From The Five Owls, January/February 2000

By Mark I.West

I remember well the day I interviewed Judy Blume. We met on June 10, 1985, in her home on the top floor of an attractive high-rise in New York City. I can pinpoint the date because I jotted it down on the cassette tape I used to record the interview. When I listen to the tape now, I am almost embarrassed by how nervous I sounded at the start of our conversation, but I had never interviewed a famous author before, nor even been inside a building that had a doorman. Blume quickly put me at ease by telling me a bit about her family and offering me a beverage. Then, for the next several hours, we talked about censorship. At that time, I was in the middle of writing my first book, Children, Culture, and Controvery (Archon, 1988), and I was conducting research for a chapter about the various attempts to ban children’s books written by Blume and other controversial authors.

While we were talking, I began to understand that Blume’s first-hand experiences with censorship had had a transformative effect on her. Unlike the many authors who eschew politics, Blume responded to the attacks on her books by becoming an anticensorship activist. When I asked her questions about the campaigns against her books, she answered in ways that went beyond herself. She often drew connections between her own experiences with book censors and the experiences of other children’s authors whose books had also been banned. She talked about her commitment to children’s intellectual freedom and their right to read a variety of books. She told me about the National Coalition Against Censorship and suggested I interview its then-director, the late Leanne Katz. She also suggested I talk with other authors of censored children’s books. I followed up on her suggestions, and this eventually led to my collection of interviews titled Trust Your Children: Voices Against Censorship in Children’s Literature (Neal Schuman, 1997).

In the nearly fifteen years since I interviewed Blume, her involvement in the anticensorship movement has continued unabated. She frequently speaks out on the problem of censorship and has taken a very active role in the work of the National Coalition Against Censorship. Her most recent contribution to the anticensorship movement is an anthology of short Stories that she edited, Places I Never Meant To Be: Original Stories by Censored Writers. Published in August, 1999, by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, this book contains twelve stories for young adults written by some of the most prominent authors in the field, including Norma Fox Mazer, Julius Lester, Katherine Paterson, Harry Mazer, Walter Dean Myers, Paul Zindel, and the late Norma Klein. Blume and all the contributors agreed to donate the royalties from the sale of this book to the National Coalition Against Censorship.

Although the contributors include statements about their experiences with censorship at the end of their stories, the stories themselves do not deal directly with censorship. Instead, they all feature characters who unintentionally become enmeshed in difficult situations. Blume had already been interested in this topic back when I interviewed her. “What children have to face out there can be so hard,” she told me. “They have to learn to cope with situations they didn’t create.” This statement can also be applied to censored authors. Very few authors deliberately set out to get censored. Once their books come under attack, however, they find themselves in stressful situations in which they have a great deal at stake but over which they have very little control. Thus, even though the stories in Places I Never Meant to Be are not about censorship, there are some connections between the responses of the characters to their situations and the responses of the authors to being the targets of censors.


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