Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Better Way?

I hate censorship.

All censorship, but especially in children's literature because I think children and teens are SO important to the social structure of our future. The idea that one adult--quite frankly, usually a conservative parent--should have the power to say what other children can and cannot choose to read is a problem. I think parents have every right to censor their own children (whether or not they *should* is a whole different argument) but do not think you have any right to censor MY children.

So I've been following the events of the Humble ISD Libraries' Teen Lit Festival and I suspect many of you have as well.

The events in short--Ellen Hopkins, a critically acclaimed, bestselling, oh and also oft-banned and censored author who writes very gritty novels in verse was invited to attend the festival. Upon reading (or, more likely, skimming) her books, a few parents enlisted the help of one librarian in protesting Ellen's participation in the Festival because her books are "inappropriate." She was then uninvited by Superintendent Guy Sconzo.

Clear censorship. Let's have no mistake about that.

As Ellen herself said, "I'm offended by the idea that I or a handful of people can be allowed to speak for an entire community." I completely, 100% agree.

Over the next week or so, most of the other authors withdrew in protest, including Matt de la Peña, Tera Lynn Childs, and Melissa de la Cruz. A boycott, essentially. The links in the previous sentence go to their blogs where you can read about their motivation for pulling out. I appreciated reading Melissa's in particular with her discussion about how she grew up under a dictator who supported censorship. If you don't think censorship is a big deal, please, take the time to read these entries.

Earlier this week it was announced that the Festival had been canceled due to, well, a lack of speakers.

The YA authors stood up against censorship and won.

So why am I not happy?

Because I think the wrong people suffered.

Now, instead of a handful of parents and one librarian denying the teens of Texas a chance to meet the awesomeness that is Ellen Hopkins, they have now been able to deny those same teens a chance to meet any authors at all.

And we helped them.

And don't think those censoring parents feel bad. I have no doubt they are sitting back right now and congratulating themselves on their victory. Because, well, that's how personalities who promote censorship generally roll.

Don't get me wrong. When there is a problem like censorship it is ALWAYS better to do something than nothing. I salute the sacrifice and bravery of all of these authors who withdrew from the Festival. I'm not saying that what they did was wrong.

But I can't help but think that maybe there was a better way.

I generally avoid saying anything political on my blog. It's my rule. Which is why I haven't said anything about this before. And maybe I should have. I acknowledge that I probably should have. And if I thought this was an isolated incident, I would probably continue to not say anything. But I know it won't be. It WILL happen again. In fact, it will probably happen to Ellen again. And so I am breaking my own rule to say something political. Probably controversial. And well, it will probably make people mad. But someone has to say it, so here goes.

The people who suffered the most in this whole conflict are the teens of Texas.

Guy Sconzo definitely took some flack. Perhaps the librarian who stood with the censors as well (though I doubt either of them got fired.) But ultimately, the people who bore the brunt of the punishment were the teens who would have attended the festival, and the authors themselves.

And I started thinking, isn't there a way to make the *right* people suffer? And I think there is. I have to say, if I had been one of the authors invited to Humble, I would not have withdrawn.

I would have brought Ellen to the Festival anyway.

Not in person. But make no mistake, the presence of an author does not have to be physical. Word of mouth is a powerful thing. We as authors are acutely aware of that because we know that word of mouth sells books better than anything else.:D Authors could use that force to fight censorship.

What if every author agreed, not to withdraw, but to make Ellen's presence known at every single event at the festival? Every panel they were on, every speech they made, they could mention Ellen. Mention her books. They could say straight out something like, "This reminds me of an author I admire, Ellen Hopkins, who couldn't be here today because the organizers of this festival decided to censor her, and I think you all have a right to know that."

Think that's not enough? All of these authors had to give up a very nice honorarium when they pulled out of the festival. What if they took that money--the same money the administration paid them--and bought cases and cases of Ellen's books to bring with them, and at their signings, gave one away to every person who brought a book to have signed. "Thanks for reading my books! Have a free Ellen Hopkins book! She wishes she could be here, but the festival organizers decided to censor her and I as an author am standing up against that. You should check her out." I would donate my own money to support that project.

