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Author self-publishes book after deal ends with SU Press

After Syracuse University Press stopped publishing a book, due to concerns about libel and defamation of character, in the same year it began printing it, author Fawzia Afzal-Khan decided to self-publish it instead.

‘SUP in the United States of America has committed an act of terror against my book and my rights as a U.S. citizen to publish and circulate my work,’ said Afzal-Khan, whose self-published edition of the book, ‘Lahore with Love: Growing Up with Girlfriends, Pakistani-Style,’ has been available for purchase on Amazon.com since January.

Afzal-Khan’s contract was terminated and the publication of the book ceased after SU Press became aware in mid-2010 that the portrayal of one of the characters ‘raised very serious concerns of libel and defamation of character,’ said Alice Pfeiffer, director of SU Press, in an e-mail.

Madeeha Gauhar, actress and founder of the Ajoka Theatre in Pakistan, was ‘shocked to read an entirely false, fabricated, defamatory, scandalous, malicious, and utterly disrespectfully depiction of her and her family in the book titled ‘Lahore with Love,” according to a letter SU Press received in April 2010, which was obtained by The Drama Review.

In the letter, lawyer Shazil Ibrahim demanded restitution for the damages Gauhar suffered because of ‘Lahore with Love,’ according to The Drama Review’s website.

Although the book does not name Gauhar, ‘it is obvious to anyone reading the book, including all those who even remotely know of her, that the entire chapter titled ‘Mad/medea’ is a depiction (however false and fabricated) of Mrs. Gauhar and her family,’ according to the letter.

SU Press and Afzal-Khan were asked to release a public apology, to immediately recall the book and cease its distribution, and to pay $1 million ‘on account of loss, damage and distress’ suffered by Gauhar, according to the letter.

Afzal-Khan said quotes from the chapter had been pulled out of context in the letter. According to the letter, Afzal-Khan humiliated Gauhar using phrases such as ‘bloody b****’ and ‘you are a whore not a woman’ in the chapter.

The book is a ‘fictionalized memoir,’ Afzal-Khan said, and there is a disclaimer at the beginning of the book.

‘While this book is a memoir and, as such, based on real-life incidents, people, and places, it is nevertheless my recollection of these, hence more a matter of partial perception than ‘fact.’ Names of people and descriptions of some events have been changed/fictionalized to protect identities and privacy,’ according to the section marked ‘Disclaimer,’ which appears on the copyright page of the book.

Pfeiffer of SU Press said Afzal-Khan initially offered to revise the book but later withdrew that offer. But Afzal-Khan said although she told SU Press she would consider her options, she never agreed to change or drop the chapter. After thinking about the situation, Afzal-Khan said she realized she had ‘written nothing that is libelous, nothing to be ashamed of.’

Afzal-Khan also said SU Press did not specifically pinpoint which parts of the book it considered defamatory.

Susan Davis, national contract adviser of the National Writers Union, said Afzal-Khan, a member of NWU, contacted the union when she realized SU Press wanted to stop publishing ‘Lahore with Love.’

‘She felt they were being frightened away by a frivolous lawsuit,’ Davis said. ‘This woman in Pakistan threatened to sue. The threat has never happened. The threat has never materialized in Pakistan or in the United States.’

Afzal-Khan hired a lawyer in Pakistan to take care of the legal situation, Davis said, but SU Press officials had already made up their minds to cease publication of the book.

‘It was not a negotiation,’ Davis said. ‘There was no wiggle room there to bring about any kind of change.’

The Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage Act passed by President Barack Obama’s administration in August 2010 would have protected SU Press and Afzal-Khan, Davis said.

Amy Vanderlyke, a professor at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and an associate at the Sugarman Law Firm, said in an e-mail that the SPEECH Act would have protected SU Press and Afzal-Khan ‘assuming that the country (Pakistan) does not provide as liberal protection for writers as the United States’ defamation laws.’

The SPEECH Act was enacted because the United States ‘so highly values free speech and expression,’ Vanderlyke said. The act is a way to protect American authors by ‘prohibiting certain types of foreign defamation lawsuits,’ she said.

Afzal-Khan said the reason she chose to publish ‘Lahore with Love’ with SU Press instead of a trade press was because she had maintained a good relationship with Mary Selden Evans, executive editor of acquisitions at SU Press.

She and Evans had exchanged ‘warm e-mails’ and ‘developed e-mail correspondence over the years,’ Afzal-Khan said. But once SU Press received the letter, ‘Mary Selden Evens disappeared like she did not exist,’ Afzal-Khan said.

Evans did not respond to calls and an e-mail from The Daily Orange.

‘Their behavior in every way has been reprehensible,’ Afzal-Khan said. ‘This is not the way an author should be treated.’

Pfeiffer said both SU Press and Afzal-Khan chose to end the contract, ‘as often happens when authors and publishers have issues that cannot be resolved.’

SU Press recognized Afzal-Khan’s right to publish the book and offered to transfer full publishing rights without cost if Afzal-Khal wished to obtain a new publisher, Pfeiffer said.

‘At the time, it was our understanding that Dr. Afzal-Khan was pursuing that route,’ she said, ‘and we wished her well moving forward.’

shkim11@syr.edu

 

 

 

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