Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Humble Moment

Over the last few days the Internet has been abuzz with the news that Humble, Texas, a small town outside of Houston, had dis-invited a popular YA author from an upcoming Teen Lit Fest (TLF).


Because, according to author Ellen Hopkins on her blog here on August 10:
Apparently, a middle school librarian saw my name on the roster and decided my presence would somehow negatively affect her students ... Anyway, she went to a couple of parents with her concerns ... They went to the school board, and the superintendent, Guy Sconzo, decided to uninvite me ...

I hope if you live in or near Houston, you will choose not to attend the event. Censorship only wins if we let it. And wherever you live, I hope you’ll drop an e-mail to Mr. Sconzo, telling him why you think my books are important ... Keep a respectful tone ... But please make it clear ... that you don’t believe in censorship. Here is his email address:
Hopkins, a popular YA poet and novelist, writes contemporary fiction in verse that addresses tough subjects like drug abuse (Crank) and teen prostitution (Tricks).

Hopkins contacted the other authors scheduled to appear at the Teen Lit Fest. The first to respond publicly was Pete Hautman who wrote this on his blog for August 16 here:
When I was invited to be one of the featured authors at TLF 2011, and offered a generous honorarium to do so, I was thrilled.

Then I got that email from Ellen.

What is important is that a handful of people ... took it upon themselves to overrule the vast majority of teachers and librarians and students who had chosen one of the most popular YA authors in America to be their headliner.

That is a form of censorship as damaging and inexcusable as setting fire to a library ...

And so, as one of the other participating authors, I felt that the right thing to do was to withdraw from the festival, and so I did.
I encourage you to read Pete's entire post. It is honest and thoughtful and had me scribbling his name down so I can locate one of his YA books to read.

Melissa de la Cruz also withdrew from the TLF, saying here:
I was scheduled to be one of the other YA authors at the festival, and I was very honored to be invited. I was very much looking forward to attending the festival and meeting my readers and partaking in all the fun. So I’m really bummed that this happened. It only takes a couple of angry people to ruin it for everyone. I’m very sorry to everyone in Humble Texas and to the very nice librarian who invited me, but I can’t go now ...

I believe that as a writer, we have to stick up for each other, and against censorship, and against people who want to tell everyone else what to think, what to read, what to watch.
Melissa's post touched me because she spoke movingly of growing up in a country with a dictator. She talks of how excited she was to come to America and experience our freedom from censorship.

I believe--although I could be wrong--there were eight authors scheduled to attend TLF. Tara Lynn Childs and Matt de la Pena have also withdrawn. That means that, instead of eight authors, TLF now has only three still scheduled to appear.

I went to the Humble Independent School District website here, looking for some promotional info on TLF. The only thing I could find was a calendar with a notation that TLF was scheduled for 8:00 AM on January 29, 2011 at AHS. It didn't take me long to translate that AHS into Atascocita High School.

I visited the AHS webpage and found a link to TLS' Blogger site. I clicked on it and got this message:
This blog is open to invited readers only

It doesn't look like you have been invited to read this blog. If you think this is a mistake, you might want to contact the blog author and request an invitation.
How sad is this?

Authors who were "thrilled" to be attending TLF now have withdrawn. Kids who were looking forward to hearing ... and meeting ... their favorite authors will now be disappointed. And a school district has been forced to close its blog site to the public.

THAT's the real cost of a kneejerk reaction by an administrator whom I'm sure was trying to do the right thing for the children in his school district.

Now Mr. Sconzo and his district have a great teachable moment. They can admit to a hasty, poorly-thought-through response, apologize and re-invite all the authors involved. And I hope Ellen Hopkins can put aside her righteous anger and be gracious.

I've lived in Texas a long time. I KNOW how generous, sincere and caring Texans are. And I'm confident they will do the right thing.


Chris J. said...

I live in San Antonio, Texas and I had not heard about this disturbing event. We are talking high school where just on last nights news they were telling how many incidents involving drugs had happened at local high schools. Say maybe just one kid reads the book, chooses a different life and then goes on to be a doctor, teacher, or president because that book helped him or her. Then I would rather have had that child read the book and change his or her life. It isn't like they don't know what sex is or about drugs, they already do. Perfect example all the teen pregnacies, or the drug sniffing dogs that come through to help keep it out of schools, or the bars on doors, windows and metal detectors at the high schools.
Reading can change lives and that is what we hope for, high school kids, all kids we want them reading and learning. The world is not always a pretty place or a fair place, they need everything they can learn to help prepare them.

Maya Reynolds said...

Chris: Thanks for commenting.

This is Banned Book Week (9/25-10/2). A great time to celebrate the freedom to read.