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.