Monday, August 16, 2010

The Nasty Thing in the Corner

I don’t often talk about censorship for much the same reason I don’t often talk about creationism, dog fighting, or Rush Limbaugh. Despite a lifetime of contrary evidence, there is still a part of me that believes that if you ignore that nasty thing squatting in the corner of the room, it will go away.

It does not go away.

Last week I received an email from wildly-popular YA author Ellen Hopkins (Crank, Impulse) letting me know that she had been “uninvited” to the 2011 Teen Lit Fest in Humble, Texas. Ellen made it clear that she was majorly pissed-off about it.

The biennial Teen Lit Fest (TLF) in Humble (a suburb of Houston) has become one of the premier teen literature festivals in the country. By all accounts, it is a friendly, well-organized event where teens can meet their favorite authors, and authors can connect with their teen readers. The high school and middle school librarians behind the event are a passionate and dedicated group with a deep love of teen literature.

Events like TLF are one of the best ways to encourage reading in teens, and they are important to authors as a way to get exposure for their books. 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.

Censorship of children’s literature can take many forms. In its most blatant incarnation, books are removed from classrooms and libraries. Thankfully, this does not happen often. But there are more insidious forms of censorship.

In Ellen Hopkins’ case, she was invited to TLF, she accepted…and then, a few months later, the invitation was rescinded. Apparently, “several” parents were disturbed by the content of Ellen’s books, and objected to having her at the festival. They brought their concerns to the festival organizers, and one (one!) school librarian agreed with their concerns, and recommended to the school superintendent that Ellen be asked not to come. The superintendent went along with the one (one!) librarian’s recommendation. I believe that virtually every other librarian in the Humble ISD was embarrassed and furious over this decision.

Although Ellen might understandably take this matter very personally, it really has nothing whatsoever to do with the content or quality of her work. Whether she writes well or responsibly is immaterial. I wrote a post a couple of years ago addressing that issue.

What is important is that a handful of people – the superintendent, the one (one!) librarian, and “several” (three? five?) parents – 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.

Over the past fifteen years of visiting schools and libraries I have been “uninvited” on two occasions. It is a terrible thing to be told by educators that your life’s work is “inappropriate” for its intended audience. In both cases, I did nothing. I didn’t want to further embarrass the librarians who had invited me - they were already mortified. I just wanted to leave a sour experience behind and get on with the next thing.

I now believe that was a mistake. The political and philosophical problem of censorship, in all its forms, harms all of us, and each of us has a responsibility to fight it. I cannot help but think that those same people who objected to Ellen Hopkins’ work might find some of my books equally disturbing.

And you know what’s really scary? Here is how the Humble ISD superintendent responded to a letter from one of the librarians who objected to his decision:

“…there are more authors that we would want at our Teen Lit Fest than we could ever have enough Teen Lit Fests to accommodate.”

Apparently he subscribes to the commodities model of educating our children. Creeps me out something fierce.

A few years ago, at a National Book Awards banquet, I met Judy Blume. She had just delivered a passionate speech about censorship. I joked, “Hey Judy, how do I get MY books challenged? I think it would be good for sales.” Judy was not amused. She looked at me and said, in a voice as dry as ash, “It will happen, and you will not like it.” She was right on both counts.

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.

At least one of the other authors, Melissa de la Cruz, has also withdrawn from the festival. I don’t yet know about the other five.*

This whole business makes me sad. There are, I don’t know, maybe a hundred thousand or more good people in the Humble school district. They should be mad as hell, every one of them.

*UPDATE (8/16): Tara Lynn Childs has also withdrawn from the festival.

UPDATE (8/17): Matt de la Pena has withdrawn.

UPDATE: Festival canceled. Very sad.

UPDATE: I have decided to give up writing to become an actor. Click here for a sample.

The illustration above was created in five minutes on my iPad using a really cool little app called Brushes.


Georgia said...

Maybe doing this, the right thing, will aim a kick at that nastiness in the corner, Pete. I salute you and Melissa for your stance.

Jo Knowles said...

Great post and great points! I hope they listen.

I've had my books removed from a school and I agree with Judy Blume 100%. It hurts. It stinks. And I did not like it.

smaileh said...

I was once involved in the planning of a (much smaller) author program. I cannot imagine "uninviting" an author; it is the height of rudeness. Good on you and the other authors who are withdrawing. The group who made this inconsiderate move may find that they have killed a great program.

Philip Nel said...

Great post, and good to take a stand against censorship: it's one thing for a parent to decide that her/his child should not read a book, and another for that parent to seek to impose this view on an entire school district. I'm teaching a course on "Censoring Children's Literature" this semester, and am making a note of your post. I think my students will benefit from reading it.

Ey Wade said...

It always amazes me how easy it is for one voice to change the direction of the world's thinking.
It only took one woman to get prayer out of the schools and probably the same in every public arena. One voice can be a wall if they stand firm in their conviction. I think its wrong to set one persons values on everyone's shoulders. Texas (and I do live here) is great at doing that.
Its such a shame.children never learn discernment for themselves.

Unknown said...


I support all of you 100%.

Tracy Clark said...

