Monday, August 23, 2010

Censorship: DO NOT WANT

I don't often air my rage on this blog, but right now I'm as pissed as the cat in the picture.

You may have already heard about the Houston-area school that censored YA author Ellen Hopkins. If not, in a nutshell, she was originally invited to speak at a Teen Lit Fest in Humble, Texas, after prior good experience there and with the librarians. Of course she said yes. Then, one librarian decided she had an issue with Hopkin's book(s) and lobbied certain parents and the superintendent, who dis-invited her.

Read about her experience on her blog here. Read Publishers Weekly's discussion of it here.

And in case you need it spelled out, dis-inviting an author to speak is extremely poor manners, as well as CENSORSHIP.

Four other authors who were schedule to speak at Teen Lit Fest have withdrawn in support of Ellen, and I wanted to make sure we congratulate them on their effort, and support their very important decisions. Please go buy their books and visit their blogs (each of the links goes to their own blog posts about this issue):
Censorship sucks and guess what: you suck if you do it. And try reading the book before deciding against it. And when you open your fat mouth to say something isn't appropriate for teens to read, try censoring yourself first.

P.S. I don't believe for one second that the teens are suffering from the withdrawl of these authors at the Fest. "What about the children!" seems like a bit of a manipulative cry to me. The teens, in fact, are benefiting HUGELY from seeing people stand up to censorship in this way.

What are your thoughts on this issue? If you agree or disagree, I'd like to hear it in the comments.


Meghan Ward said...

I totally agree with you about censorship. My friend Julia Scheeres, author of Jesus Land, heard from a teacher who lost his job for teaching her memoir in his class. And good for those other authors for withdrawing! What is in Ellen Hopkins' book, by the way, that caused her to get disinvited?

Linda G. said...

Hear, hear! *applause*

But you're right that the children won't suffer. Nor will Ms. Hopkins' sales. If anything, she's likely to garner more readers from the controversy, and I have to say I find the irony in that pleasing.

Jessica Lemmon said...

I never have liked the idea of haughty do-gooders "saving" the children from harm. Censorship is often dangerous and frightening. I'm with Linda, I bet Ellen will see an increase in books sold. And, applause for the authors who did what they believed in and refused to speak out of support!

Sierra Godfrey said...

Meghan -- I believe Hopkins' books handle topics like drug addiction, sex, and broken homes. And if teens don't learn how to deal with these real topics through safe platforms like literature, then I don't know what.

Linda - I find the irony pleasing as well.

Jessica - agree, it is dangerous and frightening!

I'm still annoyed about this.

Jck said...

Wow, I just read her blog about the incident. So sad :(

Anne R. Allen said...

Of course, we have to take into account this is happening in Texas, where they're trying to get new textbooks that eliminate the teaching of evolutionary science and show Joe McCarthy and the Ku Klux Klan in a favorable light. These people are proud to be ignorant, fear-based bigots, so we shouldn't be surprised when they act bigoted, fearful and ignorant.

Mostly, I think they're making books seem exciting and dangerous to teens--a great method of getting them to read. And I bet it will help Hopkins sales in the long run. I hope so. She deserves it.

Roni @ FictionGroupie said...

Ugh, this irritates my soul. I love how everyone picks on teen books. Has anyone watched MTV lately? Or gone to a movie marketed to teens? Or, um, been to high school? What's in books is the least of our worries. :)

Roni @ FictionGroupie said...

Oh, and Anne, I live in Texas--we're not all that way. As usual, the idiots are always the most vocal and get the state the most attention.

KLM said...

I haven't read Hopkins' series. I guess the issue was that it dealt with meth addiction, as if the books are pamphlets encouraging kids to give it a try. Join the glamourous world of drugs, kids!

I'm guessing it's less about an orchestrated attempt at censorship and mostly about FEAR on the part of the school system. They just don't want to deal with flak of any kind from parents, even on a minor scale. Not that gutlessness is much better than censorship, I suppose.

demery bader-saye said...

Thank you for making us aware of this, Sierra. I'll definitely go visit the blogs you linked here. Good for the other writers for taking a stand! I totally agree that the kids will benefit from hearing about colleagues standing up for one another.

I worked with teens for many years - and believe me - there's nothing they don't already know about. I worked with so called "good" kids - church kids - and they know what's up out there. So it's pointless to think that if they read a book about a controversial issue they will learn something brand new and be harmed by that knowledge. If a book can help them think through an issue - or give them perspective or insight - that's all the better. Because otherwise they only get the perspective of other teens who might not have the wisdom to reflect thoughtfully on an issue.

p.s. I live in TX - so rest assured we aren't ALL like that :)

Dr. Goose said...

