Laurie Halse Anderson on censorship, book bans and democracy | Wender Mind Kids

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This interview has been edited for clarity, length and flow.

1. Can you talk to me about the first time you heard about one of your books being banned or contested?

Laurie Halse Anderson: yeah damn I think the first time would have been a few months later Speak was published. It was released in October ’99. So it would have been early 2000. So I received either an email or a letter from a teacher telling me that a parent would come to their school and demand that the book be taken out. And you want to know my reaction?

I screamed, I cried. I felt like this person thought I was trying to harm children. And obviously I had so much to learn… I was appalled that anyone could think that a book about a rape victim struggling to find the courage to speak up about what happened to her could be harmful.

2. What kind of outcry was it? What arguments are people using?

Anderson: Speak is repeatedly referred to as pornography, or at least since 2010. In 2010, there was a famous incident involving a guy named Wesley Scroggins, whose name is kind of burned into my eyeballs. Despite homeschooling his own children, he called for changes to be made in the English curriculum, the health curriculum and, I’m pretty sure, social studies. And he made a really big deal out of it Speak be “pornographic”.

[Note: The op-ed, which was called “Filthy books demeaning to Republic education,” written by Scroggins in the Missouri News-Leader, is available here, and describes Speak as “soft pornography.” In support of Anderson at the time, the Penguin Young Readers Group got a full-page advertisement in The New York Times.]

3. Why is it so valuable for you as a writer to speak out against censorship right now?

Anderson: I am a white straight lady. I think in a way I feel like speaking out loud about this bullshit makes me even more responsible because I don’t get death threats, but people who occupy particularly intersectional spaces do get it.

4. What would you say to voters who are unsure about voting or who don’t see big differences between political parties?

Anderson: Well I would ask them: do you want a country based on supporting all families? Helping all families to be the best they can be? Or do you want a country based on pitting one group against another, fueled by hate rather than democracy?

Right wing politicians are very clever at making people afraid and angry because the feelings of fear and anger are the reason our brains are wired… You can tell people There is a threatand they will either want to run away or they will want to conquer it.

What it boils down to for me is do we want to be a nation or not? To live in participatory democracy and honestly, it’s still a question mark.

5. Do you feel that the fact that your books have been challenged or pushed back over the years has influenced your writing or publishing path?

Anderson: Never. I’ve never had an editor, publicist, or agent suggest that. I think I’m trying to be more public than I would otherwise be, you know, like writing books that don’t have that intense content that reflects the experiences of so many of my readers.

6. How can we support people working to keep contested and banned books in the hands of readers?

Anderson: The reason I spend so much time on social media and go to so many educator conferences is because I worry about educators. I really do. I mean, it’s pretty darn hard being a teacher or a librarian or working with kids in any capacity. Nonsense just two years ago. It was really, really hard. And so often I try to be really present, and I know a lot of other writers are doing the same.

In this way, a community tries to support. Books are an excellent tool to help children understand themselves and the world. Children’s publishing came very late in supporting books that represent all children. All the different types of children that are in the world and all the different types of identities and communities.

7. How can we support authors who produce works that are or may be challenged or banned?

Anderson: We need to make sure we continue to support all of these authors with theirs next Books. And your next Book. It’s hard enough making a living as a writer. And then having to do it in the face of these types of attacks is appalling.

8. Which books or authors would you like to highlight? Who do you recommend everyone to read?

Anderson: Grown by Tiffany D Jackson, parachutes by Kelly Yang, From the darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez and Common Dangers by Nikki Grimes.

what were you thinking about Speak, Scream, or anything else you liked about Anderson? What media do you think reports sexual violence well, and what tropes or storylines do you think are harmful? I’d love to hear your thoughts below and will be in the comments!

Who’s ready for a Banned Book Club here at Daily Kos?