill.

Flyleaf has also helped coordinate for a representative from Equality NC to attend the upcoming event with Day to speak to the audience about the organization’s TurnOUT! NC project, which seeks to mobilize pro-equality North Carolinians in efforts to defeat H.B. 2.

“For me, if having somebody from Equality NC come and speak to the audience, however big or small, convinces one person to start standing up against the bill and advocating against this kind of legalized hatred, then I figure that my trip was worth it,” Day shared in her video.

Fiocco is pleased that she was able to work with Day’s publicist to ensure the event goes on. “It’s a great example of an author working with the bookstore instead of canceling,” she said.

Flyleaf Books is one of more than 30 bookstores around the state, as well as five publishers, that signed a letter to Governor Pat McCrory and members of the North Carolina General Assembly requesting a repeal of the bill.

Kathleen Jewell is the owner of Wilmington’s Pomegranate Books, which also signed onto the letter. Jewell has also been concerned about author cancellations in light of H.B. 2, in particular David Sedaris, who was scheduled for an April 17 event.

“We were really wondering if he would cancel,” said Jewell. In anticipation of the popular event, the store had coordinated a 1,000-seat venue at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and had filled its storage space with Sedaris’ books to sell to attendees.

But Sedaris did not cancel, said Jewell. He appeared as planned at the sold-out event, and he used his speaking fee to provide a donation to Equality NC. Pomegranate also wrote a check to the organization using proceeds from the event.

“That way, the moneys are still coming into our state, and we’re having an open conversation and open exchange that also benefits the forces that are combatting H.B. 2,” said Jewell. “[Sedaris] showed us the way to make the best of it. It’s a great win-win.”

Plans are continuing for Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café’s May 18 “Kill the Bill” event, which will feature a group of authors performing a variety show in support of the LGBTQIA community of North Carolina.

“I am so excited about this event because it will be so community-building — authors and booksellers working together around an important issue, representatives from organizations affected by and working to repeal H.B. 2 having an opportunity to speak to a larger audience, and all of us raising a lot of money to fund them,” said store manager Linda-Marie Barrett. “I know we plan on having fun with authors that evening, but I expect to be moved to tears, too, when I hear from individuals who have been personally affected by H.B. 2.”

Barrett noted that the store has received overwhelming support in response to her April 14 op-ed in the New York Times that detailed how the boycott of the state has affected the store. “Customers from other states are ordering books online because they want us to be financially healthy,” she said. “Due to the power of social media and the local press, many of our local customers read the op-ed and made a point of coming in this week to make purchases.”

One morning, the store averaged $72 per sale from customers who said they were supporting the store because of the op-ed. “I’ve received emails from people considering not coming to our state because of H.B. 2 but are going to do so now and be strategic in how they spend their money. They feel good supporting places that are opposed to H.B. 2 and working to repeal it. I’ve even had a few customers walk up to me and shake my hand,” said Barrett.

Tom Campbell, owner of Regulator Bookshop in Durham, also shared his voice on the issue in a Fortune piece by author Christina Baker Kline (Orphan Train, William Morrow), who wrote about why she won’t be boycotting North Carolina.

Campbell commented on the impact H.B. 2 is having on indie bookstores due to authors avoiding the state. “There is nothing the legislature would like more than for authors to stay away from North Carolina…. Writers are influencers. They can have a very real impact on people’s opinions. Legislators are afraid that authors will come to North Carolina and help rally the troops to do something about this issue.”