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Censorship Bites

Once again, censorship opens its nasty mouth and takes a bite out of me. This time in Humble Texas, a suburb of Houston. Let me say first thing that I did two high school visits there a couple of years ago, and they went very well. The librarians were totally supportive and, in fact, took me to the amazing Houston Rodeo afterward. So when they asked me to take part in the Teen Lit Fest they help organize, I said sure. The event is scheduled for the last weekend in January, 2011. But I won’t be there after all.


Apparently, a middle school librarian saw my name on the roster and decided my presence would somehow negatively affect her students. I’m not sure how that is possible. Maybe she thinks I sweat “edgy and dark.” (Are those things catching?) Anyway, she went to a couple of parents with her concerns. I’m guessing she knew the exact ones who would raise a stink, and they did. They went to the school board, and the superintendent, Guy Sconzo, decided to uninvite me. (He says I was never invited, but I was!)


You know, I’m kind of getting used to this, and I had just about decided not to make a big deal about it. But then another Texas librarian, who is a great supporter, e-mailed Mr. Sconzo. His reply was arrogant and condescending and really made me mad, on two fronts. First, he admitted he “relied on his head librarian’s research” in regard to my books or me or both. Meaning he never bothered to read them himself. (Censors rarely do!) Never bothered to contact me with his concerns. Didn’t listen to the other librarians who lobbied heavily to keep me on the speaker roster, or ask other teen book festival organizers about their experiences with me.


Then Mr. Sconzo went on to say that there are so many authors they could never have them all at their Teen Lit Fests. Like I’m just another author. (Oh, except one that apparently gets under people’s skin.) I am not just another author. I’m an author who is a voice for a generation that faces real problems every day. An author who tries to dissect those problems, look for reasons, suggest solutions, show outcomes to choices through characters who walk off the page. I’m an author who cares about her readership in a very real way. I am thoughtful, respectful of my readers, and not afraid to tell the truth.


That is what censors fear. The truth. Mr. Sconzo doesn’t “want to jeopardize any possible negative reaction [sic] with what has been to date completely positive for literally all concerned.” (I always wonder about school administrators who can’t write a sentence correctly.) The truth may not always be pretty, but it is positive. What's negative is hiding truth in a dark closet, pretending it doesn't exist. And worse, manipulating people with lies.


Humble ISD seems to feel they speak for Houston. I hope if you live in or near Houston, you will choose not to attend the event. Censorship only wins if we let it. And wherever you live, I hope you’ll drop an e-mail to Mr. Sconzo, telling him why you think my books are important. Please concentrate on the positives, and don’t let anger dictate what you say. Keep a respectful tone (no swear words, okay?), or your opinions won’t matter to him. But please make it clear, if you’re with me on this, that I’m not just any author. And that you don’t believe in censorship. Here is his email address: Guy.Sconzo@humble.k12.tx.us


( 56 comments — Leave a comment )
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Aug. 10th, 2010 02:56 pm (UTC)
Absolutely Unbelievable
Ellen - I continue to be amazed at the stupidity of people. What is even more upsetting is the fact that this seemed to start with a librarian. Just shameful.
Aug. 10th, 2010 02:58 pm (UTC)
Wow - just Wow. This is sad on so many levels. Teens are the least likely to censor themselves & they so want to read the truth and connect with truth-tellers. If I lived anywhere near Houston I'd be writing an email, but, as it is, comments from Indiana probably won't mean much to Mr. Sconzo.

I will, however, be retweeting your blog link and hope that any Houston followers I have will take up the call to action.
Aug. 10th, 2010 03:15 pm (UTC)
Guy Sconzo
Hi -

This is horrible, Ellen. For what it's worth, I once wrote a concerned-citizen email to Guy Sconzo because Humble ISD was potentially going to lay off a bunch of librarians. He was actually pretty reasonable in that situation, even if he is way off base in this one.

All best -

Jordan Sonnenblick
Aug. 10th, 2010 03:32 pm (UTC)
That is so awful, but sadly not surprising. Up to this past May, I worked in a small, conservative school district (what I find interesting is that it's the administrators and parents who are conservative, not the kids). The librarian and the book club she ran were all enamored of your books, and I can only imagine what would have happened had they tried to bring you for an author talk. It would have been a battle--not with the parents of the kids in the book club, but with the parents of kids who never read any books at all.

