Authors' boycott cancels Teen Lit festival in TX
Authors’ boycott cancels Teen Lit festival after Ellen Hopkins ‘disinvited’
A literary festival for teenagers has been cancelled in Texas after a group of authors withdrew in protest at the organisers’ decision to “disinvite” controversial young adult writer Ellen Hopkins.
Hopkins, whose New York Times bestselling novels deal with topics from teenage drug addiction to prostitution and suicide, says she was invited to take part in the Humble Teen Lit Fest next January but after a librarian raised a fuss with some parents about the suitability of including her, the invitation was rescinded. Teen writers including Melissa de la Cruz, Pete Hautman and Matt de la PeÃ±a all pulled out in solidarity, the event has now been cancelled, and the National Coalition Against Censorship, along with five other organisations, is calling on the school district’s superintendent to reinstate the festival “as originally planned”.
“To deny all students access to an author because some people object to her views violates the rights of other students who want to meet her and hear her speak, and the rights of their parents not to have their own child’s education restricted to accommodate the demands of others,” wrote NCAC executive director Joan E Bertin in a letter.
“The whole situation blew up way bigger than I ever intended,” said Hopkins, author of books including Crank and Glass. “With the other authors withdrawing, the comments really started flying. Most have been supportive, but there are always those who view things differently … When you mention a word like ‘censorship’, opinions fly. The view that what happened in Texas wasn’t censorship is seriously flawed. When one person manages to disinvite a speaker, simply because she/he doesn’t find a book’s content ‘appropriate’, that is censorship at its very worst. One person, or the handful of people he/she stirs up, cannot be allowed to decide appropriateness for an entire community.”
De la Cruz said she decided to pull out as soon as she heard what had happened to Hopkins, whom she called a “provocative and daring” writer.
“I know it sounds corny in this day and age, and there are cynics who don’t believe that anyone can take a stand,” she said. “But YA writers as a whole are kind of like the teens they write for, we’re idealistic and impulsive and we believe the world can be a better place. We care about our readers very much, and that was a huge part of feeling terrible about cancelling … It is very upsetting and disturbing and just sad really. I’m sad for the librarian who instigated it as well as the superintendent, I feel for them too. I know they were trying to do their best for the kids. But you know, when the line is drawn, you have to decide which side you are on, and it’s not about being morally superior or being right, it’s about standing up for what you believe. It’s quite difficult to be brave.”
De la PeÃ±a withdrew because “it felt wrong to attend an event where a fellow author was invited and then ‘uninvited'”. “I think on the one hand people are happy to see authors standing together and making a statement against a form of censorship. On the other hand, a lot of people worry about the teens who are now left without a festival. I understand both sides. It’s a sad situation,” he said. “But ultimately this issue called for some kind of action. I still don’t know if my decision to pull out was right or wrong, I just know it’s what I had to do.”
Humble superintendent Guy Sconzo told local press that he stood by his decision. “I totally own the decision to not invite [Hopkins] to the Teen Lit Fest,” he told the Tribune. “I did hear from some concerned middle-school parents about this. Our Teen Lit Fests have always included middle and high-school students, and for a district-sanctioned, extra-curricular Saturday event, I felt it would be awkward at best to have a setting where students would be checked so only high-school students would be admitted to her session(s). I don’t understand the censorship issue at all. All of our lit fests to date are outside of school being in session and to that end, I think we enjoy the right to determine who will and who will not participate.”
Hopkins said she would be participating in the Austin Teen Author festival in October, when she would also be signing books in Humble, and is also taking part in a Houston teen book convention next spring. “In the wake of this, in comments that came into my blogs or articles about the debacle, I have been called things like ignorant, stupid, disgusting, narcissistic, money-hungry, power-hungry, etc,” she said. “None are true, and all hurt to a degree. However, I accept all that and more because I feel it’s hugely important to take a stand against censorship, not only for myself, but for every other person out there. That’s why those other authors withdrew, and if it happened to one of them, I would have done the same thing.”
De la Cruz said she was also trying to find a time when she would be able to speak in the area, “so that the kids who missed out on seeing us will have a chance to hear from us”. “I know there are some who think maybe it would have been better if we had gone to the festival and talked about Ellen’s books rather than boycott,” she said. “But I really believe that actions speak louder than words, and the kids will learn that censorship should not be tolerated.”
Article by Alison Flood