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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...
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( 56 comments — Leave a comment )