Knowing it will be a fight prevents many librarians and teachers from recommending or discussing books such as yours. Censors win before a single word is spoken.
Aug. 10th, 2010 06:41 pm (UTC)
As a middle school librarian and a huge reader of your books, I know first-hand how important your stories are to teens out there. Even though your titles are not on our shelves I have recommended many of them to my students. I've had more in-depth and personal conversations than I can recount based on the common ground that the pre-teen and myself have read one of your books. Unfortunately, there are many children out there who can totally relate to your stories because it is their life being told within the pages. Administrators that break under stress are not good to have in power. Parents need to understand that just because it might not be something you want your child to read or hear, doesn't mean that it's the right decision for the next person...that is why censorship must be wiped out!!!

BTW...I just finished an ARC of Fallout...BRAVO!! I'm passing it along to my fellow book bloggers and we will each be highlighting and reviewing your book on our blogs. Keep writing the truth Ellen. I know for a fact that your books have had huge POSITIVE impacts on students that I deal with on a daily basis!
Aug. 10th, 2010 08:17 pm (UTC)
Shared. Tweeted. Facebooked. And Emailed.

Aug. 10th, 2010 08:18 pm (UTC)
Like those made up words? Had to giggle after the example of poor grammar by our subject matter expert on censorship.
Aug. 10th, 2010 09:42 pm (UTC)
I won't attend
I won't be attending, Ellen. But I would call for all invited authors to boycott as well. This battle belongs to ALL of us.
Aug. 10th, 2010 09:56 pm (UTC)
Congratulations to Guy Sconzo for protecting the the teens of Humble from the vicious threat of .....an author???? Because you might corrupt them by...talking about your writing process? Answering questions about where you get your ideas? Telling them about the glamorous life of a professional writer? Discussing your next book? Scary. You might inspire them to WRITE!

All sarcasm aside, I am appalled at Mr. Sconzo's overall reaction. As a librarian I have tried to get your books into as many hands as possible. They tackle subjects that so few authors want to try to approach but need to be addressed. Those parts of life may not be the pretty ones, but that does not make them any less true. People like Mr. Sconzo can attempt to pretend like they do not exist but that doesn't make it go away.
Aug. 10th, 2010 10:50 pm (UTC)
Crazy how censorship is still alive. People always fear what they don't understand. If more people would read your books and those of other authors that are censored they would understand their own kids better.
Aug. 11th, 2010 12:37 am (UTC)
this sux ellen!
Aug. 11th, 2010 12:45 am (UTC)
You have been my favorite author for years now, I own many of your books, and when you sent the signed books to Michelle Zink for her Relay For Life team to use in a fundraising basket, I spent all of my money trying to win that basket(which I did by the way). I would just like to state that clearly this man has no idea what he is talking about as an adult and as a school official. The fact that he would not do his own research on yours books or you, is beyond me. I hope he receives lovely emails from many concerned students and parents, I know I sent a lengthy one to to him my-self. (:
Aug. 11th, 2010 02:05 am (UTC)
I find the librarian's initial censorship appalling! What happened to upholding a child's right to read? This bothers me as much as Mr. Sconzo's reaction.
Aug. 11th, 2010 04:17 am (UTC)
Sorry Just Won't Cut It....
I'm mortified about this situation! I can't imagine why any librarian would think to respond so negatively towards your truth-inspired novels! Honestly, it's like rejecting Jodi Picoult!! It's just like you said, though, they fear the truth. Oftentimes, the truth is a horrifying, ugly thing, but it is also enlightening. I pray these librarians/school administrators will see the error in their censorship and offer a full apology to you for their words and deeds!
Thanks for writing such inspiring and true books! At least rest assured in the fact that your readers will always love, desire, and require your honesty. :-)
Aug. 12th, 2010 02:44 am (UTC)
I just wrote him an email
I just wrote the guy an email and this is it:
"Hello, my name is Vanessa Robertson. I would like to address your censoring of Ellen Hopkins' presence at your "Teen Lit Fest". At one point in my life, I was close to the edge and Ellen's books brought me away from my belief that "drugs are the answer to my problems". They brought me into the dark lives of teens in trouble, showing the highs and lows of drug abuse. They convinced me that the lows were just too low to indulge in the highs. They inspired me to want to help people in those types of situations Ellen wrote about in her books. That is why I decided to start college to become a social worker. Ellen Hopkins has greatly inspired my own poetic voice, my choice of career, and my own choices in life. Please keep this message in mind and thank you for your time.