I am so impressed with the other authors who have chosen to withdraw from the festival despite the benefits of participating. Taking a stand is not always comfortable or convenient. They've shown backbone against censorship but also (I assume) support for Ellen, her work (which THEY have probably, actually read), and her legions of fans (teen and adult readers, teachers, librarians, and fellow writers.) I hope that the message of many will be felt by the few closed minds who created this problem.

A.S. King said...

Rock on. All of you.

Man Candy Fans said...

I don't write YA, but I do read the books. As an author, I wanted to offer my support to those who are taking a stand against this form of censorship.

Sarah Prineas said...

Props to you and the others who have withdrawn. Censorship is an attempt to silence; these actions will be heard bout.

Anonymous said...

Brave and bold. I salute you all. I also shared the link on my FB page and posted a link from my blog. Keep making a stink.


Jen Bigheart said...

Shame on the librarian for forgetting how tight the YA community is! There are a few channels that anyone could express your "dislike" for this situation.



~Jen Bigheart
(TWU library student)

Little Willow said...

Kudos to those who stand by not only their own work, but the work of others, and who aren't afraid to talk about what's happening, and go with what's right instead of what's wrong.

Michelle Zink said...

I'm so proud and honored to be part of such an incredible community. We are lucky to have you and others like you who are willing to take a stand on behalf of another author, a principle, a belief.

You guys are the bomb.


Saundra Mitchell said...

Thank you for standing up for the right for teens to read, and against censorship of any kind. Those privileged few who have never know hardship should be the absolute LAST people to decide what threatened and troubled teens should read. The world is not a perfect place, and teens have a right to find *their* reality reflected in their novels. Bravo.

Chris Crutcher said...


Man, you are one articulate dude on this subject. I agree with everything you say here except I have to disagree with you (and Judy). I DO like it when the censors come, and not just because I'm a narcissistic dick. This stuff needs to be talked about, and it brings out blogs like yours. For the past nine years, since the towers came down, I've been hearing how "Freedom Isn't Free." I see it daily on the suburban SUV's next to the little ribbon telling me to support the troops. Well by god, they're right. Freedom isn't free, and the rubber hits the road not only in Iraq and Afghanistan, but in the exact spot where the forefather's pens hit the parchment signing the U.S. Constitution. If they want their platitudes, then put them where they belong. In the sense that comedy is tragedy standing on its head with its pants, down, this stuff is funny as hell. I hope everyone who withdrew from the Humble festival did it loudly and with gusto. Next time I see any of you on the road, the drinks are on me.

By the way, Pete, at the top of your blog, you say "Our crack team of film editors is working around the clock..." You might want to change that to "Our AMAZING team..." or the censors will come after you again... a CRACK team... who are you, Ellen Hopkins?

Go and sin no more. Chris Crutcher

Anonymous said...

Matt de la Peña just announced on his FB page that he has withdrawn as well.


Anjali Banerjee said...

I support you -- thank you for taking a stand.

Amy Kathleen Ryan said...

Ellen Hopkins' work is the best deterrent to drug use since Go Ask Alice. Maybe the people who uninvited her want kids in their community to use Meth.

A Teen Librarian said...

Alright, I'll be the one to say it. Standing up against censorship is important, and maybe the organizers of this festival needed a lesson in consequences. However, I kind of think it stinks that almost all the authors have withdrawn from the event. Who is it really hurting? Teen readers, many of whom may never again get the chance to connect with an author whose book really meant something to them.

Will the one (one!) librarian or parent or anyone else who challenged Ellen Hopkins really care who else pulled out? I doubt it. Really doubt it.

Will the teens care? Are they missing out on a great opportunity? Are the authors missing out on a great opportunity to actually address this issue directly to teen readers and let them know why censorship is unacceptable? Yes, yes, and yes.

This may be the unpopular viewpoint. I know we're all supposed to be warriors against censorship, but I'm also a warrior for teens and I don't want them to be the collateral damage.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great piece - I was invited to be an author-in-residence at a school last spring, and then un-invited once they realized that UNCLE BOBBY'S WEDDING was about a same-sex wedding. That hurt, particularly since the school was in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage has been legal since 2004.

Keep strong, everybody!
Sarah Brannen

Jeannine Garsee said...

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

Absolutely! Kudos to you, and others, for withdrawing.

Kate E. said...

I agree with just about everything said here. It is unfortunate that the teens in this case are going to miss out on meeting some great authors. Hopefully the school district and organizers see the damage they caused by being small minded and bowing to a few people's opinions on who is appropriate and who isn't.

I hope the authors who pull out make an effort to really explain why they pulled out so the students see that they are standing up for something worthwhile! This post did a great job and I hope the students see that there are times that you have to all stand together for what you believe in.

Kudo's to you and all the authors who are taking a stand!

Saundra Mitchell said...

Hey, I'll bite, A Teen Librarian.

Maybe this is an excellent opportunity for a teen librarian against censorship to put together an alternate festival where these fine authors could still meet their fans, and celebrate the freedom to read at the same time? Are you up for it?

Sarah Laurenson said...

Awesome post! Followed the link from Ellen's FB post.

So I'm a bit cynical in thinking there are a large number of popular YA authors and they'll find others who will be happy to take the place of those of you pulling out.

But I'm also of the mind that doing nothing isn't the right answer either.