Can you imagine if every author in attendance did that? Ellen's presence would be at that festival more strongly that she ever could have been alone, as a single speaker. Every person in attendance would hear about her; children and adults. And, every teen in attendance would be informed about the problem of censorship. The best response to censorship is MORE information, not less. You want to silence us? We will show you our roar!

And there would be complaints. Those censoring parents would be outraged!! And you know who they would complain to? Guy Sconzo. He would be assailed from BOTH sides with complaints. And who deserves it more?

But more importantly, every teen at that festival would know that someone tried to censor them. Because really, do you think they have any idea what happened? A majority, probably a very heavy majority, of these kids are not reading our blogs. They are not reading School Library Journal or Publishers Weekly. There's a good chance they'll never hear about what really happened. And if they do, it will likely be from the same organizers and administration who supported the censorship to begin with.

Again, please don't think that I think any of these authors did the wrong thing. They did not. But this will happen again, and maybe instead of just doing the right thing, we could find a way to do a better thing. I don't think I have all the answers, but I'm trying to think outside of the box. Creativity is the engine of a good revolution and believe me, I want this to be a good revolution.



Rachel Bateman said...

Yes, this! I also support the authors' decisions to pull out of the event, but I feel terrible for the teens who had to suffer because of this. But I knew something had to be done, and I didn't see the better way, so I just applauded the authors for their guts.

I still applaud them, but I now agree with you - instead of always just looking for the right thing, we should look for the BETTER thing. I think your idea of how situations like this can be handled in the future is brilliant.

Tom Hansen said...

Thank you for your comments Aprilynne. I completely agree with you on the censorship, and I'm glad you posted your thoughts. I felt bad for Ellen, and the teens of Texas when I read about this a couple days ago.

I think the outpouring of support for her and the number of people putting down the librarian and the school leaders who censored her is needed.

Ellen's books are gritty, but so are many teens. The things she writes about might not be for everyone, but they will be for some. There could have been a teen or 10 at that festival that could have found solace in her books.

moonrat said...

it's ok to be political now and then. :) especially, in my humble opinion, when you're taking a stand about censorship. no one can't say it's not an author's business concern, you know?

Trep said...

I agree with you. The danger in community censorship is what it does to the creative process. It destroys it. If you believe something is offensive then don't read it. That does not give one the right to set themselves up as judge and determine if it is offensive for everyone.

BookChic said...

Love it. I definitely would have done that if I were one of the authors and had been invited. Ellen is one of my writers and I would've been mentioning her anywhere and everywhere at that festival.

I didn't know that the festival had been canceled, though I guess that was an inevitability with authors withdrawing.

You're also right that the people who wanted Ellen disinvited are being all smug and victorious right now, which is not right. These people should never feel victorious because they are doing a horrible thing.

Also, this was a really good post and I think being political has its place. If it's something you're passionate about and want to post, go ahead and do it. Like moonrat said, it's ok to be political now and then, so don't always try to shy away from it. :)

A. Grey said...

WOOT!!! I second your ideas! And if I'm ever in the position to get involved with something like this, you can count me in!

Steph Sinkhorn said...

Wonderful post. I love your idea. Censorship is never the right way to go about "protecting" youth.

Dominique said...

I think your response was brilliant. Getting the word out about the censorship certain authors face is important, especially for the people who won't know what they aren't being allowed to see.

I do applaud the other authors for taking a stand, though. It's hard to speak out sometimes. It is sad that the youth of Texas had to miss out on so many great writers and chances to learn, because some people want to control what others can read.

I for one, am horrified that a librarian took part in the censorship. It's one thing not to carry certain books in, say, a school library, and another thing entirely to suggest an author not be allowed to speak at a event because of the content of her books.

Don said...

Fantastic idea. I very often worry that boycotts of any kind do little to address the actual problem that prompted them, and that the wrong people get hurt in the process.

This solution actually addresses the problem rather than compounding it. Bravo!

And hopefully you don't ever find yourself in a situation where you need to implement it.

