When the winners of the Mystery Writers of America’s (MWA) 2019 Grand Master award were announced on Nov. 27, writer Attica Locke recognized a familiar name: Linda Fairstein. Locke, whose novel Bluebird, Bluebird won the 2018 Edgar Award for Best Mystery Novel from the MWA, is also a writer for Ava DuVernay’s upcoming Netflix miniseries, Central Park 5. Linda Fairstein, now a prolific mystery novelist, was the head of Manhattan’s Sex Crimes Unit in the 1980s and ’90s, and oversaw the prosecution of the Central Park Five, five teenagers wrongly imprisoned for the brutal beating and rape of 28-year-old Trisha Meili. Meili was white; all five boys, between the ages of 14 and 16, were either Black or Latino.
So Locke took to Twitter. Over the next day, support for Locke, and for her call for the MWA to rescind their award from Fairstein, began building on Twitter. Authors, including Lori Rader-Day, Jordan Harper and Marie Myung-Ok Lee, re-tweeted Locke. Novelist Steph Cha penned an article for the Los Angeles Times about the growing controversy, writing, "Let’s remember that the loss of a reward is not comparable to the loss of freedom."
In 48 hours, Locke’s initial tweet gained nearly 500 retweets and close to 1,000 likes.
Meanwhile, Fairstein took to her own Twitter, responding directly to Locke.
On Nov. 28, the MWA released a statement that they were "taking seriously the issues raised by Attica Locke." On Nov. 29, that post was taken down and replaced with the announcement that the MWA has officially withdrawn Fairstein’s award.
"When the MWA Board made its selection, it was unaware of Ms. Fairstein’s role in the controversy," reads the statement. "After profound reflection, the Board has decided that MWA cannot move forward with an award that lacks the support of such a large percentage of our members."
Since 2002, Fairstein has published 20 novels starring Alexandra Cooper, a sex-crimes prosecutor in New York City. Her protagonist, often presented as Fairstein’s own "alter-ego," has been held up as an example of a strong, three-dimensional female character by readers.
But since her first appearance on the literary scene, with her 1993 memoir, Sexual Violence: Our War Against Rape, Fairstein’s initial, decades-long career as head of New York City’s Sex Crimes Unit has often been described only in broad strokes.
In the announcement of her appointment as a 2019 Grand Master, the Mystery Writers of America wrote, "In her 30-year tenure at the Manhattan DA’s Office, she was a pioneer in the war against rape, fighting for historic changes to the criminal justice system and for justice on behalf of victims of the most heinous crimes." In the Publisher’s Weekly review of Fairstein’s first novel, Final Jeopardy, she is described as "the crusading longtime chief of Manhattan’s Sex Crimes Prosecutions Unit." And in a review of Into the Lion’s Den, her first book for middle grade readers, The National Book Review wrote that Fairstein is "widely regarded as the nation’s leading legal expert on sexual assault and domestic violence."
Fairstein’s first Alex Cooper novel hit shelves the same year the Central Park Five were exonerated. In the following years, as Fairstein’s Alex Cooper novels repeatedly made the New York Times’ best-seller list, the Central Park Five — Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, Korey Wise, Raymond Santana and Kevin Richardson — worked to rebuild their lives after growing up, essentially, in prison.
Bustle reached out to Linda Fairstein for comment, but did not receive a response as of publication. In an email to Bustle, Attica Locke wrote: "Thank you for the interest, but I’ve said everything I want to on the subject, and the MWA has rescinded her award. A positive outcome."
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