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September 30, 2009 / schulerbooks

Manifesto: It’s Banned Books Week. Fight With Us.

Bestselling and highly controversial young adult author Ellen Hopkins visited Schuler of Okemos yesterday to promote her new book Tricks, but it was the subject of censorship that initially took front stage in her talk.

Ellen spoke with passion about her recent struggle with a school district in Norman, OK. You can read her account of it in her Myspace blog, but the gist is that Ellen was scheduled to speak at the middle school (an event that the librarian won at an auction raising funds for a bookseller’s cancer-related medical bills!), but the event was canceled and her books pulled from the school shelves after a parent insisted on the review of Crank and Glass.

I’ve read both books, which tell the very dark and powerful story of Ellen’s own daughter’s decent into methamphetamine addiction. Both have a strong anti-drug message.

This is a potent example of the ongoing struggle for reader rights. In answer to the many challenges to her books, Simon and Schuster asked Ellen to compose a poem for Banned Books Week, which will be the opening reading for our Banned Books Read-Athon tonight at Schuler of Lansing (7 p.m.). I try to keep these blogs relatively short, but this is important enough to include in it’s entirety.


To you zealots and bigots and false
patriots who live in fear of discourse.
You screamers and banners and burners
who would force books
off shelves in your brand name
of greater good.
You say you’re afraid for children,
innocents ripe for corruption
by perversion or sorcery on the page.
But sticks and stones do break
bones, and ignorance is no armor.
You do not speak for me,
and will not deny my kids magic
in favor of miracles.
You say you’re afraid for America,
the red, white and blue corroded
by terrorists, socialists, the sexually
confused. But we are a vast quilt
of patchwork cultures and multi-gendered
identities. You cannot speak for those
whose ancestors braved
different seas.
You say you’re afraid for God,
the living word eroded by Muhammed
and Darwin and Magdalene.
But the omnipotent sculptor of heaven
and earth designed intelligence.
Surely you dare not speak
for the father, who opens
his arms to all.
A word to the unwise.
Torch every book.
Char every page.
Burn every word to ash.
Ideas are incombustible.
And therein lies your real fear.

— Ellen Hopkins

Join the Ellen Hopkins Facebook Fan Page, and after the jump, check out an article by the Guardian newspaper about Ellen and her poem.


Banned Books Week adopts author’s anti-censorship poem as manifesto

US author Ellen Hopkins, whose young adult fiction tackles controversial topics, writes poem addressing censorship to coincide with Banned Books Week

An author of young adult fiction whose books have provoked bans and complaints in the US for tackling controversial topics such as teenage prostitution and drug addiction has written a poem that is being used to champion the cause of banned books across America.

The author, Ellen Hopkins, this week saw a school visit in Oklahoma cancelled after a parent complained about her New York Times bestselling novels Crank and Glass – loosely based on her own daughter’s story of addiction to crystal meth. “I have had my books challenged before, but never had an event cancelled because of a challenge. I was then and remain incensed that a single person could go to the school and make that happen,” said Hopkins. “No one person should have that kind of power. No person should be able to choose what anyone else’s child can or can’t read, let alone who they can see speak to. Some of the kids were devastated.”

The idea to write a poem addressing banned books and censorship came to her after all her books were banned from an Idaho town, she said, because her novel Burned features a Mormon girl who is questioning her faith because she can’t get help for her family, whose patriarch is abusive. “Pocatello has a large Mormon population, but half the town isn’t Mormon. And the book isn’t a slam against the religion, anyway … it’s one girl’s story,” she said. “How can half the town censor the other’s ability to read something? Anyway, that’s where the idea came for me to write a poem.”

The poem has now been picked up as the manifesto for Banned Books Week, the annual American celebration of the freedom to read, which kicks off on Saturday and which will see hundreds of libraries and bookshops across the country drawing attention to censorship with displays of challenged books and events. According to the American Library Association, there were 513 challenges to books reported in 2008, up from 420 the previous year.

“I most definitely see the problem growing here, with the quite vocal, extreme right-wing power grab going on right now,” said Hopkins. “My books speak to hard subject matter. Addiction. Cutting. Thoughts of suicide. Abuse. Sexual abuse. All these issues affect children. Look at the statistics. Closing your eyes won’t make these things go away.

Why not talk about them with your kids, to arm them with knowledge. Open the books with them. Listen to the author speak with them.”

Objections from challengers have ranged from upset over positive portrayals of homosexuals to books which were seen as too sexual or too violent, according to Banned Books Week. In 2008 Khaled Hosseini’s novel The Kite Runner became one of the top 10 most challenged books, with objectors complaining about its sexual content and offensive language. Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy was the second most challenged of the year, over its “political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, and violence”, while And Tango Makes Three, a children’s story about two male penguins bringing up a chick, or for complainants “a homosexual storyline that has been sugar-coated with cute penguins”, topped the list for the third year running.

Hopkins said that she and others like her were “quite willing” to stand up to the “vocal, extreme (wrong) minority”. “Torch every book. / Char every page. / Burn every word to ash. / Ideas are incombustible. / And therein lies your real fear,” she wrote in her poem Manifesto. “The First Amendment is alive and well in America and if they don’t believe it, they’d better keep both eyes open. Their power is limited, even if they don’t know it yet,” she said.


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