WFMAD Day 23 – right to speak, right to read, right to write

Saturday’s post on the censorship issues surrounding the Teen Lit Fest In Humble, TX led to a wonderful series of comments and ongoing discussion. Thanks again to everyone who has chimed in.

One reader wrote in with a link to a censorship lesson plan for 3rd – 5th graders.

Janni Lee Simner wrote about the difference between a boycott and a strike and came to the conclusion that the authors who pulled out of the book festival were closer to workers striking because of working conditions instead of participating in a boycott. I agree; it’s an important distinction.

This strike would have the most impact if the financial loss suffered by the festival organizers put a severe hurt on the decision maker(s). Or if they decided never to hold the festival again because of the hullabaloo. This would be awful for the readers in the Humble, TX, but I really doubt it would affect the decision makers. Their full-time job is supported by tax payers.

Unless and until the citizens of Humble rise up and holler about the decision to cancel Ellen’s appearance, and the subsequent pulling-out of the other authors, I don’t see how this strike can affect change within the festival or community at the heart of it.

However, Matt de la Peña made an excellent point in his comment to my post on Saturday. Matt wrote:

“If all the other authors (myself included) had chosen to attend the festival it could certainly have lead to a healthy discussion about censorship within the context of one group of people.

But by NOT attending the festival (creating awareness) my hope is that it prompts this same conversation among MANY groups of people.”

That seems to be working, at least in the blogosphere. The crusty, cynical part of me worries that a discussion of intellectual freedom on blogs written by and read by lovers of YA fiction is a classic example of preaching to the choir. How do we engage in conversation with the people who disagree with us?

Striking workers can refuse to do their jobs until working conditions change. As Janni points out in her post, censorship qualifies as a working condition for writers.

One of my concerns is that a strike like this forces the decision makers underground. Instead of inviting someone who might be controversial at all, they simply won’t issue the invitation in the first place. They’ll stick to authors who write books that deal with situations that don’t make censors break out in hives. And the censors will win again and the readers will lose.

But doing nothing isn’t exactly an option either, is it?

Perhaps our community should start talking with regional and national groups of school superintendents. Maybe with the help of NCAC? (If you haven’t checked out their Kids Right to Read Project yet, do it today.)

What do you think?

Ready… “One often hears of writers that rise and swell with their subject… How, then, with me, writing of this Leviathan? Unconsciously my chirography expands into placard capitals. Give me a condor’s quill! Give me Vesuvius’ crater for an inkstand!” Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Set… turn off the phone and Internet. Put on some music, if you want. Loud or soft; your call.

Today’s prompt: Have you drawn a map for your story? Do you know what the layout is of your character’s neighborhood? House? School? Mall? Draw what you know first….THEN (brace yourself, here comes the fun part) fill in things that you don’t know. Like, what three uses is the guest bedroom put to? What happens in the basement? Above the garage? Who lives past the bus stop? Who works in the store next to the theater? What impact do these folks have on the life of your character?

If you are responding to prompts from your own life, draw a map of your world when your were 5, or 10, or 15. As you draw, keep a notebook to scribble in, and write down memories of the places. Seek the most precise details that you can remember. If you can’t remember, make it up. You are a writer, after all.

Scribble… Scribble…Scribble!!!

7 Replies to “WFMAD Day 23 – right to speak, right to read, right to write”

  1. I disagree with the TLF disinviting Ellen Hopkins. I have to say that I’ve never read her books but I have read the backs and general synopses of all of them and I think that while they are difficult and controversial topics, they are not negative books. She’s not praising prostitution or the use of meth. I do have a question, however: what if an author wrote an extremely racist (and not to show how negative it is, but instead to praise neo-Nazi agendas) YA book? Would people still be up in arms about censorship of that book in schools (obviously it would be censored)? What about a book that described the glories of acid and how much fun it can be? I completely disagree with censorship of books that are not harmful to people, but what about books that blatantly attempt to hurt people? I’m always curious what anti-censorship champions have to say about that possibility. Is censorship always wrong, no matter the reason?

