Excerpt from Places I Never Meant to Be: Page 5

This book is dedicated to Leanne Katz to commemorate a life spent trying to prevent voices from being silenced. (Leanne died in 1997.) It is our way of thanking her and NCAC for their hard and valuable work, which continues today under the able direction of Joan Bertin and her small staff of dedicated coworkers. All the royalties from the sale of this book win go directly to NCAC to benefit their work.

Many censored writers are missing from this collection: Maya Angelou, Stephen King, Lois Lowry, Margaret Atwood, Alice Walker, Richard Peck, Bruce Coville, Ken Follett, Kurt Vonnegut, J.D. Salinger, Shel Silverstein, the anonymous author of Go Ask Alice, to name just a few. Some, like my friend, Robert Cormier, whose I Am the Cheese started the fracas in Panama City, say they just can’t write short stories. I know what they mean. I’ve never been a short-story writer either. Others were trying to meet deadlines and weren’t able to fit this project into their busy schedules. But almost all have joined us in spirit.

I’m grateful to the outstanding writers who have contributed to this anthology. They’ve come up with a fascinating group of characters. In a wry story of teenage love, you’ll meet a couple who have been best friends for years, deciding the time is right to lose their virginity. In another story, the unforgettable Sarabeth takes off one night when the going gets tough at home, only to find herself in the most threatening situation of her life. There is John, a college student torn between the opportunities his education affords and his responsibilities to his family. And a group of teenage boys spending their summer vacation at baseball camp, where they meet up with an unspeakably cruel coach. You’ll be transported from a story of romantic infatuation in Japan to the wacky world of Tuesday Racinski, who has no choice but to use her supernatural powers to zap Miss Popularity. Whether the situation is dead serious or wildly funny, all of these characters find themselves in places they never meant to be.

Aside from being good storytellers, what these writers have in common is that somewhere along the way their work has been challenged by an individual or group wanting to forbid, prohibit or restrict the books they have written. In some cases the censors have been successful; in others, sanity has prevailed. Following each story the writer shares his/her personal experiences and feelings about censorship. Remember, if you ask a dozen people what censorship means, you’ll get twelve different answers.

The bottom line is, censorship happens, often when you least expect it. It’s not just about the book you may want to read but about the book your classmate might want to read. It’s not just about teachers and librarians at other schools who might find themselves in job-threatening situations — it could happen at your school. Your favorite teacher, the one who made literature come alive for you, the one who helped you find exactly the book you needed when you were curious, or hurting, the one who was there to listen to you when you felt alone, could become the next target.

This obsession with banning books continues as we approach the year 2000. Today it is not only Sex, Swear Words and Lack of Moral Tone — it is Evil, which, according to the censors, can be found lurking everywhere. Stories about Halloween, witches, and devils are an suspect for promoting Satanism. Romeo and Juliet is under fire for promoting suicide; Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, for promoting New Age-ism. If the censors had their way it would be good-bye to Shakespeare as well as science fiction. There’s not an ism you can think of that’s not bringing some book to the battlefield.

And what can you do if censorship hits close to home?

The first step is awareness. Become informed. Take a stand. Work with the adults in your community. Don’t try to do it on your own. Contact one or more of the following support groups immediately.

National Coalition Against Censorship
Office for Intellectual Freedom

They will help you help yourself. Get the local newspaper involved. Censors hate publicity. So do school boards. If you don’t take a stand, others will eagerly make decisions that affect your First Amendment rights. Make sure you know what those rights are.

A word of warning to anyone who writes or wants to write: There is no predicting the censor. No telling what will be seen as controversial tomorrow. I’ve talked with writers who have told me, “Oh…I don’t write the kinds of stories you do. I write for younger children. My work will never be attacked,” only to find themselves under fire the next day.

So write honestly. Write from deep inside. Leanne used to say, “It’s your job to write as well as you can, Judy. It’s my job to defend what you’ve written.”

But Leanne couldn’t do it on her own. No one can. It’s up to all of us.

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