Mon., June 17, 2019, 3:56 pm: This story has been updated to include comment from the creative team and producers of The Notebook.
This week, the Daily Beast reported that Nicholas Sparks, author of the hugely popular romance novels The Notebook and A Walk to Remember, had tried to ban LGBT clubs and student protests at the Epiphany School, a Christian academy Sparks founded that is located in New Bern, North Carolina. Saul Benjamin, a former headmaster at the Epiphany School, is suing Sparks, claiming that he and other school board members “unapologetically marginalized, bullied, and harassed members of the School community whose religious views and/or identities did not conform to their religiously driven, bigoted preconceptions.”
Emails obtained by the Daily Beast seemed to confirm this to some degree, showing that Sparks attempted to ban student protest at the school, berated Benjamin for attempting to foster an environment of diversity and tolerance, and accused him of having “an agenda that strives to make homosexuality open and accepted.” Benjamin has also accused Sparks of racism, claiming that Sparks told him the school had few African-American students because they are “too poor and can’t do the academic work.”
Sparks has roundly denied the allegations, writing on Twitter that the Daily Beast story repeats “false allegations and claims” that have already been discredited in a court of law. (In August, the U.S. District Court will issue a ruling on other claims Benjamin made against Sparks in the lawsuit, such as that he defamed him by telling other Epiphany board members that he suffered from dementia.)
But they come as a tremendous blow to the reputation of the wildly successful romance author, whose books have sold more than 100 million copies, many of which have been adapted into equally popular films. To make the timing even worse, the latest adaptation of Sparks’ work, a musical version of The Notebook, is expected to come to Broadway this year, featuring a book by playwright Bekah Brunstetter and music by singer/songwriter Ingrid Michaelson.
In fact, just a day before the Daily Beast story was published, it was confirmed that Vanessa Hudgens would appear in a staged workshop reading of The Notebook musical adaptation at the Powerhouse, an incubator run by Vassar and New York Stage & Film; the June 23rd production will be directed by Michael Greif, who is best known for having helmed the original production of Rent. (He also directed Hudgens in Rent Live, the live television production of the musical.) Greif is LGBTQ, and Hudgens is a vocal ally for the LGBT community.
In light of the allegations of homophobia against Sparks, and Broadway’s reputation as a haven for members of the LGBTQ community, a handful of members of the theater and LGBTQ communities have harshly criticized the productions on social media, including PFLAG, the LGBTQ advocacy organization.
— PFLAG National (@PFLAG) June 14, 2019
— Justin Gregory Lopez (@JGregoryLopez) June 14, 2019
So glad I never spent a dime on any Nicholas Sparks books or movies. I can’t imagine the Broadway community moving forward with the Notebook play knowing it’s author is a homophobe POS. https://t.co/jVYKRfE0eK
— Talent (@Talentiest) June 13, 2019
i’m not sure if any money from the notebook musical is going directly to nicholas sparks but he tried to ban the lgbt club at the christian school he helped make soo.. do with that info what u want but👀🤷🏻♀️
— brandon uranowitz’s tony’s suit (@booksndbroadway) June 14, 2019
On Monday, Sparks issued an apology to the LGTBQ community in a post on Facebook. “As someone who has spent the better part of my life as a writer who understands the power of words, I regret and apologize that mine have potentially hurt young people and members of the LGBTQ community, including my friends and colleagues in that community,” he said.
In response to a request for comment, the creative and production team behind The Notebook told Rolling Stone: “We are encouraged that Mr. Sparks has made a strong statement of support of the LGBTQ+ community today. The Notebook musical team has been given complete freedom to create a very new piece of art from the source material of the book and our mission for the past 3 years has been and continues to be to create a story of love and humanity that reflects our core values of diversity and inclusion.”
Sparks’ full post is below.