And yes, the kids don't get to meet their favorite authors, but what a great lesson for them IF they know why authors have left the festival. To see someone take a stand can be a very important lesson.

Anonymous said...

A Teen Librarian,

Yes, the kids will be deprived of some amazing authors. That is a terrible shame. When (and hopefully they will) they learn why, they will have the opportunity to enter this dialogue against censorship. What amazing role models these authors are.

What of the teens who will be deprived of Ellen Hopkins this year? Acceptable collateral damage?

Anonymous said...

It takes grit to stand up and fight against censorship. Congrats to those of you who did!

Tracie said...

Excellent comment and way to take a stand, Pete. I'm happy to hear the other authors are taking a stand too. It's so sad when a few people can take away the rights of many, especially when the parents/organizers probably haven't read the book. They usually "just have heard" about the book and get scared. The organizers of the festival should take this opportunity to educate themselves and the teens about censorship and banned books!

Unknown said...

Great post! I applaud you all for being outraged at censorship. It does stink and I too hate it when one of my parents wants to pull something from my shelves.

Although I am sorry that the teens will miss out, I hope they are outraged enough to demand that this not happen again.

Tanya Egan Gibson said...

Wow-I'm so impressed by the solidarity and the stand against censorship. I am so sorry that this happened (I'm a fan of Hopkins's work), but I'm thrilled at other authors' reactions. Censorship can't be combated "quietly"--thank you for helping to make some very good noise.

June G said...

I guess the organizers of this festival will be more vigilant in the future and take care not to invite those they anticipate will be a problematic choice. I'm sure they're trying to come up with some sort of strategy not to be out done.

Anonymous said...

Applause to you, Pate, and the other authors for sending this message.

Will this year's teens lose out? Of course they will. But young people are smart, and they can sniff out hypocrisy in a heartbeat. So if they're being sold a cover-up story I'd trust they can see through it. In fact, I'm betting that some of them at least will be outraged, and I'm surely hoping that some them are reading this post, or tweeting about it.

Patricia V. Davis said...

Thank you for this vitally important post, Pete. And for having the guts to drop out of the festival. The country's mentality is recycling itself backwards...

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

I applaud your decision to withdraw, Pete, and same to the authors who followed. You make it sound easy but I know it's more multi-faceted than that; it takes strength to do what you did.

I'm sorry if someone above already asked this, but have the event organizers responded publicly to the numerous authors backing out?

Deanna said...

If you want to speak your mind, this Teen Lit Fest has a Facebook page. They'll probably delete negative commetary, but they will get it.

Stasia said...

Go Pete! Thank you for this post.

Paul said...

Censorship is not innately evil. Isn't there an extent that parents and local officials should be able to decide what content is appropriate. Certainly it's already done with movies and Internet content.

The same as lighting fire to a library? Take a step back. No, take several steps back and think some more.

Paul said...

Do you want free speech and no censorship? Why am I posting the only comments that dissent?

Think about who's suppressing whom.

Lea Wait said...

You, and the others who left the festival, did the right thing. The only ones who suffered are the young people who lost their opportunity to meet all of you. But perhaps they learned more from what you did than from what you might have said at your appearances. Bravo, brava. Keep on, keeping on!

Anonymous said...

uninvited - wow

Nate said...

Hmm. The uninvitation is tacky for certs (and rude, and has obviously backfired), but it doesn't rise to censorship. None of us have an inalienable right to be paid to speak to teens in Humble, TX. We do have the right to say what we want to say in print. And other people have the right not to read it and not to invite us to their parties. I sympathize with Ellen because she was publicly insulted, not because she was censored. And I say this as an author who was once uninvited to a school visit (standing outside a full gym, after arriving at the school).

Agyw said...

I wish there was a way to post this to my FaceBook page, it's so well-thought out and articulate. I am often dismayed that people equate mob rule with Democracy and subscribe to the balance of the individual against the many. I hadn't thought about the reverse, so I thank you not only for you honesty (Man, JUDY FREAKIN' BLUME?!) but also clarity and new wrinkle in my brain.

Though I believe civil rights should balance more heavily for the individual, I think ideas should be weighted toward the individual READER. Don't like the book/idea, don't read it. Or better yet, read it and then start a dialogue about WHY you don't approve. But to censor, to not allow the conflation of failure (if an idea/work is not worthy, it really can't withstand the onslaught of reason)is the basest form of cowardice.

People make the mistake of thought control as a means of "protection", when the only real protection is real dialogue. I think anything less is not only a disservice to each other and our children, but a dangerous way to order our words. Ultimately it's(censorship) fear in it's rawest form and and a preclusion to an even bigger fear--tolerance.

It's also disengenous to take powerful, relevant individual's work which speaks to an audience, hence the success of said individual and equate it with cookie cutter form. I suppose the superintendent thinks his work is not easily replaced, nor would there be dozens of administrators lining up for the job.

I'm proud and inspired you all stood up and stood together.

Lisa McMann said...

A Teen Librarian,

Respectfully, you are addressing the wrong person. The person disappointing the teens is the librarian who created this problem.

I feel badly for the teens as well. It's too bad that a professional book lover would do this to them.

I'm grateful to all of the authors who are losing paychecks in order to stand on the side of freedom.

