No censorship at Miami International Book Fair

By Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld….

Ellen Hopkins

A censorship controversy has raged this summer involving Ellen Hopkins, a young adult author scheduled to speak at the Miami International Book Fair.

Hopkins’ books — Crank, Burned, Identical, Impulse, Glass and Glass — deal with tough subjects, such as teen addiction, prostitution and suicide. She made the 2009 list of “most frequently challenged authors.”

Things started with an email to Hopkins telling her that an invitation to speak at the Humble, Texas teen literature festival had been rescinded. The Humble school superintendent, acting on objections by a middle school librarian and some parents, decided that Hopkins’ books were not appropriate for the festival. Hopkins contacted the other writers to tell them what happened and five authors pulled out of the festival in solidarity.

Humble school officials say that Hopkins was never officially invited because she never had a contract. But Hopkins disagrees, saying she was asked to the 2009 festival but had a conflict. To make up for pulling out, she did school visits in Humble at a discounted price and was invited to the 2011 event. The resulting firestorm of blogs, editorials and news stories led to the cancellation of her invitation to attend the January 2011 event.

This isn’t the first time Hopkins has been asked to stay away after being invited to speak. It happened in Oklahoma last year.

“Obviously, the more times it happens, the more it becomes a concern,” Hopkins says. “I’ll just learn how to deal with it. I would assume in a city the size of Miami that I’m not going to face the same issue.”

Alina Interian, the executive director of the Florida Center for the Literary Arts, which puts on the book fair, agrees.

“We try to keep our doors open to all points of view and all thoughts,” she says. “We don’t pass judgment; we just offer good literary works.”

Interian says the book fair is all about keeping the doors open to free expression.

“She (Hopkins) talks about dysfunctional families and addiction, things we see in real life every day,” she says. “I don’t understand their decision, but I respect it. But our doors are open.”

The book fair has a history of turning down censorship requests.

“We’ve had authors from Latin American countries that have presented. Their political backgrounds have ruffled the feathers of the community,” she says. “We’ve had some demonstrations.”

She says that the teen lit organizers could have avoided going so far as disinviting Hopkins.

What amazes Interian is that the Humble decision was made without having read any of the controversial books.

In Miami, Hopkins will talk about Fallout, the third book in the Crank trilogy. Despite the controversy, Hopkins says she loves to speak at book festivals.

“When I talk to the kids, I talk about choices,” she says. “And my books are about choices. Kids make choices every day. I want them to see that if they make the wrong choices, those decisions can affect their lives forever. That’s what happened to my daughter.”

And despite everything, she won’t avoid speaking in Texas. She’s been invited to speak at an April teen book convention in Houston and she plans to go.

“They are going to try and get all the authors who pulled out,” Hopkins says. “That will be a big statement.”

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