Talks Cancelled for YA Authors Meg Medina and Rainbow Rowell

9318642666_0ea1dc9a35For whatever reason, it sometimes seems that censorship battles crop up in pairs or groups of three. In May 2012, for example, the Kids’ Right to Read Project began battling the removal of Todd Parr’s The Family Book and other GLSEN materials in Erie, PA because they “advocated” for “non-traditional” families and lifestyles. Just days later, we learned that Davis County schools in Utah had ordered another book about same-sex parents, In Our Mothers House, be kept behind the counter at school libraries.

Now, we’re fighting two instances of censorship where young adult authors have had their respective speeches cancelled because of complaints about and fear of what they might say.

Meg Medina was anticipating her visit to Cumberland Middle school in rural Virginia to speak at a bullying awareness event. The invitation had come six months earlier, after a librarian there had heard her speak and was greatly impressed by what she had to say. Medina’s latest novel confronts the issue head-on, telling a story of one girl’s struggle to forge her identity as she’s coping with being harassed.

At the same time, Rainbow Rowell had been gearing up for her speech in front of the student body of Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota. She was also slated to speak at the Anoka County Public Libraries, as the two groups had partnered to select Rowell’s book Eleanor & Park for the county Rock the Read optional summer reading book. Many of the district’s students did read the book, which has been been the object of much critical acclaim.

yaquiMedina’s talk was cancelled after the principal refused to allow her to reference her book Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass or show its cover. The title is also the first line of the story, a phrase that sets up the story: Piddy Sanchez begins her school year with the knowledge that she’s the target of some kid she doesn’t know for reasons she has yet to understand. Though the book portrays the lived experience of bullying in a way that brings it home for teens, district superintendent Amy Giffin said they decided Medina and her book weren’t appropriate. She added that the book “really more to me seemed to address high school and inner city.”

Until we got involved in the issue, Rainbow Rowell couldn’t be 100% sure she had even been disinvited. The teachers and librarians had showed great enthusiasm at the outset, but as the date of her visit drew near, she was given mixed messages about her contract there and eventually came up against a communications freeze. A parent had lodged a challenge to profanity in the book and asked that the librarians who organized the talk to be punished. They riled up an action group (with experience in censorship) to organize against the author at the level of the County Board. The order came down. The talk was nixed and librarians were asked not to speak on the topic.

These incidents go to show how far people are willing to go in expense of free speech to placate a vocal minority and keep them from being offended. Anoka County has long been a battleground for differing viewpoints and is a place in need of the positive messaging that Rowell’s book provides. Both authors’ works take into account the realities of bullying and victimization of the weak, the uncool, the misfits.

At the heart of these cancellations lies the belief that we can clean up the world by erasing the parts some people dislike. The alternative is acknowledging those parts, dissecting their roots, asking how we can change them and facing them head on. That is what Medina and Rowell are interested in doing. To censor an author because she might use the word “ass” (a banal swear) is to run away from the power of language. It is a missed opportunity for a lesson about how and why words affect us in different or greater ways. Would-be censors cry out that this-or-that literature/trash doesn’t belong in a classroom or a school or a library. But ignoring realities rather than confronting them, white-washing the world so it makes a prettier picture, is the antithesis of education.

Ironically, both talks were set to take place during Banned Books Week.

 

 

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16 Responses to Talks Cancelled for YA Authors Meg Medina and Rainbow Rowell

  1. ablestmage says:

    If you don’t want your kid to hear a speaker, pull your own kid from the lecture — don’t get such a big head that you believe what is right for every other kid. The relevant parents could easily have been polled on the matter, instead bullying the others into submission. Clearly bullying gets things done, is the lesson here.

  2. Pingback: NCAC: School Visits Nixed for Medina, Rowell | School Library Journal

  3. Those are two of my favorite authors, and two of my favorite books published this year. Is there anyone we can call to lodge a complaint? I really want to show my support!

  4. Miffy F says:

    Reblogged this on Mentone Mif and commented:
    Free speech? Not. Bullying? Yes. But these rights were not violated by the authors. The lily-livered administrators of these ‘educational’ districts should have a good, hard look at what lessons they are actually teaching here.

  5. Pingback: On Reading “Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass” | The Magpie Librarian: A Librarian's Guide to Modern Life and Etiquette

  6. Nancy Garden says:

    Meg and Rainbow–I’m so sorry you’ve been the victims of censorship attempts and I hope you or the librarians involved have notified the American Library Association of the challenges of which you’ve been victims. They can be an enormous help in such cases–and since they also keep track of them, they help ensure that such violations of the First Amendment do not go unnoticed and unrecorded. I wish there were a foolproof way to communicate to parents that although they have every right to decide what books their own kids may or may not read, they have no right to make that decision for other people’s kids! I think that’s an important point to make, though, if possible, when one has an opportunity. I’m so glad you’re both committed to continuing the fight!

    Good luck to you both!
    Nancy Garden
    (Author, Annie On My Mind
    and other challenged YA books)

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  9. Arlene Allen says:

    I’m sorry as long as there are adult bullies, and adult bullies are allowed to triumph, bullying amongst kids will never stop and the tragedies will continue.

  10. Pingback: The good company of challenged authors | Cite Something!

  11. Pingback: Banned Books Week: an interview with Meg Medina and a GIVEAWAY! « Fat Girl, Reading

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