Friday, September 24, 2010


Guest Blog by: Adam Russell Stephens

To quote a friend on Twitter, “Some issues need to be addressed; not silenced and suppressed!” In case you’ve been hiding in the crags of Mount Doom for the past few days, Sunday began what is known across America as Banned Books Week. Backed by the American Library Association and other such worthy organizations, Banned Books Week is the seven-day time frame readers nationwide celebrate anti-censorship efforts by reading their favorite banned or challenged book. Or if you’re crazy like me, you attempt to read a different banned book every day (I’ve only downed one so far; it was epic).

Whatever the case, you can assure hundreds of thousands of readers have at least dedicated a day of their time to pouring—or in my case, slogging—through a banned or challenged novel in support of a worthy cause. But you may be asking yourself, “Who would bother banning a book in America?” Which is, of course, a noteworthy inquiry. After all, does not the “land of the free” maintain a Freedom of Speech clause? Does not Freedom of Speech mean just that—one may “speak freely” of whatever they desire? Even if it does damage the general populace?

The answer to these questions is a definite yes. Anyone who attempts to trample underfoot any human being’s right to read anything from books on political anarchy to novels dealing with rape and drug abuse has suddenly crossed the line. By American standards and bylaws, they have suddenly become unconstitutional.

Why, then, do book banners persist? One can never say, but if we are to believe their claims, it is because they’re ensuring their children remain free of the drivel often published and placed onto library shelves and classroom reading lists. It might be easy to side with these censorship fanatics, except for the mere fact that while ensuring the literary virginity of their children (and themselves for that matter), they are robbing the rest of America of their freedom to practice a key portion of the First Amendment.

Just Sunday, September 19, 2010 a book banner by the name of Wesley Scroggins in Missouri was reported as working to remove SPEAK, Laurie Halse Anderson’s extraordinarily moving novel, from a local high school’s reading list. He believed it and other novels on the list should be classified as “soft pornography.” An hour and a half away in Stockton, about a week or two prior to the Anderson event, a unanimous vote from the school board actually banned Sherman Alexie’s THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN from classrooms! “This book in a nutshell is my hope,” one student claimed, “It's not about giving up. It's about not letting people tell you you're not worth it.”

This week on Twitter, the hashtag #SpeakLoudly has become quite popular (I wouldn’t be surprised to see it trend by the end of the week). When it comes to anti-censorship, this hashtag should be our daily mantra, words we say when all someone wants to do is shut us up. Let Banned Books Week 2010 be about speaking up. Join the chorus and chant with one voice, “Speak Loudly!”


Shannon said...

Thank you so much for the post Adam, this is something that more people need to be aware of and I'm so happy you were able to do this as my guest blogger!

Adam Russell said...

Thank you, Shannon! I quite agree; more people need to understand the importance of Free Speech. It was my pleasure to guest post on such a great site! :-)

Joseph L. Selby said...

Hi Adam

While I agree that the books cites for removal are often worthy of being read by the very people deprived of them, you make two errors in your post above.

First, speech can be limited if it is shown to infringe on the rights of others. There are limits to all the freedoms we enjoy, and speech is not excluded.

Second, and this is the crux of this specific issue, the school board is empowered by whatever body elects/appoints it (either the people or the municipality) to administer its schools. It can with decide what books are and are not included in its curricula. This does not deprive the author of speech. The book is still printed and sold. Students are still able to purchase the book from bookstores. It just won't be part of their homework assignment.

Should SPEAK or any of the other amazing novels removed from school libraries be deprived of our students? No, I don't believe so. But that decision is made by the school board and not by me. If I want to have an impact, I'll pay better attention to who I vote for during school board elections.

Sandy H said...

Enjoyed your interesting comments, Adam and Joseph.

Shannon, have you ever received some askance stares from people when you respond (to the inevitable question) that you write fantasy?

I've actually encountered adverse reactions from some people when they learn I write fantasy- there is an assumption that any portrayal of magic, and/or things supernatural is necessarily "evil"...if there were a whole congregation of like thinkers on a school board, for example, all fantasy would be dropped from their libraries.

Shannon said...

I don't know that I've gotten that bad of a response. I think that for the most part it has to do with content rather than style that gets people all wound up. So you could have a fantasy and as long as there isn't anything about rape or abuse etc. than I don't think there would be any concern about getting dropped from a library.

Adam Russell said...

Joseph, you make a strong and interesting case. I like the bit about paying "better attention to who I vote for during school board elections." That was very insightful and something plenty of anti-censorship folks don't think about! Thank you for your enlightening comment. :-)