Anonymous said...

Nicely done and certainly important. Thanks

ldsjaneite said...

This comes along as I prepare our library's YA display about banned books, so the close-mindedness views that are too loudly voiced are even more upsetting to me as I deal with all of the "reasons" we should not be allowed the freedom to read.

I'm so glad you and the other authors are taking this stand. And I hope the teens come together and learn from this--to speak up for their freedoms and see how important it is to do so!

Tara McClendon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
April (BooksandWine) said...

You rock for standing up for your convictions. I'm not an author or anything, like most of the people commenting, just a reader. I want you to know that I think it is so cool that you are standing in solidarity with Ellen Hopkins. It's not cool to ban books, and frankly I think book banning just screams hello I am ignorant and don't read books.

Anonymous said...

So wait. Censorship of teen books is OMG PATENTLY NOT OKAY, but direct mockery of anyone who's a Creationist or likes Rush Limbaugh is okay?

Stay classy!

Amy Kathleen Ryan said...

To those who think Ellen's uninvitation isn't censorship, I respectfully disagree. She is being barred from a public forum by a government official. She was invited by a group of public educators who wanted her there, and now here comes their boss to say that her books and ideas are "dangerous" and he won't allow her presence. This is most definitely censorship.

Whoa Nelly said...

Wow, intellectual freedom fighters, that's a lot of melodrama in the comments! No one is banning her books, no one is telling people not to read her books. Sure, it stinks that they uninvited her but she's a big girl and she'll get over it - there are many many festivals and libraries that would love to have EH speak. This is not censorship - they decided not to have one author speak, and that sucks, but people, it's not like this was a book burning. EH's books are still readily available for people to read.

Another Teen Librarian said...

I agree 100% about censorship. But I also agree with Nate. This is not censorship. Nowhere is it stated that authors have the right to be paid to speak about their books. I think it sucks that Ellen's books aren't being celebrated, but is there ever a point that the content IS too much for teens at a school sponsored event? Or is nothing off limits? What if a KKK author wanted to come and talk to kids about his/her new book geared toward teens? Certainly no one would complain when his invitation was revoked after parents found out about the content. No, of course I'm not comparing Elen's books to a KKK book, but there are some people who think that the cussing and sexual content in those books are just as harmful as reading a pro-racist book would be. Who are we to decide? Shouldn't it ultimately be up to the school and the parents? I'm pretty sure that Ellen's books are still available at the bookstores and libraries.

I only fear that when words like "censorship" and "banning" are used out of context and so easily, that they will lose their meaning and not be taken seriously.

Just my thoughts!

Anonymous said...

@Whoa Nelly: I'm not sure how you think it's not censorship..a small group of people have just decided they did not want to invite an author because her books contain "questionable content" if that's not censorship then what is it?

Anonymous said...

Here's a well-reasoned and articulate statement from a librarian who won't ban books from his library:

perspicaciousgarbage said...

To Anonymous (several comments above me),
I am going to have to respectfully disagree with you here. Expressing your opinion about a public figure is a lot different than censorship.
For example, if I was to say that I did not like Rush Limbaugh, I am simply expressing my own views. I am not, by any means, saying you shouldn't like or listen to Rush Limbaugh or that other people shouldn't, either. That is totally up to you and I don't care either way.
However, censoring or banning a book is a lot different. When a book is censored or banned, it becomes unavailable (or at least more difficult to find) for ALL readers, not just those who object.
Do you see what I'm trying to say? I don't agree with the views of people like Rush Limbaugh, but if you do than it's totally okay. I have no problem with that. I believe (along with many others) that all people have a right to express their opinions and choose what kind of media they would like to consume, without having it effect others who might disagree. That means YA readers and writers, too.
So you can keep listening to Rush Limbaugh, and I'll keep reading my books, and I can only hope that neither one of us will ever get in the way of the other.

Janet Fox said...

This is a terrific column. I have to respectfully disagree with those who think disinviting Ellen is not censorship. If Ellen had been disinvited because her skin was not the "right" color, the whole world would scream discrimination.

I feel badly for the teens, but I'd be willing to bet they understand. And will go right on reading Ellen's excellent and important novels.

Whoa Nelly said...

"A small group of people have just decided they did not want to invite an author because her books contain "questionable content" if that's not censorship then what is it?"

Simply, it's their event, and their choice. See, the keyword here is invite. They are free to invite or not invite anyone they so choose. These people may be shortsighted, rude, and out of touch with today's teens, but at the end of the day, all they're guilty of is changing their mind about the speaker line up for their own event. They have the right to have whoever they want speak, and vice versa.

Lexie said...


I think you're missing the part of the post where Ellen was uninvited because her books had material found objectionable. Its not so much that Ellen feels she is entitled to be paid, and feel sore that they dismissed her so rudely and unnecessarily.

I find it unbelievable and dirty that the school would cave in. Instead of suggesting Ellen be uninvited, maybe the parents/librarian could have asked to have a panel about her books so there could be a dialogue and give her a chance to talk about why she felt such content was necessary.

The first response to something you don't approve of should not always be 'OMG GET IT AWAY NOW NOW NOW'. How juvenile!


Anonymous said...