Have a nice day,
Aug. 12th, 2010 02:50 am (UTC)
Re: I just wrote him an email
Ellen, your books capture the total essence of "real".
Re: I just wrote him an email - ellenhopkins - Aug. 12th, 2010 02:51 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: I just wrote him an email - vanessa_emo_1 - Aug. 12th, 2010 03:18 am (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 12th, 2010 04:13 am (UTC)
That really pisses me off! It's not like they can stop us from reading the books, you know? Fuck censorship >=O
Aug. 12th, 2010 06:25 am (UTC)
Sorry about flying off the handle like that. I must control my impulses...
Aug. 12th, 2010 06:24 am (UTC)
They ban books without reading it, yet they don't ban movies,shows, video games or music? Come on. Your books are so real. After what I read in Crank and Glass the last thing I ever want to do is anymore drugs, but honestly, the language and such would not shock any teenager. As an 18 year old I've already tried weed (before I read your books, I must say), had sex for all the wrong reasons, said the F word more than a hundred times, stolen, cut myself, been sexually assaulted, considered suicide, and ended up in psychiatric. And I'm not a bad person, I was a little misguided and highly misunderstood. Your books have been a friend to me. Your characters are so real and no one can get inside the teenage mind like you can. I would simply lose all sanity if it were not for your books. Sure there are tons of other great books out there but when it comes to my life you're just the only one who can voice things and make me feel like I'm not alone, like I'm going to be okay. I don't know if I would ever have been brave enough to speak up and get help if it weren't for you. I haven't cut myself in nearly 2 years. How dare they silence you and try to act like it's not censorship.
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 13th, 2010 02:40 pm (UTC)
Re: Should all children pay?
According to the superintendent, there are more authors than they can ever use. I'm sure the event will go on. However, allowing a single person to wield such power is simply wrong. A clear message needs to be sent that this type of censorship will not be tolerated. It starts here, and where does it go? This isn't about my feelings. It's about right and wrong.

Teens have the ability to decide for themselves whether or not to send a message against censorship. Some will. Most won't. The event will go on. But it will go on without a few authors who refuse to allow censorship to thrive.
(Deleted comment)
Re: Should all children pay? - ellenhopkins - Aug. 13th, 2010 03:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 17th, 2010 04:22 pm (UTC)
Ellen, I'm glad you are getting the word out about this. I'm always amazed (AMAZED!) when parents who think a book isn't appropriate for their kids assume that it's inappropriate for ALL kids. The arrogance of that! It's plain backwards to think that you can protect a kid by keeping him/her ignorant. Ignorance makes kids sitting ducks for drug dealers and worse. If they can read about realistic consequences for bad decisions in a book, they're so much less likely to go down that road. I'm angry for you, an unfairly picked on author, but I'm especially angry for those overprotected kids who are totally unprepared for the world they confront every day.
Aug. 17th, 2010 06:24 pm (UTC)
I've read every one of your books to date (and, of course, I can't wait for Fallout and Perfect to come out) and your writing never ceases to amaze me. Because it's not about the subject matter, it's about the theme, the characters, the style, and most importantly, the outcome. Your writing makes me think and it makes me realize and it makes me want to never stop.

I'm a teen, and I can't believe that someone who sits behind a desk in a fancy office would even think that they have the right to suggest misleading children and readers. I can't believe that they would, essentially, hide behind the label that society gives them and just... restrict reading. Learning.

