By Ellen Hopkins
By Ellen Hopkins
To you zealots and bigots and false
patriots who live in fear of discourse.
You screamers and banners and burners
who would force books
off shelves in your brand name
of greater good.
You say you’re afraid for children,
innocents ripe for corruption
by perversion or sorcery on the page.
But sticks and stones do break
bones, and ignorance is no armor.
You do not speak for me,
and will not deny my kids magic
in favor of miracles.
You say you’re afraid for America,
the red, white and blue corroded
by terrorists, socialists, the sexually
confused. But we are a vast quilt
of patchwork cultures and multi-gendered
identities. You cannot speak for those
whose ancestors braved
You say you’re afraid for God,
the living word eroded by Muhammed
and Darwin and Magdalene.
But the omnipotent sculptor of heaven
and earth designed intelligence.
Surely you dare not speak
for the father, who opens
his arms to all.
A word to the unwise.
Torch every book.
Char every page.
Burn every word to ash.
Ideas are incombustible.
And therein lies your real fear.
Banned Books Week adopts author's anti-censorship poem as manifesto
An author of young adult fiction whose books have provoked bans and complaints in the US for tackling controversial topics such as teenage prostitution and drug addiction has written a poem that is being used to champion the cause of banned books across America.
The author, Ellen Hopkins, this week saw a school visit in Oklahoma canceled after a parent complained about her New York Times bestselling novels "Crank" and "Glass" – loosely based on her own daughter's story of addiction to crystal meth.
"I have had my books challenged before, but never had an event canceled because of a challenge. I was then and remain incensed that a single person could go to the school and make that happen," said Hopkins. "No one person should have that kind of power. No person should be able to choose what anyone else's child can or can't read, let alone who they can see speak to. Some of the kids were devastated."
The idea to write a poem addressing banned books and censorship came to her after all her books were banned from an Idaho town, she said, because her novel Burned features a Mormon girl who is questioning her faith because she can't get help for her family, whose patriarch is abusive.
"Pocatello has a large Mormon population, but half the town isn't Mormon. And the book isn't a slam against the religion, anyway ... it's one girl's story," she said. "How can half the town censor the other's ability to read something? Anyway, that's where the idea came for me to write a poem."
The poem has now been picked up as the manifesto for Banned Books Week, the annual American celebration of the freedom to read, which kicks off on Saturday and which will see hundreds of libraries and bookshops across the country drawing attention to censorship with displays of challenged books and events. According to the American Library Association, there were 513 challenges to books reported in 2008, up from 420 the previous year.
"I most definitely see the problem growing here, with the quite vocal, extreme right-wing power grab going on right now," said Hopkins. "My books speak to hard subject matter. Addiction. Cutting. Thoughts of suicide. Abuse. Sexual abuse. All these issues affect children. Look at the statistics. Closing your eyes won't make these things go away.
"Why not talk about them with your kids, to arm them with knowledge. Open the books with them. Listen to the author speak with them."
Objections from challengers have ranged from upset over positive portrayals of homosexuals to books which were seen as too sexual or too violent, according to Banned Books Week.
In 2008 Khaled Hosseini's novel "The Kite Runner" became one of the top 10 most challenged books, with objectors complaining about its sexual content and offensive language. Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy was the second most challenged of the year, over its "political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, and violence", while And "Tango Makes Three", a children's story about two male penguins bringing up a chick, or for complainants "a homosexual storyline that has been sugar-coated with cute penguins," topped the list for the third year running.
Hopkins said that she and others like her were "quite willing" to stand up to the "vocal, extreme (wrong) minority". "Torch every book. / Char every page. / Burn every word to ash. / Ideas are incombustible. / And therein lies your real fear," she wrote in her poem Manifesto.
"The First Amendment is alive and well in America and if they don't believe it, they'd better keep both eyes open. Their power is limited, even if they don't know it yet," she said.