August 17, 2010
I’m just now hearing about this, but last Tuesday, Ellen Hopkins wrote a blog post about being uninvited from the Teen Lit Fest in Humble, Texas. (I’m having trouble finding official information about the event; there seems to be a Facebook page and a Blogspot account, but neither have been updated recently.)
Hopkins had done high school visits in the area before and they’d gone well, but when a middle school librarian saw Hopkins would be at Teen Lit Fest, she went to some parents and then all of them went to the superintendent to ask that Hopkins be uninvited. The superintendent, Guy Sconzo, hadn’t read any of her books but agreed to remove her from the program. When other area librarians wrote to him in protest, he responded that he’d relied on the librarian’s judgement and that there were plenty of other authors they could invite–too many to ever have them all! Hopkins responded to this on her blog:
I am not just another author. I’m an author who is a voice for a generation that faces real problems every day. An author who tries to dissect those problems, look for reasons, suggest solutions, show outcomes to choices through characters who walk off the page. I’m an author who cares about her readership in a very real way. I am thoughtful, respectful of my readers, and not afraid to tell the truth.
That is what censors fear. The truth. Mr. Sconzo doesn’t “want to jeopardize any possible negative reaction [sic] with what has been to date completely positive for literally all concerned.” (I always wonder about school administrators who can’t write a sentence correctly.) The truth may not always be pretty, but it is positive. What’s negative is hiding truth in a dark closet, pretending it doesn’t exist. And worse, manipulating people with lies.
She then asks that people in the Houston area not attend the festival and that people everywhere who oppose this censorship email the superintendent.
But the other authors involved with Teen Lit Fest are going a step further. Melissa de la Cruz wrote a blog post yesterday about growing up in a dictator-controlled country that banned, among other media, Japanese anime. She writes that “[w]hen I moved to America, I was happy to discover that you could watch ANYTHING here. Censorship was NOT a way of life. The freedom was dizzying.” And then she gets to the heart of censorship of material for young people:
But I want every kid to be able to decide whether they want to read Ellen’s books or my books, or anyone’s books. Kids should be able to choose. (Parents can choose not to let their kids read something, and that’s fine. They can also choose not to let their kids go hear someone speak, but you can’t ruin it for other people’s kids whose parents decided THEY can hear a speaker or read a book.)
I didn’t get to choose when I was nine years old, and I remember being INCREDIBLY UPSET. In fact, the absence of those Japanese cartoons is something I have been MOURNING for twenty-years now. I really missed it when they took it away, and I was HORRIFIED to find out that SOMEONE ELSE decided WHAT I could watch. (Someone who was not my parents.) It really disturbed me. It CONTINUES to disturb me.
So de la Cruz has withdrawn from Teen Lit Fest, and Pete Hautman has, too. In his blog post, he recounts how he’s twice been asked to speak at a library and then had that invitation rescinded after his writing was deemed “inappropriate.” At the time he didn’t make a big deal about it, but now he sees that as a mistake, so he’s withdrawing from Teen Lit Fest to stand against censorship. He also says that Tara Lynn Childs and Matt de la Peña have withdrawn as well.
I think what makes me angriest about this whole situation is that this censorship was begun by a librarian. I know that school librarians walk a narrower line, but all librarians everywhere are supposed to be the defenders of intellectual freedom and the champions of a young person’s right to read. Parents may decide what their own children read, but they shouldn’t be able to decide what everyone’s children read–and libraries should be providing more opportunities, not fewer.
I’m glad that other authors involved in this event are standing in solidarity with Ellen Hopkins and taking a stand against censorship. Even if one librarian in Texas is determined to “protect” teens from “inappropriate” material (material that’s won awards and propelled Hopkins’s books to the New York Times Bestseller list!), there are plenty of other people in Texas and online who value choice and–as Julie Halpern wrote when one of her books was challenged–respect young readers.
You can email the Superintendent Sconzo if you’d like to share your thoughts with him.
Update: I should be clear that while I’m thrilled to see other authors standing in solidarity with Ellen Hopkins, I’m also sad that if the superintendent doesn’t change his mind, Houston-area teens are going to be denied a chance to meet the creators of the books they love. It bites that they’re the ones who are caught in the middle.
Update 2: Ellen Hopkins has written a follow-up blog post in which she acknowledges that authors withdrawing from the Teen Lit Fest is unfair to teens and librarians in Humble, but emphasizes that this is about censorship and the freedom of ideas.
Update 3: Matt de la Pena has confirmed via Facebook that he won’t be going either. Tera Lynn Childs has written a blog post about withdrawing from the event (as well as her letter to Superintendent Sconzo), including this particularly spot-on thought:
I really feel bad for the students in this situation. All they wanted was the chance to meet some great writers (trust me, Ellen Hopkins, Melissa de la Cruz, Pete Hautman, and Matt de la Pena are great writers) and maybe get some signed books. Instead, they’re missing out because a few adults think they know better.
That’s the problem with censorship, especially the kind that goes along with books. It’s usually couched in a fog of protection. As if keeping you from certain content is for your own good, and it’s really better this way. I’m especially appalled when this is applied to teen readers. Not only are teens generally way smarter and more mature and more experienced than we think, teen readers in particular are among the smartest people I know. It’s just insulting for adults in power (or those seeking power) to try to carry out their agenda waving the Because-They’re-Children and Because-We-Know-Better banners.
I couldn’t just sit by and be a part of this, and neither should you.
She also wrote a follow-up post with a poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox.
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