With the rescinding of Ellen Hopkins’ key to the Teen Lit Festival in Humble, Texas, some lively writer-chat has been taking place. Deemed too controversial AFTER she was asked to keynote, Ellen received an “Oops! Disregard that invite,” when a district librarian brought a handful of parental complaints to the superintendent. Following Ellen’s dis-invitation, authors Pete Hautman, Melissa de la Cruz, Matt de la Peña, and Tera Lynn Childs dis-invited themselves from the event in a show of solidarity.
Because I like Ellen (and her books), it’s been good to see her respond with strength and confidence. And it got me thinking about the time I was uninvited to a school visit. I told a writer friend about it during Banned Books Week one year. She was outraged for me. “You should tell everyone!” she said. “What was so offensive in your book that they didn’t want you there?”
I told her that the book, LEGEND OF THE VALENTINE, had religious content. And my friend said, “Katherine! Why are you trying to bring religion into the schools?”
It seems a fair question. I’d been invited by a teacher who loved my book. I wanted to go, but I was hesitant. What if they thought I was a “stealth” author determined to evangelize the children for my particular flavor of religion? So I wrote a letter to the coordinator of the event, explaining that there was this aspect of the book (It’s about the Civil Rights Movement, and also has the story of early Christian martyr St. Valentine, along with prayerful talk about loving one’s enemies). I planned to address religion as broadly as possible, given the diverse setting, and assured her it wouldn’t be a Sunday school lesson.
Nevertheless, she was uneasy and she asked me not to come. I suggested some other authors for her, and that was that.
Personally, I think we need to be less afraid about religion in the public arena than we are. If we can allow children to learn about and discuss spirituality and religions in a heterogenous environment, as if it is a normal part of life, we can go a long way towards diminishing the fearmongering that takes place — both among the religious and the non-religious.
But ideologies go crashing against each other when we bring up censorship and religion–specifically, Christianity–at the same time.In some quarters, censoring Christianity is okay censorship. And yes, I know that censoring and belittling other religions has been standard in this culture. I’m not for that, either.
And it’s never fun to be kicked out of the party.