Whoa Nelly

Well said! You are speaking logically and not out of emotion. It is emotionally upsetting that Ellen was uninvited, but it isn't censorship. It's a choice. A choice that they are perfectly at liberty to make, and a choice that everyone should be glad that they CAN make. Otherwise any number of things can and will be introduced to our children.

perspicaciousgarbage said...

This is am amazing blogpost.
I, too, am going to have to respectfully disagree with those who do not believe this is censorship.
When one or more persons decides to challenge a book, they are essentially saying that they, personally, do not agree with the books content and therefore would not like it to be available for ANYONE to read. Of course, I could list a million reasons why this isn't fair to those who do not share their same values, but I think we all know those reasons well enough, as it is.
This issue with Ellen is so similar it almost confuses me when people say they don't believe it's censorship.
To me at least, it is exactly that.

A group thought Ellen's work was inappropriate. So what happened? They made it so she could not attend the Teen Lit Fest, therefore making it impossible for ANYONE- even those who disagreed with them- to see her there.
Doesn't this feel familiar?

Now, this isn't the type of censorship that we hear about every day. I'm thankful for that. But just because we are not used to this kind of occurrence does not mean that we can deny it's censorship, or understate the relevancy of the problems that come along with it.

Of course, I am endlessly sympathetic to those who were planning to attend the Teen Lit Fest and are now unable to see their favourite authors. But I should hope that they understand what this has to be.
If authors were to let this go by, unnoticed, it would be painfully hypocritical. No one wants their work to be censored, and no one wants their words censored either. It isn't fair to anyone.

Greg said...

I think everyone needs a crash course in what censorship is and isn't. You have the right to free speech. You have the right to freedom of the press. You do not have the right to be paid to speak about whatever you want at a school.

Yes, it stinks. I don't agree with their decision. But it is their decision. No one is keeping anyone else from reading a book. Please, people...get educated!

Pete Hautman said...

Those of you debating my use of the term "censorship," please check out my latest post:

Ana said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ana said...

I believe the true test of whether or not censorship is afoot will take place after the festival.

Will the parent(s) who successfully lobbied to have Ellen's invitation to speak rescinded feel emboldened to then challenge her books in the local libraries?

Ellen "disinvitation" may not be outright censorship, but it would be unwise not to see this action as a possible prelude to the real thing.

The Many Thoughts of a Reader said...

Good for you and others for standing up for what you believe in. I think it is a disservice to teens to keep away 'questionable' content. I strongly believe 'questionable' content should be openingly discussed and subject matter that Ellen covers discussed openingly so others can learn from it. I have never understood how parents can't allow kids to read whatever they want but have conversations about the content if they don't agree. You should allow your child to grow and make their own decisions. Thank you to MY mom and dad who let me read any and everything, have my own point of view and encouraged me to stand up for what I believe. The world needs more parents like that.

Donna (Bites) said...

We need to start calling book banners Nazis, because that's exactly what they are. The Nazi's banned books too. Oh, do they not want to be compared to them? How do they stop that? I don't know.

I know you mentioned that you try not to talk about stuff like this but I'm making September Ban This! month (because a single week of banned books just isn't enough for me!) and I'd love if you could take a look. These jerks really need a taste of their own medicine.

Anonymous said...

Awww, this is sad!! I feel really bad for the Teens in Texas. Meeting authors and having festivals such as this can really help teens stay out of trouble. Especially in Cities like Houston. It would be amazing for Teens to be able to read versus gang stuff etc. Its really a pity that all the teens will duffer from all the Authors withdrawal just because of a few peoples opinion.

Little Messy Missy said...

"Every burned book enlightens the world."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thanks, I will just have to go and buy one of her books! ;0)

Keep writing.

Wild About Words said...

I love your books . . . and I LOVE THIS POST! Good for you . . . and the other authors who are standing up for the teen readers . . . and authors.
Chris Crutcher's comments were brilliant and right on, too.
I'm proud to be part of this community.

Tina Hanlon said...

Thank you for taking this stand. There are many forms of censorship and they are not all violations of the Constitution or legal rights but we need more Americans to take a stand against all of them.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to join in with the voices telling you Thank You for taking this stand against censorship. As someone who was a teen reader not too long ago, I appreciate those who are willing to both be brave and stand up for the rights of teens and authors both.

HWPetty said...

Those privileged few who have never known hardship should be the absolute LAST people to decide what threatened and troubled teens should read.

Thanks for this, Saundra. You've said with elegance exactly how I feel on the issue of YA censorship.

Kudos to everyone taking a stand on this issue. There's always an excuse not to stand up for what you believe in. And I know it feels like it's the teen readers who miss out in this case, but sitting back would only ensure that those same readers never get to mingle with any authors who write controversial books down the line.

The fight has to start somewhere.

Sheryl Gwyther said...

I salute you, Pete, Ellen and all the authors who are taking a stand against insidious censorship. We authors in Australia are cheering you on! :)

Danae Ayusso said...

Kudos for writers sticking together. Very rarely do you find a group of people that hardly know each other, if not at all, standing up for a perceived injustice done to one of them.

I'm curious if these concerned educators and parents have ever turned on the television and seen the shows that their teens are watching. Even the teen based programs are beyond questionable in content and should carry a disclaimer.

