The author Nicholas Sparks is best known for his romance novels such as The Notebook, A Walk to Remember, and Dear John, as well as, of course, their adaptations into film. It’s no surprise, then, that his words have once again begun to spread like wildfire over the past few weeks—though this time, they didn’t appear in a romance novel, but in a homophobic email thread dating back to 2013, which resurfaced just in time for Pride Month.
So, how did we get to this point in the five years since? Well, quite ironically, it all goes back to a private Christian school that Sparks cofounded in 2006, which describes itself as “anchored in the Judeo-Christian commandment to Love God and Your Neighbor as Yourself.” For its first seven years of existence, that does seem to be the case, but things took a turn for the worse for the Epiphany School of Global Studies in 2013—unfortunately for Saul Benjamin, who accepted an offer to be its headmaster that February.
According to the Daily Beast, which broke the story on Monday, Benjamin noticed issues with the school’s attitude to diversity “almost immediately.” In an attempt to remedy those issues, he began to focus on “tolerance, diversity, nondiscrimination, and LGBT,” as Sparks put it in an email—and not approvingly. As far as he was concerned, Benjamin should have been prioritizing “academic/curricular/global issues, Christian traditions, etc.,” and “eliminat[ing]” the word “nondiscrimination” from his vocabulary.
Unsurprisingly, then, when Benjamin advocating adding sexual orientation to the school’s nondiscrimination policy, Sparks wasn’t amused. “Remember, we’ve had gay students before, many of them,” he wrote in another email, adding that Benjamin’s predecessor “handled it quietly and wonderfully and the students considered themselves fortunate.” When the headmaster did not follow suit, Sparks accused him of pushing “what some perceive as an agenda that strives to make homosexuality open and accepted”—a sentiment that one of the school’s trustees reportedly echoed in a board meeting, claiming that Benjamin was “promoting a homosexual culture and agenda.” Meanwhile, according to Benjamin, homophobia had become so rampant among students that some had declared their desire to start a “homo-caust.”
And while Sparks’s apparent homophobia may be making the most headlines, but there’s a good deal of racism to be found in the emails, too. To be fair, Sparks didn’t deny the school’s “lack of diversity.” (Only two of what appears to have been roughly 500 students enrolled that year were black.) But he definitely disagreed on the reasons behind that lack, which he declared had “NOTHING to do with the school or anyone at the school” and “nothing to do with racism or vestiges of Jim Crow … It comes down to 1) Money and 2) Culture,” he concluded. (Though on one occasion, he allegedly gave a different reason—that black students are “too poor and can’t do the academic work.”)
You can probably guess what came next: Benjamin left the school, then filed a lawsuit against Sparks and rest of the board of trustees.
Say what you will about Sparks, but there’s no denying that the author, who’s written 20 novels, is prolific. So, rather than lay low, he’s now posted not one, but two statements in response to the outcry on his Twitter account, where he has 616,000 followers—and, incidentally, is no stranger to posting images of plain black text against a white backdrop. (It’s his go-to format for posting inspirational quotes, taken verbatim from characters in his novels.) He also posted them on Instagram, where comments are currently disabled, starting with the below statement last Thursday, which refutes the “false allegations” in the Daily Beast‘s story. (Not that that seems to have stopped anyone from replying with a gift featuring the word “cancelled” or “receipts.)
So, on Monday, Sparks tried again—this time, with an actual apology. As for how that one has gone over, well, the reply with the most likes (1,200-plus) at the moment is this summary: “I was stressed so I emphatically refused to accept a lgbtq club and I praised keeping gay talk quiet. Oops. My bad – Nicholas sparks.”
When it comes to the lawsuit, though, only one reader’s response will really count. Alas, Benjamin has never been too fond of Sparks’s writing, and even recently filed an extra charge against the author, for defamation, to prove as much. (In yet another email, Sparks armchair diagnosed him with Alzheimer’s—the same disease, as you may recall, at the center of The Notebook.)