Authors Speak Out on Reading without Censorship - National Council of Teachers of English
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Authors Speak Out on Reading without Censorship

No one knows better the importance of reading than the authors of the books we want our students to read. Following are quotes from ten authors about why students need to read widely, especially those books that some adults may find troubling.

Kate Messner, author of The Seventh Wish, The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z, and Sugar and Ice

We know books are important. I know from talking with kids that books can act as a mirror of their lives. [Through books] a child can feel that even though we’re not talking about [a difficult issue they are going through] in the classroom, that even though my teachers aren’t talking about these things, I am still not alone. —

Mildred Taylor, author of The Land, The Road to Memphis, and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry:

Although there are those who wish to ban my books because I have used language that is painful, I have chosen to use the language that was spoken during the period, for I refuse to whitewash history. The language was painful and life was painful for many African Americans, including my family. I remember the pain. —

Anthony Breznican, author of Brutal Youth:

Trusting a kid to read something that is on the high end of their maturity level is a great act of trust. Most kids rise to the responsibility and are grateful to be treated like adults. We are gifting them secrets with these rabble-rousing books, lessons learned the hard way that are presented in safe story form that can be closed, walked away from, and considered for another time–when those situations may present themselves in real life. Parents who want to ban books are saying: “No, your child isn’t ready. None of these kids is ready.” And in some case, “No one should EVER be ready.” And that’s why it’s important to stand firm against pompous naysayers. —

Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple and In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens:

Great Literature is help for humans. It is medicine of the highest order. In a more aware culture, writers would be considered priests. And, in fact, I have approached writing in a distinctly priestess frame of mind. I know what The Color Purple can mean to people, women and men, who have no voice. Who believe they have few choices in life. It can open to them, to their view, the full abundance of this amazing journey we are all on. It can lift them into a new realization of their own power, beauty, love, courage. It is a book that unites the present with the past, therefore giving people a sense of history and of timelessness they might never achieve otherwise. And even were it not ‘great’ literature, it has the best interests of all of us humans at heart. That we grow, change, challenge, encourage, love fiercely in the awareness that real love can never be incorrect. —


Aaron Hartzler, author of Rapture Practice and What We Saw:

So many adults I know want to be able to broach difficult subjects with their young readers and are stymied by how to bring it up. Books are the perfect jumping off point—the perfect conversation starter. You want to know what your son or daughter thinks about a topic you’re afraid to bring up? Authors all over the place have started the conversation for you! You don’t even have to hand the book to your teenager. Just leave it out on the coffee table. I promise, it’ll disappear. Then wait a week and ask, “So. What’d you think of that book? —


Carrie Mesrobian,  author of Sex & Violence and Cut Both Ways

There are places in the world that do not have libraries at all. Or they don’t have libraries that circulate books. You can read them in the library but not take them home. We have a tradition of free public schools and free public libraries in the United States because we believe in the notion that an educated populace is a cornerstone of democracy. We fall short of that notion, to be sure, but I think the ideal is there. And when people interfere in others’ choice of reading material, it seems as if they don’t believe in that ideal. And it seems like they assume that everyone everywhere has the time, the choice, the ability and the energy to read whatever they want. This is not the case. Books cannot hurt you, because they help you invest in your own intelligence. Divesting a person of their own intelligence? That’s what hurts. —

Walter Dean Myers, author of Fallen Angels and Monster:

Book challenges are, primarily, generated by the fear that a book will somehow damage a child by changing what is considered to be a valued norm. In my mind when a book touches upon a controversial subject it is precisely because the norm has already been significantly changed, and the author has had the courage to acknowledge this. Many of the challenges to Fallen Angels have dealt with the use of profanity in the book. The execution of war involves, on a very basic level, getting law abiding, and humane people into a mode that allows them to kill other human beings for whom they have no personal animosity. The use of profanity is part of the conversion process as is the dehumanizing effect of referring to an enemy with such terms as ‘gooks’ and ‘slants’. When I write a book that is liable to be challenged it is because I have detected a change in what is advertised as the accepted norm.”  —

Coe Booth, author of Tyrell, Kendra, and Kinda Like Brothers:

First of all, parents and adults put limits on kids. What we think they will like. In other words, if you’re from a white community, you would not be interested in XYZ. All of the kids—we think that they’re only going to be interested in thinble to think thematically. I get letters all the time from young people, and they tell me “I’m white I live in the suburbs. My life is nothing really like Tyrell’s, but my dad is not with us too. I know what it feels like.” Or “I have trouble with my mom. It’s hard to talk to her.” Or “me and my girlfriend are having trouble.” They’re not thinking about where Tyrell is or what his race is. They’re thinking that they connect with Tyrell on a thematic level and what the story is about…

I think that reading books like mine, and just different books, different cultures, different experiences, like I said before, it makes young people see that they are connected. There are ways that they’re not so different. They’re not so far apart. They have the same struggles with their parents, school, relationships, you know, the same exact things. Yes, they may speak a little different. They might live in a different kind of neighborhood. But underneath all of that, they’re still someone trying to figure out who they are, which is basically what young adult literature is, right?   —

Bill Konigsberg, author of The Porcupine of Truth and Openly Straight:

First, I would say that I get it. I’m not a parent of a child, but I’m a parent of two Labradoodes. They aren’t quite the same, I know. But I do know that when I go to the dog park, when I see things that I fear might hurt my furry child, I want them gone. Wanting to remove challenging books from reading lists or library shelves comes from, I think, a place of caring. But the dog park analogy ends there. A nasty, untrained dog might hurt my fluffy girl, but ideas will not maim your child. What can hurt a child, however, is preventing them from encountering difficult or complex issues in the safe form of a book. We authors have done you a favor! You can read a book with your teen and talk to them about it! You can share your own views and hear theirs, and discuss! How safe is that? What an opportunity to bond with your child! You’re welcome. —

Toni Morrison, author of Beloved, Sula, and Song of Solomon:

The thought that leads me to contemplate with dread the erasure of other voices, of unwritten novels, poems whispered or swallowed for fear of being overheard by the wrong people, outlawed languages flourishing underground, essayists’ questions challenging authority never being posed, unstaged plays, cancelled films — that thought is a nightmare. As though a whole universe is being described in invisible ink. Certain kinds of trauma visited on peoples are so deep, so cruel, that unlike money, unlike vengeance, even unlike justice, or rights, or the goodwill of others, only writers can translate such trauma and turn sorrow into meaning, sharpening the moral imagination. —

Find more authors writing about the students’ right to read in the NCTE Intellectual Freedom Center.  And, remember these good words about why students should read broadly as you Build Your Stack.