Best Questions From A Week Of Banned Books Week Presentations
Q. If you know your books are going to get banned, why do you write them?
A. Because I know they’re going to get banned. Only kidding. I never write a book with the idea of getting it banned, but I also never write a book with the idea of not getting it banned. I tell the story the best way I can and let the chips fall.
Q. What do you say to people who want your books banned?
A. “Shut up.” (That’s my attempt at banning the banners.) When that doesn’t work, I tell them I was told from early childhood on that America is a free country. I was told that by my conservative father who had just come back from a war against this German dude who thought mind control was the best way to deal with the teeming masses.
Q. What are the biggest reasons people want your books banned?
A. 1) Use of “bad language.” 2) Inclusion of a LGBT character portrayed in a positive light. (it’s okay to include such a character if she or he is a freeway sniper or a serial killer…or maybe a cannibal.) 3) Sexual content of any type (because we know teenagers never think about, or engage in, sex.) 4) Characters who challenge authority (because we all know those in authority always know best). 5) Content that undermines “Christian Values” or pokes fun at Christian doctrine (because everyone knows Jesus couldn’t take a joke). 6) Content that focuses on racism and our society’s general acceptance of it, as long as it’s not called that. On rare occasions the politically correct left weighs in, demanding the removal of language that is racially sensitive (represented by those who think the so-called “N” word should be removed from Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird. In my books, racists use racist language).
I’m sure I’ve heard other rationale for book banning but what I’ve given you covers about 98 percent of it.
Q. You’ve been speaking out against censorship for a long time and you seem pretty practiced at it. Have there been times when you walked away thinking you changed the minds of your opposition?
A. No. Most often if they come to hear me, they come with a philosophy and a purpose. They can’t afford to break their solidarity. I’m as locked into my view as they are to theirs, so the “discussion” is pretty much wasted time, though it can get pretty hot pretty fast, so I guess it’s better than bad TV. Actually, minds get changed when kids speak up. Because so often adolescents and adults don’t communicate on more than an “as needed” basis, adults often forget the reasoning power and the passion of those kids. The rational brain of the adolescent isn’t fully developed, to be sure, but it isn’t fully undeveloped either. A number of years ago I happened to be within short driving distance of a school district in which my book Whale Talk and Walter Dean Myers’ fabulous Fallen Angels were being challenged. Fallen Angels is about a Harlem teenager gone to war in Vietnam in the late sixties, told in the realistic language you might expect. After a particularly long and fruitless discussion among combative adults during which NO minds were changed, a high school senior stepped to the microphone. He informed the board that he was a 3.8 student who had never received a grade lower than an A in his English classes. He had been offered both academic and athletic scholarships to several well-known universities, but intended to join the armed forces. “This time next year,” he said, “I won’t be at one of those universities. I’ll be in Iraq or Afghanistan. Are you telling me that if I go there to fight for my country, then come home to write about it – in a true way, like Mr. Myers did – you’re going to ban me right here in my own school?” The members of the board sat way back in their chairs. Had that young man been allowed to speak first, we’d have all been home watching Monday Night Football by then. The most powerful voices trumpeting the First Amendment come from those from whom the material is meant to be kept.
Q. Are there any books you think should be banned?
Q. So you believe all books are “worthy”?
A. Kurt Vonnegut once said something close to, “The problem with standing up against censorship is some of the shit you have to stand up FOR.” Believing in freedom of expression does not mean you believe all expression has the same value. Here’s all you need to know. If one book gets in the crosshairs (to use a Sarah Palin metaphor) all books are in the crosshairs. This isn’t about evaluating books. It’s about freedom to choose, plain and simple.
Q. What about child pornography?
A. Child pornography is illegal.
Q. Where do you get your ideas?
A. Pocatello, Idaho.
Q. You said you are sixty-eight years old. You don’t look a day over forty. In your travels around the country, how do you go about fending off the romantic advances of your most ardent fans?
A. George Clooney and I have talked a lot about this. Neither of us has come up with a satisfactory strategy.
Q. Are any of these questions made-up?
A. All questions are made up.
Q. Okay, I get that, but are any of these questions made up by you.
A. Well, maybe one…