Saturday, September 26, 2009

Banned Book Week Kickoff

After hearing Ellen Hopkins speak today at the YA Book Conference held by Andersons bookstore, I just had to find a way to participate in Banned Book Week.

So I want to kick it off with an actual reading by Ellen Hopkins on the Manifesto she wrote for BBW.

This was reading of the manifesto was posted on the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) website and was followed up with this fantastic interview with author Ellen Hopkins.

Kids’ Right to Read Project: What was your motivation for writing the Banned Books Week Manifesto?

Ellen Hopkins: The idea for the Manifesto came from talking to my publisher around Banned Books Week. My book Burned had been and continues to be censored in Pocatello, Idaho. Although many Mormon readers have written to tell me they liked the book, Pocatello, which is a majority Mormon community, has made it so Burned is not available anywhere, including stores and libraries – everywhere. My book, whose main character was inspired by a friend of my daughter, tells the story of a girl who is abused and is questioning the world and her belief as anyone would. I tend to be outspoken and so the Banned Books Week Manifesto came out of this. Censorship is a hot button issue and I wanted the poem to address it.

KRRP: You mentioned that you are outspoken. How has that shaped your writing and your approach to “sensitive” topics?

EH: I don’t back-pedal and I don’t sugar-coat things for my readers. Crank and Glass were both based on true stories- fictionalized of course to give space to my daughter and those that the stories are based upon. I don’t feel as an author I need to tip toe around addiction, sex or anything else. In my books my characters experience things as they are. Kristina for instance feels meth is like riding a roller coaster the first few times she does it. The point is obviously kids should just say no, but they should do so because they understand the consequences of saying yes on their lives. My books allow youth an honest look at important issues affecting them.

KRRP: Why are the “controversial” parts of your books important?

EH: My books speak to real life. My latest book Tricks is about teen prostitution. To write it requires having sex in the book, and not pretty sex. It has to include sex. In Identical which is about sexual abuse by a parent and I take my readers right into the bedroom. Why not shut the door? Well, a lot of books do that and we need to really look at what is going on. What do perpetrators really look like? We expect them to be a certain way – and we need to explore our ideas of who sexual predators are to access the way to protect ourselves and our children. As adults we want to believe things like this, or drug use, are not happening anymore, or happening less and less, but that’s not the case and we need to acknowledge that in order to help the victims. We can’t make life prettier for youth, but we can arm them. In high schools today there are youth who cut, there are those who commit or think about suicide. We have to give our kids the tools.

KRRP: How has being outspoken led you to respond to censorship attempts? How have you responded in Pocatello?

EH: I haven’t been into Pocatello, but I would love to go. I’m not sure how I would address the community there, but I would love to go into the schools and speak to students, many of whom seem hungry for the kind of knowledge my books impart. I did the biggest book signing of my life in Boise because people drove all the way from Pocatello, and other points distant, to not only buy my nooks, but to hear what I had to say. I carry a strong anti-drug message when I speak, and it’s important young people especially hear a “real” story about addiction and how it affects not only the addict but also the people who love him/her, rather than “just say no.”

KRRP: What would you like youth to know about books that have been challenged or banned?

EH: I want them to know that it’s a minority trying to censor books. I want them to think about who challenges books, where banners come from and why they take things off the shelf. Who are the gatekeepers? Librarians should not try to redirect kids and censor in subtle ways and parents can try to censor, but in high school, I think kids will read what they want. It’s a better idea for a parent to read a book with their child and use it as a jumping-off place to open lines of communication.

KRRP: Have you ever felt pressure to censor yourself as a writer?

EH: I have a really good idea of who my readers are and always write with a sensitivity to my audience. I use the F word when necessary, but there are words I won’t use, mainly because I don’t like them. I don’t write about body parts when I write about sex. It’s not about the physiological, it’s more important for teens to read about the emotional aspects. I do think there are times when self-censorship is important, however. While I fully believe in the First Amendment, there are times when “free speech” leads to the kind of fear we’re seeing in America today. And that fear is driven by distortion, not to mention out-and-out lies; I think the pundits responsible should consider the hysteria they’re creating, all in the name of money.

KRRP: Do you have any advice for other authors?

EH: Authors have to write for their characters, for who they are, that’s the strength of books. Don’t worry about censors. Just write the story you need to tell and the rewards will come. I have maintained a file of letters from readers who tell me my books have helped them turn away from drugs, suicide and other monumental choices. If you are challenged, send the censors letters like these. It should stop the challenge.

KRRP: How do you plan to spend Banned Books Week this year?

EH: I’ll be speaking at high school and holding book signings to promote the right to read.

When I saw Ellen today, I actually shed many tears as she read the letters from her readers on how much her books have impacted them to make the right choices or understand what their friends and family are going through to due to her books. She is an amazing woman and author and her books should get into the hands of ANY tween/teen/adult who wants to read them.

If you haven't yet heard the deal about her canceled school visit in Norman, Oklahoma - check it out here.


  1. I haven't read any of Ellen's books but I think it's sad that books are still being banned at this day and age. I think banning books is a double edged sword. It makes people all the more curious and more determined to get their hands on the book.

  2. I had no idea until recently that book were still being banned, it's really a shame!

  3. I have two Ellen Hopkins books that I need to read. I think she is just so spot-on in her opinions about banned books. It really is the minority which is trying to ban them, so why should they dictate what your own kid reads?

    That is messed up.

  4. Great interview. I haven't read any of her books but it sounds like she's dealing with difficult and taboo subjects openly and honestly, which is what our kids need. Banning books is ridiculous to me (I've read many of the books on the "banned book list" and enjoyed them, learned from them and I can't figure out why they'd even be banned). If you have a personal problem with the morals in the story or the subject, etc., then don't read it but don't prevent me from doing so.

  5. I hadn't heard about her before.. now I'm curious
    I like the interview!

  6. This has really been building my awareness of how many books are actually still banned. I really didn't think they did that anymore. It's a shame.

  7. I haven't read Ellen's books yet but they are at the top of my wishlist. I have heard such great things about them. I can't believe book banning is still happening. It's just horrible. =[

  8. I havent read any of Ellen's books either but its sad how even today books are being banned.

  9. Great post, and some powerful answers! I've never read Ellen Hopkins, but I've heard so many good things about her writing (especially in the last week) that I'm going to give it a try. Happy BBW!

  10. I've seen Ellen Hopkins books all over the place, but I have never read them. I always seem to pick them up, but I never buy them. After reading this and hearing her complete dedication to her art I think I have to read something by her.

  11. I really want to read an Ellen Hopkins books cause I've never read 1 b4. I love the poem she said (I read it b4 I saw her say it)

  12. This is horrible! I love her books and I think everyone should read them because you could learn something from them. Its amazing what she does with just a few words.


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