Laurie Halse Anderson on Censorship
Laurie Halse Anderson is known for her critically acclaimed books, her advocacy for survivors of sexual assault, and her fight against censorship. Her book, Speak, holds the #60 spot on the ALA’s Top 100 Banned Books of 2000-2009, and Twisted and Wintergirls have also faced criticism for the issues they cover. While some authors may shy away from controversy, Anderson has not; instead, she has become an outspoken advocate for intellectual freedom. She has been “honored for her battles for intellectual freedom by the National Coalition Against Censorship and the National Council of Teachers of English” and includes resources for educators battling censorship in their own schools on her website (Anderson, 2019).
In her efforts to stop censorship, Anderson has focused on several aspects. She notes that it is understandable to want to protect one’s children in such scary times; of course one would want to make sure their child isn’t being exposed to content that can harm them (Anderson, 2015). But there is a difference between protecting your child and infringing upon the rights of other children; additionally, children already face so many of these issues, so protecting them can only keep them from necessary information. When writing about these sensitive and difficult topics — such as suicide, violence, eating disorders, abuse, and so on — the point isn’t to shock teenagers, or harm them; it’s to offer them a chance to see their lives reflected in literature. As she notes in a letter to a school district that tried to ban Twisted, “Why on earth would someone like me put things like that in a book? Because readers who can experience those decisions – by reading about them – and appreciate the consequences of those actions – by seeing those consequences affect the lives of a book’s characters – are less likely to do the stupid, dangerous and occasionally horrifying things themselves” (Anderson, 2009). Books can offer teens a way to explore issues responsibly; they can see consequences and how one mistake can change everything, as it did for Tyler Miller in Twisted.
Anderson recognizes that some parents may know what their children can or cannot handle; some teens truly aren’t ready for the content contained in Anderson’s books. In those cases, she agrees that parents or guardians have the right to request an alternative; it’s their right (Anderson, n.d.) However, as an advocate for intellectual freedom, she argues that these concerned parents cannot and should not seek to encourage book bannings or removals in schools and libraries (Anderson, n.d.).
In her attempts to promote intellectual freedom and access to YA literature, Anderson emphasizes the role that such literature can have in a young person’s life. As she writes, “great young adult literature connects us. It bridges the darkness. It saves lives” (Anderson, 2011).
Censoring Marginalized Voices
While there are many concerning issues in regards to book challenges, one of the most pressing is the amount of such books that are by and about people of color and LGBTQ+ groups. Six of the eleven top banned/challenged books of 2018 according to the ALA include LGBTQ+ content (ALA, 2019). Four books out of ten were challenged for the same reasons in 2017 (ALA, 2019). Books by literary greats such as Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Mildred Taylor, Alice Walker, and Walter Dean Myers, as well as new favorites such as Angie Thomas, Khaled Hosseini, Mariko and Jillian Tamaki, and Marjane Satrapi have all been challenged, thereby silencing voices of color, and those from outside the West (ALA, n.d.). While banning a book can certainly bring it more attention, and expand its readership, it also makes it harder for children and teens to access these materials. Whether schools remove these books quietly or “with a bang,” youth are the ones who suffer here. Children who need to find themselves in literature — like a transgirl might in George by Alex Gino, or a black teen looking for courage to fight police brutality might in The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas — find it difficult to do so when parents, schools, and communities decide what is appropriate for every child based on backlash and fear. Even self-censorship can have deleterious effects; a teen who cannot find reliable, accurate information on sexual health in their public library may find dangerous information online or from friends. Librarians and educators have a professional duty to ensure that a wide variety of viewpoints are stocked in the library, and morally, they hold the duty to ensure that youth of all backgrounds find the collections to be representative of their lives, and the world in which they are being prepared for.
Laurie Halse Anderson talking about censorship:
“I wind up speaking about censorship a LOT. And I really enjoy it. While few things make me as angry as censorship, I've learned that just screaming at people accomplishes nothing. It is super important to understand the motivation that lies behind censorship attempts: fear. Adults are afraid for their kids - they have a point because the world is big and scary sometimes. But instead of teaching their kids how to deal with the Big and Scary, they have the mistaken idea that if their kids don't read about real things, then those things won't happen.
“When it first happened I used to cry. I couldn't believe anyone would do that to another person's work."
I was a simple country girl, unwise in the ways of the world.
ALA (n.d.). Top 100 banned/challenged books: 2000 - 2009. American Library Association. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/top-100-bannedchallenged-books-2000-2009
ALA (2019). Top Ten Most Challenged Books Lists. American Library Association. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/top10
Anderson, L.H. (n.d.). About the author. Retrieved from http://madwomanintheforest.com/about-the-author/
Anderson, L.H. (n.d.). Challenges to Twisted. Retrieved from http://madwomanintheforest.com/educators/censorship/challenges-to-twisted/
Anderson, L.H. (n.d.) What is your opinion on censorship in general? Retrieved from http://madwomanintheforest.com/question/what-is-your-opinion-on-censorship-in-general/
Anderson, L.H. (2011, June 5). Stuck between rage and compassion. Retrieved from http://madwomanintheforest.com/2011/06/05/stuck-between-rage-and-compassion/
Anderson, L.H. (2015, September 29). I am Laurie Halse Anderson. Ask me anything [online forum]. Retrieved from https://www.reddit.com/r/books/comments/3mv3lw/i_am_laurie_halse_anderson_awardwinning_and_new/