BooksActually saga: Singapore literary community disavows Kenny Leck amid allegations

PHOTO: BooksActually Facebook page
PHOTO: BooksActually Facebook page

[UPDATE at 11.45am on 28 September 2021: Numerous authors and organisations in Singapore's literary community have responded to the allegations against Kenny Leck.]

SINGAPORE — Singapore's literary community has distanced itself from BooksActually owner Kenny Leck amid allegations by his ex-employees, with its own authors denouncing non-consensual and exploitative behaviour.

38 authors published by Math Paper Press, BooksActually's publishing arm, said in a statement on Monday (27 September) that they were "angry and disheartened" by the former employees' accounts of exploitative and abusive behaviour. They welcomed Leck's decision to transfer his ownership of the bookstore and Math Paper Press to his team of five employees.

"We also acknowledge that our writing community should do better, and that scarce resources should never be an excuse for unacceptable behaviour," added the group, which includes writers and poets such as Alfian Sa'at, Cyril Wong and Felix Cheong.

On the same day, literary non-profit and champion Sing Lit Station said it would no longer work with Singapore's best-known independent bookstore on the 2021 Jalan Besar Writing Residency, which doles out grants to a handful of writers each year.

Once co-chaired by Leck, Sing Lit Station said in a Facebook post that the decision was taken due to the seriousness of the allegations against Leck.

"We have decided to terminate the programme and will re-announce new details on the 2021/2022 residency when they are finalised," it said in an update on its website. It is also planning a series of discussions with the literary community to address "institutional and communal failings in the literary scene".

Sing Lit Station, which was co-founded by Joshua Ip, Daryl Qilin Yam – BooksActually writer-in-residence from April to June this year – and Jon Gresham in 2016, added that it will reassess future collaborations with BooksActually or its publishing arm Math Paper Press based on "meaningful organisational changes that prioritise the safety and welfare of their staff".

Allegations by ex-wife, female ex-employees

On Saturday, socio-political website Rice Media published an article detailing allegations by several of the bookstore's former employees, including Leck's ex-wife Renee Ting. They accused Leck of making unwanted advances on them and claimed that he had often failed to pay their salaries on time, or even at all.

In a Facebook post on Sunday, Leck admitted to his "personal failings" in his management of the store, which had "caused immense pain to specific ex-employees". He also made "mistakes" in his marriage, adding, "I acknowledge causing Renee deep pain that she may never heal from."

However, Leck said that some allegations and "inferences" are "totally untrue". "There will be a time when I will be ready to speak to each in detail publicly, but now is not that time," he said.

Leck said that he has also ceded full legal ownership and directorship of the bookstore to the current team of five employees, who will be the new owners. He will be removed from all decision-making processes, while the team will be drafting and codifying workplace SOPs, which includes an anti-harassment policy for future hires.

In September 2020, BooksActually closed its physical premises in Yong Siak Street to transition to selling books online.

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