Reality in itself is full of questionable shit that makes us shake our heads. Why should the written word be excluded from the harsh and questionable reality of life? It shouldn't. The truth and the shit of questionable taste and 'censorship' worthy are the things that tell young adults that the world isn't full of happy go lucky vegetarian sparkling pedophile vampires from the Pacific Northwest and that life doesn't always go according to plan and that there is a lot of shit that can and will happen that their parents and precious educators never prepared them for.

They should be thanking those 'censorship' worthy authors for doing what they are too chicken shit to do; be legit with their kids.

Belinda Jeffrey said...

what a great post. I'm an Australian YA author and I so admire your stance. I've had a school boycott a session at a writer's festival before - over content of my book - but the festival director supported me completely. It continually surprises me that YA is expected to be both edgy and non-controversial at the same time. Personally I adore edgy YA and will look up yours and Ellen's books.

Greg said...

The reason that I say that using censorship and banning is not appropriate in this context is apparent in these comments. Are people really equating this to racial discrimination and calling the super intendant a Nazi??

No, I don't think they made the right decision by uninviting Ellen. I think she would have fantastic and helpful things to say. I hope that every teen who is going through, or knows someone going through what her books deal with, read her book. But, that still doesn't make this BANNING! I think it really belittles the people who are actually going through censorship/banning issues to call this that. And it's certainly demeaning to Jews, and what they went through, to equate the people who are ATTEMPTING (and maybe failing, but still trying) to do what they think is best for our children to Nazis.

I applaude you, Pete, for standing up for a colleague whom you believe would be a benefit to the teens, and for the way she was treated (and apparently the librarian who stood up for her). I just wish everyone would be a little more careful with their words, and realize that whether or not you agree, most of the people in this world really DO want what's best for our kids.

Gaby G said...

I am proud of all of you who have decided not to go!! It's the right thing to do. Censorship is wrong!!

You know, it's funny because now I want to read those books, and I think those children too!

Deva Fagan said...

Thank you to you and the other authors who are taking a stand!

David Harmon said...

Thanks for standing up, and I'm impressed by the results.

As for “…there are more authors that we would want at our Teen Lit Fest than we could ever have enough Teen Lit Fests to accommodate.” .... Well, there's also a lot more book and "lit" festivals out there... far more than the "most wanted" authors would have time to attend! (Micropitch: Virginia Festival of The Book, March 16-20, 2011.)

Unknown said...

Bravo to all authors who are taking a stand. Teen Librarian, the "collateral damage" argument is nothing more than Argumentum ad misericordiam, with a dash of red herring.
Nothing is more important than protecting our right to free speech. Nothing.

Whoa Nelly said...

I agree with Teen Librarian, and the truth is, we all should and do feel sorry for the teens this is affecting, so I don't mind the 'pity argument.'

And as for EH, she still has her rights to free speech. Clearly, she's speaking out right now about how she feels about the situation. No one is muzzling her opinion on this issue, no one is taking her books off the shelf, no one is challenging her books or banning them.

Let's not get crazy with the rhetoric. Rescinding her invitation to speak at a specific event? Sure. But restricting her right to free speech? No.

Cowcharge said...

Tactically speaking, perhaps a better way to make this a public fight would have been to go to the festival, refuse the paycheck, and talk about the lady's "uninvitation" rather than your own books. Of course, that would "get back" at the planners by turning their festival into an argue-fest, but it would ruin it mostly for the kids. But if you really just wanted to make an impression regardless of the damage...
Or just organize your own festival and invite all the controversial authors you'd like. Texas hasn't banned anyone from speaking or selling books, have they?
Or get a local bookstore or other venue to give her (and the rest of you authors bowing out) space for a book signing/Q&A, that would be easy, I'd bet. Let the attendance numbers show who the KIDS want to see. Let them vote with their feet.
I don't have a dog in this fight, but perhaps that's a good thing. I (and others of course) can look at the issue dispassionately, which is something the whole country desperately needs.
This isn't censorship if her books are still available. She's free to go to Texas, sell books, and speak to kids about her books, is she not? It just isn't censorship. It's rude, it illustrates the shortsightedness of the people who invited her in the first place without realizing that the content of her books would offend some folks, and the cowardice of those same people not to stand up to the few rednecks making the stink, but as folks have already said, the First Amendment doesn't have a clause guaranteeing anyone the right to be hired to speak in Humble, Texas. If it did, then that same KKK author used as an example above would be able to demand, and get, a spot on the roster. To force someone to put one unwanted author on the roster would be a violation of the festival organizer's right to free speech. That would be the affront to rights, the forcing of views on others, that you claim uninviting her is.
It's much the same issue as the Ground Zero mosque. Building it is the height of insensitivity, poor taste and religious bigotry, and will no doubt result in more violence and intolerance in NYC, but it's their land. Or flag-burning.
Again, to uninvite someone after the fact is extremely cheesy, but it's not censorship. To paraphrase Lesley Gore, it's their party and they'll 'vite who they want to. 'Vite who they want to. 'Vite who they want to. You would 'vite too who you wanted to see.

Jo Whittemore said...

