So, my friend Ellen Hopkins was disinvited to speak at the Houston Teen Lit Festival next year. One of the librarians got a few parents riled up, and they told the superintendent, and then Ellen got a “thanks but no thanks” email.
I was scheduled to be one of the other YA authors at the festival, and I was very honored to be invited. I was very much looking forward to attending the festival and meeting my readers and partaking in all the fun. So I’m really bummed that this happened. It only takes a couple of angry people to ruin it for everyone. I’m very sorry to everyone in Humble Texas and to the very nice librarian who invited me, but I can’t go now.
Ellen asked me to boycott and there was never any question in my mind that it was the right thing to do.
I grew up in a country with a dictator. When I was in the third grade, our president/dictator decided that all Japanese anime was corrupting the Filipino youth. Until this happened, around 1980 or so, I very much enjoyed a steady stream of anime and robot cartoons from Japan. There was Mazinger-Z, Voltes-5, StarBlazers, and many more. I remember one with a crazy monkey (that was on Mondays) and then there was this weird cartoon where the main character, a ten year old pirate, could be a girl or a boy. (It wasn’t clear, but he/she was more than bisexual he/she was bi-gendered. It was part of the character’s magic. It was a very odd show and one of my favorites since I could not quite understand it.) The president made one decision, NO MORE JAPANESE CARTOONS and suddenly, I and millions of other kids could no longer watch our favorite shows. They were censored.
In Manila when I was growing up, LOTS of books and movies were ROUTINELY censored. It was part of life. Could we get X book? Nope. Censored! Were we going to get X Hollywood movie? Not a chance. Censored! We had to sneak in racy soap operas, vampire flicks, horror through an underground video network—we watched them on Betamax (or my parents did). The movies we were allowed to see were mostly pablum. (Did anyone see Electric Dreams? When I was in seventh grade we loved this movie. The one with Giorgio Moroder’s theme song? Together in Electric Dreams? No? Just us? Okay. Those were the kinds of movies we were allowed to watch: The love story between a man, a woman and a computer.) When I moved to America, I was happy to discover that you could watch ANYTHING here. Censorship was NOT a way of life. The freedom was dizzying.
Ellen’s books are provocative and challenging. They talk about subjects that some find uncomfortable: drug addiction, incest, teen prostitution. They also talk about love and friendship and family and they are filled with poetry (they are made of poetry). I am constantly surprised and upset and moved by these books.
These are not the kinds of books that I write, although some may find my books upsetting because of the sexual situations since my books are a little naughty. (I like to be a little naughty. I’ve always been the girl at the party who sits on the couch and gossips about everyone with a bunch of too-cool gay boys.)
But I want every kid to be able to decide whether they want to read Ellen’s books or my books, or anyone’s books. Kids should be able to choose. (Parents can choose not to let their kids read something, and that’s fine. They can also choose not to let their kids go hear someone speak, but you can’t ruin it for other people’s kids whose parents decided THEY can hear a speaker or read a book.)
I didn’t get to choose when I was nine years old, and I remember being INCREDIBLY UPSET. In fact, the absence of those Japanese cartoons is something I have been MOURNING for twenty-years now. I really missed it when they took it away, and I was HORRIFIED to find out that SOMEONE ELSE decided WHAT I could watch. (Someone who was not my parents.) It really disturbed me. It CONTINUES to disturb me.
I’m really sorry this happened, and the dark cloud it’s put on the festival, and I’m very sorry I won’t be attending.
But like Pete Hautman, who is also not attending, I believe that as a writer, we have to stick up for each other, and against censorship, and against people who want to tell everyone else what to think, what to read, what to watch.
Kids are smarter than you think. They’re savvier, they’re more critical, they’re wise. I wish Ellen, Pete and I had a chance to go to Teen Lit Festival in Houston. I REALLY wish it hadn’t happened. But I also wish I had been able to watch those Japanese cartoons when I was little.