Shari said...

Amen to that!

Julie said...

I'm not sure I 100% agree. I can see myself wanting to limit some of my kids reading--especially depending what age they are. I would do the same thing with movies, so why not books? I don't know that it was necessary to uninvite Ellen at this conference because in that situation, you can just avoid her if you aren't comfortable with her writing.
However, in school, I could see myself speaking up about certain books because I wouldn't want my child to feel ostracized because they are the only ones not reading a book. In that case, I think there are enough good (and creative) books available. Just my thoughts...

Anonymous said...

@Julie- Like Aprilynne said- "parents have every right to censor their own children (whether or not they *should* is a whole different argument) but do not think you have any right to censor MY children"

Who decides what "enough" books entails? Or what "good and creative" translates to? For some, it is little more than Anne of Green Gables, while others crave (and NEED, in some cases) books like GLASS or, speaking of other censored books, Farenheit 451, Harry Potter, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

The authors chose to remove their sanction of the event. Always a laudable, and courageous act. But to stand up and fight? That takes true, unquivering guts, and the willingness to be shot down in the name of what is right. Words matter. Ideas matter. And people, teens especially, need to know and be able to appreciate that.

Thanks Aprilynne, for a thought provoking and insightful post.

Jessie Oliveros said...

I think the problem started at the very beginning-who was involved in planning festival? Were parents involved? (I don't know.) Before inviting an author, I suppose the event planners should be familiar with her work and perhaps know their community. But that's a big "should have."

Your idea is very creative, and I can see how that would address censorship in a bigger way than just boycotting.

I agree that censorship is a very strong action, but where some parents may say "What right do you have to censor MY kids?" I have to say sometimes, "What right do you have to read this/offer this/show this to MY kids?" Parents like to know what their kids are seeing and reading. So while censorship may not work, I'd love to have a rating system for books as we do in movies.

Thanks for your post!

curiouser&curiouser said...

what a sticky situation to be in. i like both ideas. the authors pulling out AND your idea of being the rebel alliance so to speak. it would be a hard decision to make and those other authors were probably doing what they felt best. but it would have been awesome for them to take ellen anyway in the ways that you described.
i read shannon hale's blog and she talks a lot about censorship and i love it. i love that she, as an author, speaks out about the conflicts in writing today. i love that you addressed it as well.
people don't understand the bad affect censorship can actually have on people.

how ungrateful those people in texas were. they were having a published novelist attend an event FOR THEM and they discriminated her writing. how ungrateful.

i could be wrong, but isn't it kind of an honor to be on the "banned book list"? i heard that once from a published author... i could be really wrong...

Gamila said...

I really like your ideas here. I acutally feel like the authors that decided not to come helped those that wished to censor in this case win.

I really disapprove of the fact that their actions punished the teens and students in this situation rather than the administrators.

If the teen lit festival is cancelled this year, then who is to say that it will happen next year when the staff can't agree on the authors to invite?

I really did not like how this panned out. It sets a really bad precedent.

Anonymous said...

I too don't understand how someone could take the time to invite Ellen without having read her books first. And I agree with the others who said that the youth could just not attend that particular speaker. Therein the scrutiny could lie with the parent to see who the authors are that their children would be meeting. Or better yet, go with them. I've not always been impressed with the books my children have had to read for school or the content of certain books out there, but in those cases I work closely with my children. Hmmm,working closely with my children. What a novel concept. :) Thank you Aprilynne for an insightful alternative.

Anonymous said...

Love it Aprilynne!
I have read Ellen's novels and though I wasn't fond of her writing style, I liked the story. She put out her own life ordeal for all to see, and I am guessing in the hopes of maybe helping other teens from traveling down the same paths? If I were a parent and had a teen, I would demand they read it. The more they know about consequences the better! I think if you keep your children uneducated of the risks out there in the world, you are asking for some troubles.
I think parents do have a right to what their children read, but like others have pointed out, just don't go see her at the festival (pretty simple). Why rob all the other of having Ellen there, just because you dislike her?
It is just too bad that this all had to happen in the first place.
Its always a few who ruin it for the majority.
Who knows maybe if she had been allowed to attend, a teen would have picked up the book, read it, and maybe it could have changed/saved their life. Now that is priceless!

