Wednesday, August 18, 2010

UPSTANDERS: How a group of Authors are standing up to Censorship and making us all proud

Imagine you're an author scheduled with a group of other YA authors to appear at a large book fair event for teen fans in a school district.

Now let's say there's a small group of people - maybe just one librarian, and a handful of adults - who don't like what one of your colleagues has written. The author may be a New York Times Best Seller, she may write works of deep beauty and meaning that resonate with Teen readers, but they complain. The superintendent of the school, over the protests of other librarians in the district, decides to un-invite that author.

What do you do?

Are you a bystander? Do you attend the event anyway?

Or are you an UPstander? Do you stand up - again censorship, and take a stand? Do you pull out of the event yourself?

This isn't just a theoretical situation. It's happening, this week.

The festival is the biennial Teen Lit Fest (TLF) in Humble (a suburb of Houston, Texas), scheduled for January 29, 2011 and organized by the Humble ISD Librarians.

The author who was dis-invited last week was the incredible Ellen Hopkins.

Censored Author Ellen Hopkins

And on Monday, Author Pete Hautman withdrew from the festival in protest.

He wrote a great piece about this on his blog, where he shared that

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.”

Pete also published on his blog that

Tera Lynn Childs also withdrew from the festival on Monday.

Matt de la Pena withdrew from the festival on Tuesday.

*UPDATE 8/18/10* And I found out in one of my reader comments that Melissa De La Cruz has withdrawn from the festival as well.


There's a facebook page for the festival here that lists the remaining authors scheduled to attend.


I hope these authors become UPstanders as well - and that NO other authors take their place.

We, as a community of authors and readers, of parents and students, of believers in the power of Children's Literature cannot stand by.

We must stand together, and stand up!

The concept of UPstanders is a wonderful one, coming from this great organization, "Facing History and Ourselves" - which links lessons from history (like the Holocaust) to moral decisions Teens (and the rest of us) face today.

I think this is a great example of authors facing a moral dilemma.

What would YOU do?

Bravo to Pete, Tera, Matt, and of course to Ellen Hopkins!

Let's go buy THEIR books.

And let's see what happens with this festival...



Anonymous said...

I've been following this story with a great deal of interest. I think it's terrific that the authors who've withdrawn have taken a stand. It makes a good statement.

I have some problems, though, with you essentially calling out the authors who have not withdrawn (and, by many accounts, Melissa Dela Cruz has also withdrawn). It's one thing to list the people who've said they no longer wish to appear because of censorship. It's another to list the names of those who have not withdrawn.

Both Pete Hautman and Ellen Hopkins have written extensively about this incident. Both have only ever named the people who've withdrawn. This site is the first where I've seen the other invitees listed. After reading Pete's blog, I was certainly curious who the other invitees were but I took his reluctance to mention them as a sign of respect. It's THEIR decision if they want to withdraw.

When you list their names and say you hope they'll withdraw, it's like cyber bullying. Maybe the people who are still attending have great reasons to attend. Maybe they intend to take a stand at the festival and speak out against the censorship, explaining why so many author withdrew.

To put it another way: you've effectively "outed" these authors. What do you hope to gain by listing their names and saying you hope they withdraw? If they don't withdraw, do you hope no one ever buys a book from them again? Do you want people to write to these authors and urge them to withdraw? How did that become your decision? True, you're not directly calling people to action but your motivation for naming names is unclear. What does it accomplish?

The authors who are most directly affected by this (the aforementioned Hopkins and Hautman) have simply had their say and named names of those who stand by them. If you're going to put pressure on someone, put it on the festival for their incredibly backward thinking policies. Don't put undo attention and pressure on those authors who A) may not yet have heard about the debacle or B) may have good reasons for continuing to attend. Because there may actually be good reasons to attend despite all that's happened. (Such as speaking out against the censorship to a captive audience of teens.)

This is a great blog and I don't think you meant any harm. I think you wanted to do your part and spread the word. But I think naming names was a step too far.

Anonymous said...

Melissa de la Cruz has withdrawn as well:

ivanova said...

Hats off to Pete Hautman and the other YA writers who withdrew from the festival! I'm sure Todd Strasser will withdraw also. There's no way the author of "The Wave" could support censorship.

I don't know this "Facing History and Ourselves" organization, but I like the concept of Upstanders. It makes me think of one of Raul Hilberg's landmark books about the Holocaust (Perpetrators, Victims, and Bystanders.) He did not include "Helpers" as one of the categories because in his research he did not find a significant number of them : ( But at least when it comes to YA book fairs, I think humans can step it up a little more than that!

Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

Hi Anonymous (5:14am)

I certainly meant nothing mean-spirited in sharing the names of the other authors scheduled to attend. When I found the names published at the festival facebook page, I thought that was important, interesting information to share when discussing this.

And yes, if one of those authors was a particular favorite of a reader, I thought it would be great if my readers sent them an email or otherwise expressed to them how they felt about the author attending or not attending the festival.

I guess my intent was also to empower those other authors to consider withdrawing from the festival as well.

Not to cyber-bully anyone.

I sincerely hope the remaining authors scheduled to attend the festival do withdraw. If they don't, I certainly am NOT calling for a boycott of those authors.

I just think this is an excellent example of a moral dilemma authors face, a dilemma that we don't often hear about - and one that's tied to the issues of censorship around children's literature.

The authors' names were never a secret - they are shared in the publicity materials for the festival, so I don't agree that I've "outed" them.

But I do hear you, and I respect your concern for the feelings of the other authors' sense of peer pressure now that four of their peers have withdrawn.


Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

Hi Anonymous (5:42)

Thanks so much for the news that Melissa De La Cruz has withdrawn from the festival as well!

Great news! That makes 4 out of 7 authors who've withdrawn in the wake of Ellen Hopkins being dis-invited. (I've added the update above.)

I hope we get all 7!


Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

Hi Ivanova,
I haven't read that book on the Holocaust, but I DO think that UPstanders were a significant group during that incredibly dark part of history. Maybe not statistically, but the story of the Danes, Schindler, and thousands of smaller heroes showed that the light of humanity still existed.

There is a special designation for non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust, and they are honored at Yad Vah Shem, the Israeli memorial to the Holocaust. They're called THE RIGHTEOUS AMONG THE NATIONS. (more info on them here:

And yeah, while it's not risking their lives, it still takes moral courage and bravery to withdraw from a book festival when it's not really YOUR books being protested. The four other authors who have withdrawn didn't HAVE to withdraw. But they did. And I applaud them for it!


Robert Guthrie said...

Thank you for this info and letting me know about upstanders.

Great work, as always.

Sarah Laurenson said...

If this is outing, you're in good company.

PW Blog

Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

Thanks, Robert. And thank you, Sarah, for your words of support and the link to the Publishers Weekly Blog article about this.


Jan said...

Wow. I have just been reading up on Ellen Hopkins. What an accomplished writer she is! As an author most recently featured on this blog, with a novel about "coming out" or "staying in," I applaud the upstanders. It seems to me that a teen lit fest should welcome books of all stripes. Teenagers are a smart audience. They deserve to make their own choices.

Jackie said...

I found the gay characters in Hopkins book from last year about teen prostitutes to be quite problematic. There were not one but two gay male adults who sexually abused a boy and, guess what -- he grew up to be gay! Then, as a teen, the boy was taken in by yet another gay male adult who used him as a kind of boy toy.

I was disappointed that a book by an author who is supposedly a champion of teens perpetuated the stereotype of gay men as predators, and the notion that people are gay because they suffered some sort of sexual abuse when they were young.

I wouldn't censor her books or keep her from speaking somewhere, but I sure hope her books aren't the only ones kids read with gay characters. She claims to be the "an author who is a voice for a generation" but she certainly does not speak for gay youth.

Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

I hear what you're saying, but in my view Ellen has been very brave in portraying complex teen characters going through horrible circumstances (both straight and gay) - and while I agree that "Tricks" was intense, each one of the characters (including the queer ones) had gone through so much - I don't think I finished the book thinking that the abuse made any of the characters queer. The whole book made me uncomfortable because I have so much trouble with the idea (not to mention the reality) of kids in the sex trade, but I'm really glad I read it. And knowing Ellen personally, I can assure you that she's definitely an Ally to our GLBTQ community.

And I also agree with you that I hope Ellen's books aren't the only ones kids read that have Gay characters in them. (Though I'm so grateful to Ellen that she includes Queer characters in her books! We're part of the real world Teens live in, and it's important that we're represented in fictional worlds as well.) There are lots of great books out there now, and I try to share about all of them on this blog.

I guess ultimately I agree with Jan who said:

"Teenagers are a smart audience. They deserve to make their own choices."

Thanks to everyone for your comments!