An email will definitely be sent. :)
Aug. 17th, 2010 08:55 pm (UTC)
Let's bite back at censorship!
I could not agree more with your feelings regarding the situation in Houston, and censorship and banned/challenged books in general. As the co-founder of a website (www.storysnoops.com) that provides book reviews from a parent's perspective, and strives to help parents find fiction that will hook their kids on reading, I feel very strongly that no reading options be taken away from my children, or from any other children for that matter. Some of the best YA lit out there is on the frequently banned or challenged list. And now, not only do we have banned literature, but banned authors! Can only imagine your frustration! On our website we are running a series of author interviews for the upcoming Banned Book Week - would love to have you participate, as someone who is not only passionate about the subject, but someone who has been "banned" herself!
Aug. 17th, 2010 09:05 pm (UTC)
Re: Let's bite back at censorship!
Absolutely. Let's do it!
Re: Let's bite back at censorship! - tiffstorysnoop - Aug. 17th, 2010 09:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Let's bite back at censorship! - ellenhopkins - Aug. 19th, 2010 08:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 18th, 2010 03:56 pm (UTC)
Ellen, I am absolutely astounded at the sheer ignorance coupled with unbridled arrogance that people can show. Their single-minded pursuit to control "what the chilluns see" rather than work with them to expand their horizons and teach them how to take what's valuable from what they read, whether or not it has any direct impact or parallels to their lives. If it's not a book that's about people just like them with experiences just like theirs, then it must not be of any value.


Something similar just went down in my former hometown of Jacksonville, FL-- not with respect to a book festival, but a summer reading list. When I expressed outrage over the situation (also caused by one person and supported by an administration that hadn't read the book in question) I was told by a commenter that the parent was merely concerned and they certainly weren't preventing students from reading the book if they so chose on their own time, but that there were so many other worthy, non-controversial novels to choose from, they didn't understand why this one book had been included on the list.


FWIW, you have my full and complete support on this one.
Aug. 18th, 2010 04:52 pm (UTC)
Barb, that's just not true that I said that the parent was merely concerned. In fact, I agreed with you that the parent shouldn't have complained if her child had other books to choose from.

My comment was that your outrage seemed to be about the fact that this parent was dictating that your child couldn't read the book and telling parents that their kids shouldn't be reading this book and that wasn't the case.
(no subject) - ex_fashioni - Aug. 18th, 2010 05:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 18th, 2010 05:46 pm (UTC)
You nailed it when you said it's truth the censors are frightened of. Most people who censor something haven't read the book in question. For example a few years ago at my church someone circulated this email telling members not to watch the film GOLDEN COMPASS as it was anti-religious. I read the books and didn't find that at all. I confronted the person who was sending the emails and she admited she didn't read the books. But the emails continued to go out with people even saying the author was against God and evil.

This makes me very angry. You do write for this generation. Your stories are real, honest, and not at all preachy. I'm sad you have to go through this. I'm a huge fan and support you!
Aug. 18th, 2010 06:12 pm (UTC)
I first became aware of this just today. I found a blog about it on Bookmoot, which then led me to Pete Hautman's blog about it. Apparently many of the other invited authors have pulled out in solidarity. Good for them. Authors should stand together on this subject no matter what they write. My hope is that the kids find out why they won't be seeing some of their favorite authors. Such a sad situation.
Keep your chin up Ms. Hopkins. I know that your books are very popular with kids here, and we have no intention of pulling them. Ever. Thank you for doing what you do.

Aug. 18th, 2010 10:16 pm (UTC)
you've got to be kidding me--a librarian started this?
It's so sad to think that a librarian started this. How could she? And that this guy just went with her opinion and ignored the rest of the library staff lobbying for Ellen. What's this librarian going to do next? Take Ellen's books off the shelves? It's as if they can't acknowledge the scary places so many teens live in. Duh. Duh duh duh.

Aug. 19th, 2010 01:02 am (UTC)
*sigh* I'm ashamed to be a YA librarian who happens to live in Humble. I don't work for the school district, I work at HPL (Houston). I wish I could bring the festival to someplace that needs it, like Houston. Our branch has so many teens that love your work, who identify with your characters. I had even announced it to a few fans at my branch. They were thrilled. Now, they're quite upset and I feel awful for bearing the bad news about the festival. I'm going to try to make it up to them.

I wrote Mr. Sconzo. I doubt I'll hear anything. Please know that many librarians in Texas and Houston are outraged at these events.
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