Erin said...

Wow! Great post! I like your tongue in cheek way of going to the event but protesting at the same time. That would take guts. Let me know if you ever get to do it and how it turns out. Matt's dying to get together by the way. We'll have to figure out a way to do it with 2 more kiddos added to the bunch!

Ellen Hopkins said...

This all went way beyond where it needed to go. All someone had to do was pick up a phone and ask what I'd talk about at the festival--road to bestselling author, reaching for your dreams, writing process, poetry, memoir into fiction. I don't damage kids when I speak, and am ever mindful of my audience.

I never wanted the festival to be canceled. You're right. It punished the wrong people. On the other hand, it sent a powerful message to the teens, if not to the librarian/parents who complained. BTW, it was the librarian who rounded up a couple of influential parents and got them riled up enough to go to the superintendent. All he knew about my books (never read them, and admits it) was what his "head librarian found on a website." She hadn't read them, either.

We are working to create some sort of alternate event for the teens of Houston, so hopefully they won't be punished after all. Thanks so much for your great post.

Jemi Fraser said...

Censorship drives me batty too. As a teacher I try to read at least one book someone has banned every year. Last year was The Giver - not sure what this year's choice will be :)

Anonymous said...

You guys might be interested in listening to Ellen in her own words on my podcast, Brain Burps About Books. If you want to hear it, you can listen in iTunes or at

Ellen, you were great on the show, and I think people got a totally different take on it from hearing your tone - at least I hope the organizers did!

Keep up the great work!


TKAstle said...

It may just be my computer, but when I tried to click through to Tera Lynn child's site it took me to Matt's. Matt's and Melissa'a links both worked, just not Tera's.

Anyway, great post Aprilynne. Thanks.

Chas Hathaway said...

Maybe I'm misinterpreting your definition of censorship, but I disagree. I think the ability to censor media is a very good thing. I do agree with you, however, that silencing people doesn't work. We can't try to hide the existence of something we don't feel good about, but we should explain in clear and open communication why a book, movie, or image has been banned. We don't need to treat censored authors with disrespect, and we should make it clear that it's not the person we are censoring, but the work - and, like I said, explain why. No one deserves to be treated badly like Ellen was, and we can't be extreme in our censorship, but I think we should be open and honest about our reasons.

Again, maybe I'm misunderstanding, but that's my feeling about it.


emily said...

my blog:

Faith said...

Hey April, any news on the 3rd book? Soooo excited!!! :))))

Nora said...

I could not agree more. My Mom used to decide that I wasn't old enough for some things (like Harry Potter) and I hated it. But now, she would let me read anything I want to. I feel that the actually CHILDREN or TEENS should make the decision of whether they feel comfortable reading whichever book that they might choose. And I think that if young readers are reading something that makes them uncomfortable but they conintue to read it anyway, then it's probably because it's a dang good book, or because they want to show there parents that it's not a big deal and that they don't care but if they're doing that then it was probably because the parents did not give them the freedom before!

So what I'm saying probably doesn't make much sense to anyone else but here it is...


Thanks for listening. :)

Megan said...

Hi i just finished your firsted book into the series Wings . I Loved it and cant wait to read the 2nd book Spells in a couple of days when i get it. :)

Ron Smith said...

Bravo. Brilliant post. And I admire your solution.

Sina Rinscheid said...

I am truly grateful for people like you, mrs Pike.
I completely agree with you, it's a parent's job to decide what their child may or may not read, not someone else's. They can't censor like that, they have no right to. Someone ought to stand up for the authors that are being censored just because a few people complained about it. Someone ought to speak for all the readers that suffer from the complaints of those few.
i'm glad you wrote about it. There are so many people, who probably did not even know about what really goes on. I know I do now.
Thank you.

June G said...

You came up with a very good and original idea to address this. Bravo. I don't think anyone has to worry about Ellen Hopkins. She'll survive and even thrive.