I thought the burning book days were over. Perhaps people feel like they don't have enough power to fight Hollywood so why not a YA writer. My kids reading intellectual books about anything would make me happy. Can you help me understand this comment?

"The teens, in fact, are benefiting HUGELY from seeing people stand up to censorship in this way.

Was this sarcasm?

Tawna Fenske said...

We had a book banning situation in a town about 30 minutes from here 2 years ago. Made me mad as hell. Not sure this will work, but I'm going to try to paste the text from an editorial our local paper wrote about it (which made me laugh and laugh and laugh).

From the Bend Bulletin, Dec. 12, 2008:


There, we said it. What’s more, we’ll bet that nobody who read those four syllables dropped dead of shock.

Some of those who inadvertently saw the word might even be as young as 14. And you know what? We doubt — really, really doubt — that the experience will warp their minds any more than puberty already has.

Oops, shame on us. We said “puberty,” too. It sounds a little dirty.

Most readers probably won’t fault us for using such language. But when it comes to Crook County schools, all it takes is one. By now, the board may even have banned our editorial page from the halls of the county high school. If so, at least we aren’t the first to go.

That honor belongs to “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” a novel in which a character talks about masturbation — and in a way that suggests (gasp) approval. The book is — or was — required reading in an English class for freshmen, who would never — never! — have been introduced to the “M” word if not for those hopelessly irresponsible teachers.

Students in plenty of other places read the book, including those in all of Bend’s high schools. But a Crook County parent spotted a passage to which he objected, then complained to the school board. The board responded by giving the book the heave-ho. Forget the fact that it won the National Book Award in 2007, and that the category in which it prevailed was not Risque Readin’ for Reprobates. It was Young People’s Literature.

Parents are, of course, free to frown upon students’ assignments, even if they happen to be mainstream, widely praised novels written explicitly for young people. We mean the nice “explicitly,” by the way, not the naughty one. School board members are free to frown right along with them. But before allowing one unhappy parent to act, in effect, as the district’s censor, they ought to ask themselves a couple of questions.

First, how objectionable is the book, really? If a teacher photocopies all of the naughty bits from every one of Norman Mailer’s novels and hands them out as required reading, that’s a problem. But banning a book simply because a character discusses masturbation creates a mighty low standard. Is the board prepared to respect the standard when other parents object to isolated passages in other widely respected novels?

Second, how will hair-trigger censorship affect existing and future staff? Like it or not, the Crook County School Board will now be known as the puritanical brain trust that banished a youth-oriented National Book Award winner from a high school — a high school! Good luck attracting highly qualified teachers.

Oh, and one other thing. Fourteen-year-olds presumably aren’t mature enough to read about masturbation, yet in two years they’ll supposedly be mature enough to drive a car at a high rate of speed? Somebody, please, raise the driving age in Crook County to at least 18.

Sierra Godfrey said...

Roni and Demery, I'm glad you live in Texas and can vouch that not everyone there is a hole. But we knew that -- because to assume to the whole state of Texas is a bastard is akin, to me, of assuming a book about drug addiction is "catching." That said, Anne has a point that in Texas, school curriculum seems to have a tough time. I cannot support a school district that promotes changing textbooks to include hateful crap like that.

Dr. Goose, my comment was in no way at all intended as sarcasm. What I'm saying is that this incident and people's (particularly the authors who withdrew from appearing at the event) actions to the censorship is going to be educational.The teens will be able to see for themselves that there are, in fact, people who stand up for what's right, rather than following school board decisions blindly just because the board is in a position of power.

Tawna, that's a great article....almost seems as though YOU could have written it!

Roni @ FictionGroupie said...

Sierra, yeah the textbook thing had me considering private school once the kiddo gets to school age. So ridiculous.

Dr. Goose said...

Thank you for clarifying. It now makes perfect sense.

Tawna Fenske said...

Re: the editorial, I almost couldn't believe our newspaper's editorial staff wrote or printed it. They're normally a bit on the conservative side, but apparently they take censorship pretty seriously!


Anne R. Allen said...

Texans--So Sorry! I didn't mean to tar you all with that brush. I read the Austin Chronicle online and I know some of you are the most progressive folks around. Molly Ivins was one of my heroes. As is Michael Ventura.

When I said "they" I meant Texas school boards. Bad writing. I apologize.

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