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Banned Books Week Q&A: Nancy Garden

Nancy Garden may best be known for her widely acclaimed – and widely challenged – 1982 novel Annie on My Mind (one of the first books for teens putting lesbian characters in a positive light), but there’s more to Nancy than Annie.  She is the other of dozens of books for young readers, including Good Moon Rising, The Year They Burned the Books, Molly’s Family, and, her latest, Endgame. She is also the author of the collection of essays and stories, Hear Us Out! Many of Nancy‘s books have raised controversy, as many of her characters struggle with some very real scenarios that some adults don’t think young people should read about.  Being the First Amendment Advocate that she is, I had to get Nancy Garden for our Banned Books Week Q&A.  Here are her responses:

BookPeople: What book(s) of yours have been banned or challenged and what were the reasons given?
Nancy Garden:
Annie on My Mind is the main one–challenged and/or around 7 times, mostly for condoning /promoting homosexuality and being age inappropriate. Annie was the subject of a successful First Amendment Good Moon Rising and Holly’s Secret (along 13 other books, for being gay-positive). And my nonfiction book Witches was challenged because it contains information on covens that the challengers feared could “easily be used to form a coven.”

BP: What was your reaction when you first heard your book(s) were being challenged?
NG:
Although Witches was the first book of mine to be challenged, the first one I heard about was ANNIE, and I heard about that when it was burned on the steps of the building housing the Kansas City School Board.  What was my reaction? I was stunned. Only Nazis burn books, I thought!

NancyGardenPhotoBP: How do you feel knowing there are people out there who don’t want young readers to have access to your books?
NG: It saddens me and makes me angry–not only that people don’t want kids to have access to some of my books, but that they don’t want kids to have access to many other books as well.  It saddens me that some adults are afraid that reading widely can harm their children, and that bad things will happen to their children if they’re exposed to ideas of which their parents don’t approve. It saddens me especially that many adults feel that they themselves should not only control what their own children read–which they of course have every right to do–but that they, by trying to ban certain books, should also seek to control what other people’s children read, which they of course have no right to do.

BP: Has having your work banned or challenged changed the way you write?
NG: No.

BP: Sexuality, magic, expletives, race, and LGBT themes (among other topics) are often the reasons people challenge books. Why do you write about these topics, and why do you think it’s important that they are included in young people’s literature?
NG: First of all, I think kids need to be exposed to a wide range of subjects and ideas in order to understand the world around them and in order to develop their own opinions. I wrote about witches in a non-fiction series about occult subjects, tracing beliefs around the world and through the ages about vampires, werewolves, devils and demons, and witches because many kids are intrigued by these subjects and in order to give them the social and cultural and political history of them. I write about LGBTQ people and issues because when I was a young lesbian growing up in the closeted 50s there were no books for kids in which I could myself and my struggles; I longed for such books and vowed someday to write one.  Kids in all minorities need to see themselves in books, and kids who aren’t members of minorities need to “meet” people unlike themselves in books, too.

BP: Has your status as the author of banned books affected your career as a writer?
NG: Yes–it has allowed me to speak out about LGBTQ issues and literature, and about censorship and the First Amendment.

BP: What do the terms “censorship” and “intellectual freedom” mean to you?
NG:
Some people think censorship only exists when the government prevents a book (for example) from being published or distributed, but the word has come to be used more narrowly. When a school board pulls all copies of a specific title, or  all copies of books that fit a certain category–the occult, for example, or homosexuality–from school library shelves, that’s usually taken to be an example of censorship as well. We don’t have much of the first kind in this country, thank goodness (although we’ve come close when it comes to the Internet), but we do have plenty of the second.
Intellectual freedom is the freedom to read, hear, view, and say anything one wants to read, hear, view, and say as long as it doesn’t arouse people to riot or to commit crimes. Of course disagreement exists as to what might arouse people to riot or commit crimes!

BP: What are your favorite banned books, and why?
NG: I don’t know if I have favorite banned books, but many of the books that appear regularly on ALA’s “banned books” lists are books I greatly admire: The Chocolate War, In the Night Kitchen, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, It’s Perfectly Normal, King & King, And Tango Makes Three, The Color Purple, The Giver, the Harry Potter series, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Athletic Shorts – these are just off the top of my head – the list goes on and on!

BP: If you could say anything to Judy Blume, a literary legend and other of many banned books, what would you say?
NG: I’d say “thank you” – Thank you, Judy, for fighting so hard and so long for intellectual freedom and the First Amendment, especially as regards books.

BP: What advice would you give a student (or parent, or concerned citizen) whose school or library is facing a book challenge?
NG: Get in touch with the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom; they’ll want to know about it, and they have a great deal of helpful information when it comes to fighting challenges.  Write letters to your local paper in support of the book and author being challenged, and speak out publicly if you can.

BP: Since burning books is tragic, but bonfires can be fun, what should we burn instead?
NG: I’ll pass on this one, I think!

Thanks so much to Nancy Garden! Readers, keep your eye out for more responses from banend and challenged authors here at the BookKids Blog!