I agree with Cowcharge's point about taking a different tack. Bring your message to the people! Go to the festival and during your talks mention the issue of censorship. Or have an impromptu panel on it. That way, the kids still get to see their favorite authors and they will firsthand get to hear your message (versus just reading about it on the Internet).

Kris Kleindienst said...

I have always admired your work and am proud to say we at Left Bank Books in St. Louis Missouri have welcomed you at our store with open arms. Come back to St. Louis and we'll find some schools who would love to see you!
Kris Kleindienst, co-owner, Left Bank Books, St. Louis, MO

Lyn Miller-Lachmann said...

Thank you for posting this and to you and the other authors who withdrew from the festival for standing with a fellow author. In these tough economic times, it would be easy to go there and reap your own benefit. Canceling a speaker is censorship, just as much as pulling a book off a shelf or not buying it in the first place because of its content.

mikeyc said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mikeyc said...

I was brought to this blog by some twitter account I follow.
I do not read the books in question, nor have I ever heard of the authors (even YOU Pete Hautman, yeah.. I kno-o-o-ow!!!)
In fact it took me a few moments to decipher what "YA" is. Yes, I don't follow YA fiction and non-fiction. Heck, I haven't been a YA in a very long time ;)
However I applaud your sentiments in this post. They are courageous and (somewhat) tactful and wonderful.
A previous commentor questioned your analogy of this being the same category as setting fire to a library. Of course it is not, simply because setting fire to a library destroys property and denies people access to books, while censorship denies access to bo... oh wait. It IS the same as setting fire to a library! ...Nevermind.

The fact that you and three other authors, Melissa de la Cruz, Matt de la Peña, and Tera Lynn Childs have withdrawn from the Teen Lit Festival is to be commended and also applauded. I hope this action gets results.

However, I don't think removing yourselves from the playing field is the right form of action. That just denies the people you want to reach - the young reader, an experience.

I feel another, perhaps better way to get results would have been for (at least) the four of you to sponsor Ellen Hopkins as your "other." Pay her way, get her a badge(s) or whatever credentials the festival has, whatever needs to be done and bring her along and let her sit alongside any discussions, seminars and readings y'all might have at these kind of functions, let her talk about her un-invite, censorship and whatever else, alongside or perhaps in place of what you may be doing at this festival. Yes, make the festival about what the festival had done. That way, the teens will understand what is happening around them in their name - rather than to be disappointed that favorite authors "couldn't make it." And they can learn a little more about "Censorship = bad", too.

BTW, is that drawing of that nasty thing in the corner... a highland terrier?

Unknown said...

OK I am one of the other librarians in the Humble district and I agree with you and tomorrow at our librarian's meeting I will also be respectfully declining to be involved in the Teen Lit Fest. I don't see any other choice as there are no reputable authors that will come due to the circumstances. I do agree that the students will be the ones that pay the price but hopefully they will also learn something about freedom of speech and standing up for what you believe in.

Jan von Harz said...

Wow what an amazing post and discussion. I was extremely happy to see that at least one librarian from the Humble community weighed in with such a positive and supportive comment.

Censorship takes many forms and while all of the Humble community may not be a part of Ellen being uninvited, those responsible are in effect practicing a form of censorship.

As a middle school teacher, I am ashamed that other educators: the middle school librarian and the superintendent are supporting small minded parents. By doing so they have been able to force their opinions on others by banning Ellen's participation.

I think that organizing a public conference not affiliated with the school district is an excellent alternative.

I support your actions Pete and all the other authors who have taken the stance, even while I am sad that the Humble teens are losing out on such a wonderful event.

I also agree with those who have already stated that those same teens are learning a valuable lesson about censorship.

Greg Neri said...

Good for all of you for standing up for what's right. Chris is right: unless you educate certain folks, they will never learn the ramifications of their actions. Stand up proud for all writers.

Zellie Blake said...

I'm glad to see other authors acknowledging Ellen's situation, but I agree with Another Teen Librarian.

Attending and discussing the issue directly with teens would be so much more powerful than
teens hearing 'oh yeah these authors dropped out... you can go read about it online somewhere'

Anonymous said...

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." Margaret Mead.

This is so true, both in a good way (like you and the other authors standing up for what's right) and in a bad way (like close-minded people who run the US educational system). Hopefully, more people will follow the the small group that stands up for freedom of expression.

I loved your post regarding this. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I wish people were as passionate about teens not being able to hear about God and the bible being banned in schools as they are about YA books...just saying...

Anonymous said...

I admire you. The authors who refuse to act in unity with you because, for various smarmy reasons, they "care" so much about teens really tick me off. That is passive aggression against taking action to stop censorship. They should stop using teens to excuse their cowardice.

Public Librarian

Crazy Cat Lady said...

You Americans sure are a funny bunch. All of you, who think it was right to disinvite the author: Do you really think shuffling an issue under the carpet or sticking your head in the sand is going to make it go away? If you take issue with something this author has written - bring it up! Let the kids read the book then DISCUSS those issues. Let the young people THINK FOR THEMSELVES for a change. Stop making decisions for them.

And the Anonymous who was sad children don't get to learn about God and the Bible in school: Where I come from, we learn about the Christian God and the Bible, just as we learn about Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism and plenty of other religions and life philosophies. As long as you don't exclude, limit or CENSOR against a particular thing, you are free to talk about the rest. (But you really just want them to learn about the Christian God only, don't you?...)