    1. What if such a book were written? Would you read it? Are you capable of self-censoring without removing that book from the stacks?

      How hard is it to teach a student to distinguish value from pond scum? Even if such a book were banned and not easily available, wouldn’t the one who seeks for such literature be able to find it? And if not find one that was written, indeed write one that would serve his/her purpose?

      Fear of something leaves one powerLESS. I don’t need to eradicate evil from YOUR life. I need to eliminate it from MY own life. In so doing I choose to become a light in the world. And by that light can illuminate possibilities and truth for others. However, I take careful thought that becoming a light does not presuppose becoming a judge. My power to judge what is good and bad extends only to myself, and for as long as I am their teacher, to my very own children. If I teach them how to distinguish between truth and error, then I need not fear what may be printed on paper. My children possess sufficient light to feel and see what supports them in being powerful, contributing, positive people on this planet.

      Whether a book as you describe is available to them is a non-issue. If my child looked a book praising the strengths and value of Naziism, his internal barometer of good vs. evil would serve him well. And if he read it, he wouldn’t become a Nazi supporter; he’d have a deeper understanding in the pathology of that philosophy. And if he didn’t read it, by his choice, then it would slip into the files of the quickly-forgotten. Either way he has exercised his values, intellect, and agency and is better for having done it.

      The book is not the issue–freedom to choose is the issue. It’s an eternal battle–but people need to be as free to choose evil as they are free to choose good. Otherwise, there is no choice. I’ll fight for the freedom to choose all the way to my last dying breath.

  2. My favorite moment of every day is fast becoming that moment of turning off the internet. Sometimes I even “forget” to turn it back on.

    Thanks for the inspiration.

  3. Good points, Laurie. I’ve been thinking in terms of the financial pinch to the festival, and not about the fact that the decision makers really aren’t dependent on the festival, but look in other directions for their income.

    One other possibility I’ve thought about is that there could be a PR pinch–that is, the district’s incomes aren’t affected, but the school district looks bad, and that forces them into rethinking their policies, too.

    I have fears about organizers simply quietly not inviting writers’ whose subjects they don’t like, too. I also have fears that this already happens more often than we have any way of knowing.

    What’s hard to know is whether the awareness generated by this festival will drive more people underground, or will lead to discussion that will over the long term make organizers rethink their positions. I honestly don’t know there–I can see both things happening, or some mix of them.

    I really like the idea of starting some sort of dialogue with school superintendents.

    I’m still thinking about this, too.

  4. I believe you should read what you want to read. Whatever you want to do, with/without censorship, should be your call.

    That does not mean, however, you can ban books every time one that’s upsetting comes out. People should still be allowed to promote and allowed to read books that are banned. As I said earlier, if an author puts that much effort into a book, then it deserves to be read, because it has a story to tell.

    Dude, I loved today’s promt. I drew three maps (one of an apartment, one of a first level of a house, and the other of a second level) and although they are not beautiful, they helped me lay out my story and plan what was going on better. 😀

  5. Did I just read that the festival was canceled now? Thx for the link of the 3-5 classroom lesson. Helpful. Love “Freadon”!
    I think having a clear selection policy for school libraries is critical. Part of the policy includes making sure the collection is balanced in views as well as being able to back up slections with reviews and age appropriateness. My budget has shrunk so that I have to really think through my purchases.
    Been thinking about the fact that it was a librarian who started this whole disinviting and it really gets me. We are to put aside our personal beliefs when it comes to book selection. It is a bit easier at elementary, we have to deal with teh stories of witchcraft and such mostly.
    Now I am going off to work on the prompt which will be such fun. I have been thinking about it all day.

  6. The internet off, I lay on the floor of my writing room and listened to music. Music that would bring me back to my childhood, and the house where we lived.
    And it did take me back.
    And I remembered.
    For thirty minutes, I listed the details, which one day I will use in a story.
    Thank you for sending me back.

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