Young adult author Ellen Hopkins is no stranger to controversy. Her teen books–which deal with very difficult yet realistic subject matter such as drug addiction, suicide, and self-harm–are often found hovering near the top of the lists of books that have been banned in schools or libraries. But an event this week shed new light on an age-old problem: censorship.
Hopkins was scheduled to speak to students at Panther Valley High School yesterday, but leading up to the visit, parent protests, school board intervention, and even obstacles from the school’s administration almost prevented the visit from taking place, despite the fact that students raised the funds to pay Hopkin’s travel honorarium. Some students with signed parent permission slips were blocked from attending the author’s presentation, and one teacher reportedly gathered the students who attended his church and kept them in his classroom during the assembly to have a prayer meeting instead.
According to remarks from the author to Good e-Reader, “As always, this started with a single parent. One person who was allowed to speak for an entire community. I have no idea what her community standing is, and I don’t care to. It is patently ridiculous that the will of one is allowed to circumvent the wishes of many. Kids whose parents wanted them to come see me speak, as evidenced by signed permission slips were not allowed that opportunity. It is disheartening to think this can be tolerated in a country that claims to value the first amendment…For those young people from solid families who are not allowed to hear differing opinions, or read about people different from themselves, their closeted viewpoints of the world not only deny them compassion, but also skewed visions of what’s real. For those whose lives mirror the things books like mine represent, they feel silenced, and only by being allowed a voice can they begin to heal.”
While access to books is something that most of us might think only happens in certain oppressive societies in far flung places, this level of censorship–especially when parents have purchased the book and given permission for their children to take part–is shocking in the 21st century.
Mark Coker, founder and CEO of Smashwords, spoke to Good e-Reader about the incident and how digital publishing’s very core principle is to make access to the written word a reality for everyone.
“It’s really pretty pathetic. We have an American city acting like a third world, religious extremist country,” explained Coker. “eBooks make it easier for parents and for readers to access content that might be socially unacceptable. It’s even worse than censorship, it’s making kids feel bad about literature. They’re painting literature as a dangerous, evil, scary thing. It’s the intolerance that concerns me about this.”
Coker has long been known as a champion for authors who’ve been denied the right to publish their books by the traditional publishing industry and is an ardent supporter of everyone’s right to at least access book creation. With this incident, Coker has also shared the importance of being an active supporter of readers’ rights to access both books and their authors.
“Readers enjoy talking about books with a community, and the community around this book has been interrupted. Shame on the school for allowing this to happen.”
Authors of every publishing model are cautioned vehemently now that they must have an online presence and actively engage with their fans. Authors are basically told they cannot have a career if they’re not accessible to their readers, yet when students take the initiative to raise thousands of dollars and an author comes to engage with her readers, the end result is a dark and judgmental unappreciation of an author’s efforts.
“eBooks make content more accessible than ever before so people can experience it, so they can experience the joys of all kinds of literature without feeling this narrow-mindedness, guilt, peer pressure, and community pressure that would prevent them accessing books.”
Hopkins continued, “I find it interesting that those supporting censorship tend to blindside. Neither myself nor the great people who had coordinated my visit were aware there was a problem until literally hours before I was supposed to appear. It’s harder to fight back that way, and I would call cowardice on the part of those opposing my visit. I’m easy to find. Talk to me. Communication is key to solving problems.”