Be a little brave. Dare to talk about those things you find objectionable. Give the kids a chance to make their own decisions - that's what you should be teaching them isn't it? Or do you really just want faithful little indoctrinated, easy-to-control minions?

Cowcharge said...

Again, the only thing that was "censored" was the childrens' opportunity to see this author at this one event. I agree it's a sad, cheesy, closed-minded, red-necked, embarrassingly low-budget thing to do, and those who caved should be ashamed. They should have known who they were inviting in the first place, and stood behind their decision. How do they call themselves educators when a handful of shrill, hysterical book-burners can cow them into limiting the education they provide? But to call it censorship, as if her books had been banned, or to call it equivalent to burning a library, is pushing the envelope a bit. I mean the only reason she was able to go in the first place was because they offered, so it was more a case of "indian-giving" (guess I should say "Native-American-Giving" these days, huh?) than censorship.
Have your own fest, with the authors you want. That would fix the entire problem, enbarrass the idiots even further, and restore the children's opportunity to hear this author. Lol, what was she gonna talk about that was so bad, anyway?
To the person commenting about bringing issues out in the open and talking about them, and who said "but you only want the Christian god spoken about" (something to that effect), you should already know that no religion wants, or can withstand, open, frank discussions about their policies and dogma. Religion is built and operated specifically to prevent the acquiring of knowledge.

sm said...

love,love,love that your words in a blog post have resulted in action.
maybe even real change.
it has to start somewhere.

Jason Kurtz said...


Nice post. Coming from an English teachers point of view, I still say you did the right thing. You may have disappointed a few of those kids today, but maybe they can read who/what they want tomorrow. Great stand.


demery said...

Good for you for standing up for a colleague and for what's right! I really believe that will make a lasting impression on those kids. (And I'm the mom of a middle schooler from TX ... not the area where the event was... but still from TX!)

Pat Brown said...

This appalls me, but doesn't surprise me. People understand the power of words and there are always a few who want to control what other read in an attempt to control what they think, or out of some mistaken belief they know what's good for everyone.

Either way, it's infuriating and needs to be fought.

Pat Brown said...

Todd Strasser, who also write YA that's been attacked took a very different approach. His idea has some merit. Maybe this isn't the time to be silent and absent.

carl brookins said...

Peter, I stand with you, four-square.
We cannot allow this, or any kind of censorship go unremarked. Let me suggest to you and all the others here a slender book of considerable relevance. "The Protest Singer," by Alex Wilkinson. It's the story of Pete Seeger's life and our times in the 20th Century.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if people (including the censored writer) should be attending the convention and letting teens know one-on-one that they exist and what happened. I appreciate those of you who have been writing about (and alerting us to) cases of censorship.

--Brenda W.

Jessica Lourey said...

Cheers to fighting the good fight!

Larnette Snow said...

I tip my hat to you and the authors who withdrew. Censorship is a tough topic. Ages, community, etc. I am a K-7 librarian and I do feel that sometimes I am censoring. But not all books are appropriate for our school library. I will be looking for your books to put in my stack of books to read! Thanks for the great blog!

LeeAnn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LeeAnn said...

Sure, the teens who discover why their favorite authors are not attending the festival will be incensed and want to vent about the evils of censors. If they’re lucky, they may even have a well-informed English instructor who allots a certain amount of class time for discussion on the controversy that now surrounds the festival. But with the results-oriented focus in the public school system, it is unlikely that teachers will be able to justify straying too far from the inexhaustible amount of material that students need to learn to succeed on standardized tests and meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). In short, even students who are fortunate enough to have teachers who promote the exchange of ideas on censorship will not be able to give the topic the time and attention it deserves. Limited discussion might enable the teens who already hold the opinion that censorship is truly “the Nasty Thing in the Corner” to reinforce their beliefs, but the tragedy of the situation is that the indifferent or indoctrinated students will probably not be given enough time to reach any new conclusions.


Coert Voorhees said...

I'm a little late to the party on this one, but there's something in Pete's original post that doesn't seem to have elicited the response I would have expected. As Pete mentions, the really scary part of this whole thing is the superintendent's response to the letter protesting the decision.

Taking that attitude into account, it seems to me that the benefit of a boycott in this case does not necessarily end with the healthy discussion that it has provoked. It may be impossible to change the minds of those who objected to Ellen's participation, but an additional lasting value might be in influencing the attitudes of those who may be in a position to make similar decisions in the future. And while there may in fact be more authors out there than the TLF knows what to do with, if enough of authors choose not to participate in this festival, perhaps the festival organizers will recognize that--no matter how objectionable a book might be--censorship is not necessarily a prudent business strategy.

I know that the disinvitors, for lack of a better term, are in the minority here, and the disinvitation and subsequent cancellations are terrible for the teens who would have had the chance to listen to and speak with the authors in person; there's no denying that. And I want to point out that one of the most heartening aspects of this whole ordeal was the level of examined thought put into the decisions of all the writers involved--both those who chose to attend and those who chose not to. These are discussions that we need to have.

Unknown said... have a nice discussion..

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