Daniel Teeter said...

I have another take:
In my own work as an author I prefer material perceived by some as "edgy." As a parent I also monitor the books my 12 y.o. daughter reads to insure what reads is what I believe is developmentally appropriate. Those are my prerogatives as a writer and parent.

A handful of squeaky and reactionary wheels, as was the case in Houston, shouldn't be the determiners of what "community standards" are. On the other hand, if they're indeed the "community standards" & parents in that community choose not to enlighten their children with such material, however I may disagree, they are so entitled. I spoke to a librarian recently whom worked with conservative Christian and Jewish groups on the subject of expletives. She said that even light curse words such as "hell" & "damn" are forbidden in the books for their children & therefore eliminated from the list. Reactionary? Sure, but it's their choice to make.

Children and their parents still have the right to buy these books in their Houston neighborhoods, no doubt. In that sense their access is limited but still free & technically uncensored. The prigs in this case are only fighting to limit access, they don't have the power to censor (though they'd probably love it). This makes the authors stated reactions a little hyperbolic, I think.

Any author of YA books must understand there're inherent risks in certain subject matter: Access will be limited depending on the communities & markets. That is the reality.

In an enlightened society, Ellen Hopkins would be invited into a discussion as to why her books were deemed inappropriate. Maybe both sides would've learned something from such a meeting. Instead, the two parties are convinced of their own righteousness & neither is listening to the other.

That's the saddest part of all.

Ellen Hopkins said...

Uh, no.... Seth is gay all the way thru the book. And, in fact, the only reason he is with the older man to start with is because his father kicked him out for being gay. Sheesh! Read more carefully, or please don't comment.

Ellen Hopkins said...

And, Daniel, please read my latest livejournal post. This is not reactionary. "Censorship" applies to being "uninvited" to speak because of implied "inappropriateness" re my books.

Ellen Hopkins said...

And since I'm here commenting, I have to take issue with the whole "self-righteous" comment. Really? When few enough people stand up against big voices like the Limbaughs and Becks and Dr. Lauras, excuse me? I hardly feel "self righteous." I feel as if I'm systematically beaten back, and now by the very people who should be supporting me? Fine. You can't kick my spiritual ass, either.

And do you REALLY believe the four authors who pulled out of that event are "self-righteous," too? Because, if you do, shame on you. You have no idea who we are or what we stand for, which is the First Amendment. Wow. Ignorance comes from all sides, I guess.

Rural Gay Gone Urban said...

Interesting post. I had just read an article about how "younger people are beginning to see sexual orientation as 'benign variation, so that the differences between gay and nongay couples are simply not so interesting.'"
( Yet many adults try to "protect" via censorship. Not surprised that this should occur in Texas. Grew up there thirty years ago and homophobia has deep roots.

If anything, this event will only serve to increase awareness about Ellen Hopkins' books and the acts of the other authors who withdrew will provide inspiration to their own readers.

Love the concept of UPstanders and will try to find more on it. (Went to the link, Lee, but couldn't find the specific article.) I will use the term as I work with students.

Anonymous said...

My understanding is that this is not a case of "community standards" because Ms. Hopkins was invited to an event where she had successfully appeared before, and a small number of people managed to get her invitation pulled--over the objections of many others who worked on the festival.

Todd Strasser has posted about his plans to attend the festival. He wants to speak about censorship in person.

He believes that withdrawing from the festival is not the only way to fight censorship--a position I can respect.

Jackie said...

Lee, thanks for your thoughtful and reasoned response to my concerns about the Hopkins book.

As a queer reader, I may be oversensitive to stereotypes and homophobia. But I didn't understand why the author felt it necessary to put in the whole bit about Seth being abused by a Catholic priest when he was a choir boy. There was a reference to it early on, and then a whole chapter about it much later, as Seth is recalling his childhood.

That just seemed thrown in there. At best, it was a quick and dirty cliche -- like, let's see how much abuse we can heap on this kid. At worst, it played on the homophobic notion that people are gay because they've had some bad sexual experience early in life.

I also felt like the older gay men in the book were all portrayed as predators, just dying to get their hands on a farm-fresh young boy. I thought that type of stereotyping had died with 1950s pulp fiction.

I wasn't uncomfortable with the whole teens-in-the-sex-trade theme. In fact, I would like to see a good book about a gay teen hustler, sort of a "City of Night" for YAs. But it would take a skilled author to pull it off.