Authors auction items to benefit Grenfell Tower residents | Books | DW | 26.06.2017
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Authors auction items to benefit Grenfell Tower residents

Writers, illustrators and other giants of the publishing world have raised thousands in an auction for Grenfell Tower residents.

Many watched in horror on June 14 as the 27-story Grenfell Tower residential building in southwest London burned, its top-floor residents trapped. Two days later, feeling helpless as the unofficial death toll from the fire grew to 79, writer Harriet Reuter Hapgood set to work on a plan to assist those displaced by the fire.

"I was on a train out of London composing an email to UKYA (UK Young Adult) authors I know about what we could do to help - donate books? An auction? - when I saw (agent) Molly Ker Hawn tweet something similar," Reuter Hapgood told DW.

The Authors for Grenfell Tower fundraiser was born. Together with author Sara Barnard, the trio set about emailing writers and editors they knew personally to gather donations. On June 19, they had set up a website offering 30 donated items on auction. A week later, the auction is taking bids on 644 items, including everything from signed books to tea dates with authors to manuscript critiques from editors.

"The response has been overwhelming," said Molly Ker Hawn, one of the initiators of the fundraiser. "We reached out to around 50 people for donations, but several hundred donors contacted us directly." 

Illustration for Beitrag Grenfell Tower (Axel Scheffler)

Two illustrations by Axel Scheffler are among the 644 items donated for the auction

Bids in the thousands

Some of the biggest names in the art world are among the donors. Columnist Caitlin Moran has donated personalized books, as has children's author Pamela Butchard. Actor Stanley Tucci has donated a signed copy of his cookbook. Photographer Rankin has offered a photo shoot in his studio. German-born illustrator Axel Scheffler donated two drawings. A "Tucker's" sign from the television show "Black Mirror" has also found its way to the auction table. 

One of the highest-bidding items is tea for four at Claridge's with author David Walliams, which fetched 10,000 pounds (11,365 euros / $12,732) from a single bidder before being overtaken as the highest-fetching item.

That honor goes to the naming rights to a character in the next book by science-fiction writer Philip Pullman. After teacher James Clements posted a 1,000 pound bid on Monday, June 26, with the note that he would name the character after a former student of his, Nur Huda el-Wahabi, who died in the fire, a surge of donations rolled in, as people gathered funds for a collective bid. By lunchtime Monday, that sum totaled 10,280 pounds to name the character Nur Huda.

Empathy for an event that hit close to home

That sum could go up, as bidding on the auction items closes Tuesday, June 27 at 8 p.m. GMT. All money collected will go directly to the British Red Cross relief fund for Grenfell Tower residents to help those who have been injured or lost someone in the fire. 

Philip Pullman, British Author (picture-alliance/Effigie/Leemage)

The unexpected top-seller: naming rights to a character in Philip Pullman's next book

While that's a large sum of money for a fundraising auction quickly put together, Molly Ker Hawn is not surprised at the response.

"Reading helps us develop empathy. I don't think it's any surprise that people who work in publishing have a lot of empathy for the residents of Grenfell Tower, who were failed by their government both nationally and locally. It's so indicative of an institutional disregard for the poor," she told DW.

"My daughter goes to school with girls who live on that estate. That brought the tragedy home for my family in a very real and personal way."

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