About EKA

E. Kristin Anderson grew up in Westbrook, Maine and is a graduate of Connecticut College. She has a fancy diploma that says “B.A. in Classics,” which makes her sound smart but has not helped her get any jobs in Ancient Rome. Once upon a time she worked for The New Yorker magazine, but she decided being a grown up just wasn’t for her. Currently living in Austin, Texas, Kristin is an assistant editor at Hunger Mountain for their YA and Children's section and a contributing editor at Found Poetry Review. Kristin is the co-editor of the DEAR TEEN ME anthology (Zest Books, 2012), based on the website of the same name. As a poet she has been published worldwide in around two dozen literary journals from the UK indie-queen Fuselit, to Cordite in Australia to the US’ Post Road and the Cimarron Review to the sci fi mag Asimov’s Science Fiction, and she has two forthcoming chapbooks: A GUIDE FOR THE PRACTICAL ABDUCTEE (Red Bird Chapbooks) and A JAB OF DEEP URGENCY (Finishing Line Press). She hand-wrote her first trunk book at sixteen. It was about the band Hanson and may or may not still be in a notebook at her parents’ house. Kristin’s work appears in the anthology COIN OPERA II, a collection of poems about video games from Sidekick Books and FUTUREDAZE, an anthology of YA SciFi from Underwords. She is represented by Christina Hogrebe at the Jane Rotrosen Agency.

4 comments on “Banned Books Week Q&A: Nancy Garden

  1. As Nancy Garden acknowledges, no books have been truly banned in the USA for about a half a century. See “National Hogwash Week.”

    Also see “US Libraries Hit Back Over Challenges to Kids Books,” by Sara Hussein, Agence France-Presse [AFP], 6 September 2009.

  2. Dan,

    Whether a book is banned by a government or a library or school , the heart of the matter is that we are denying young people (and people in general, in the case of public libraries), access to literature. Intellectual freedom is something that makes our country great, and the OIF and ALA’s support of this intellectual freedom is something I – and the BookKids Blog – will continue to support.
    You have the right to choose what you and your children want to read. You don’t have the right to choose that for anyone else, regardless of your beliefs. Please respect that.

  3. Intellectual freedom has nothing to do with legal means to keep inappropriate material from children. It’s just common sense and you know it.

    Besides, protecting children from inappropriate material is a totally separate issue from censorship.

    Yes, fight censorship, but inappropriate material has nothing to do with censorship, unless you are willing to argue the US Supreme Court and various laws result in censorship.

    On the other hand, you support the ALA.

    I oppose book banning and censorship. Serious instances, real instances. I support authors saying anything they wish.

    Efforts to keep children from material inappropriate for children is not censorship, as the US Supreme Court has noted. As one ALA Councilor said:

    “It also highlights the thing we know about Banned Books Week that we don’t talk about much — the bulk of these books are challenged by parents for being age-inappropriate for children. While I think this is still a formidable thing for librarians to deal with, it’s totally different from people trying to block a book from being sold at all.”

    Totally different. Do you agree?

    Now true censorship, true book burnings, true persecution of librarians, that really happens. This is what I oppose. And I know that is what readers here oppose.

    The ALA does not oppose that. You read that right. The ALA does NOT oppose that. Read, by way of just one example, “American Library Association Shamed,” by Nat Hentoff, Laurel Leader-Call, 2 March 2007.

    I’ll ask you and anyone else reading this to explain why the ALA views book burnings, bannings, and jailed librarians in Cuba as NOT censorship, and why people legally keeping children from inappropriate material IS censorship.

    Set aside any bias in favor of the ALA and Banned Books Week. Set aside any disagreement with Thomas Sowell speaking about National Hogwash Week.

    Think for yourself–why does the ALA not only refuse to assist jailed Cuban librarians, but go further and actually thwart efforts by others to assist them? Then go further. Why should members of the public consider the ALA to be authoritative on the definition of what is censorship in local public libraries?

    Indeed, why should local libraries care one whit about an organization actively blocking efforts to assist jailed and beaten Cuban librarians and associated censorship and book burnings?

    These are legitimate questions. Honest answers may be revealing. The question is, are you willing to be honest with yourself?

  4. Dan, your “evidence” about ALA’s “condoning” of the situation in Cuba is silly. It’s just one guy’s list of things he wishes the ALA would do that they haven’t. They haven’t actually said that they support the situation, or much of anything Obviously the AMERICAN Library Association deals primarily with America. It’s sort of like saying the World Wildlife Fund hasn’t done enough about the death penalty.

    However, although I work at BookPeople and I would never called Banned Books Week “hogwash” — I think that it’s important to reinforce the ideas of free speech in any way possible, especially to schoolchildren, I actually agree that there should be a strong differentiation between age-appropriate issues and censorship. I’ve been reading all these histrionic articles about Twilight being “banned” in Australian elementary schools and my reaction to that, honestly, is like “elementary schools?! Why did they have Twilight in the first place?!” That material is not appropriate for the elementary set. It’s a tough line to draw but I understand that it must be drawn somewhere.

    On the other other hand, it really depends on the definition of inappropriate. I’m sure there are plenty of school libraries that have defined a gay romantic plot as “inappropriate material” but allow straight romantic stories with the same amount of sexual content. That’s why people get worked up about these things. Denying that there are people who use their positions of power to try to force their politics and discrimination on schoolchildren is just naive.

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