Chilling Expression: Knox County Public Library Uninvites Author From Festival

Julia Watts was chosen as a featured author for the upcoming LitUp Festival: Arts and Innovation for the Next Generation, an event sponsored by Knox County Public Library. It’s an event for teens with writing workshops, career information, author talks, and other activities. Watts has several published, celebrated works aimed at a teen audience, such as Finding H.F., and Quiver.

Watts, who has participated in Knox County Library programs in the past, was surprised and saddened when the library suddenly uninvited her from the event. The reason? According to the library’s assistant director for marketing Mary Pom Claiborne, the organizing committee discovered that “Some of her work is described as erotica and is inappropriate for teens”. (Knox News, 2019)

So again, Ms. Watts has several lauded YA titles, which was what made her an author choice for the festival, but the fact that she had written risqué material in the past prompted her removal from a library event.

While it wasn’t explicitly expressed in her dis-invitation, Watts questioned if LGBTQ+ themes in her work were a spark for the action taken against her:

They say if it were erotic content of any type that they would have had the same concerns. As somebody who has been uninvited because someone goes, ‘Yikes, that’s gay content,’ that was certainly my first thought.

Julie Watts (WBIR, 2019)

The implication of this cancellation should send a chill down the spine of any writer. Those who write should not have to be boxed into one genre, age group, or format for fear that their body of work will impede their professional progress.

The library did not expect Watts to read from or reference the adult material, but it didn’t want to be perceived as promoting her entire body of work at a festival for young teens, Claiborne said.

Kristi Nelson, Knox News, 2019

The fact that Watts has written erotica (which, she mentions to Knox News, is a subjective term) should not be an issue for the festival, because that wasn’t the focus of her attending the event- her YA books were the focus.

Some of my writings⁠—not my work for YA readers—contain erotic content. Not just erotica, but lesbian erotica…kids might Google me and find out I’d written erotica, and that freaked [the committee] out. If they’d Googled me and found that I’d written Harlequin romances, I don’t think there would have been this same kind of pushback.

Julie Watts (Publisher’s Weekly, 2019)

The committee effectively shunned this author after previously inviting her simply because a teen could hypothetically google her name and find out that she has written books for adults- books with S-E-X-, oh no!

Are libraries the newly appointed Decency Police Force? Does writing erotica make you suddenly unmentionable or a bad role model? No, and no! Libraries are supposed to be places where information flows freely and people are supported, not judged.

Honorably, Knoxville’s poet laureate, Marilyn Kallet, withdrew from the festival in solidarity with Watts.

As writers we need to stand up for one another, and to require being treated with dignity and trust.

Marilyn Kallet (Knox News)

This decision by Knox County Library to cancel Watts’ invitation was a huge misstep. Libraries are not places of censorship, and those who write should not have to hide their works in the shadows or self-censor for fear of being outcast from public events and civil discourse in the library. Authors are multifaceted, complex people who wear many hats and should not be shamed for writing for a variety of audiences.

One thing I’ve learned from this: I shouldn’t take my freedom of expression for granted.

Julia Watts (Publisher’s Weekly)

I hope that this mistake can be learned from so that it does not set a dangerous precedent. Ms. Watts has accepted an apology from the library, and perhaps the dialogue sparked by this occurrence will prompt other libraries to examine their own biases and reaffirm their commitments to intellectual freedom.

References

Kirch, C. (n.d.). Author Julia Watts Disinvited from Teen Lit Festival. Retrieved from https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-authors/article/81097-author-julia-watts-disinvited-from-teen-lit-festival.html

Nelson, K. L. (2019, September 5). Young adult author pulled from Knox library’s teen festival because she also writes ‘erotica’. Retrieved from https://www.knoxnews.com/story/news/education/2019/09/04/julia-watts-author-pulled-knox-county-public-library-teen-festival-because-writes-erotica/2215193001/

WBIR Staff. (2019, September 6). Knoxville author uninvited from local teen reading festival for publishing ‘erotic content’ in the past. Retrieved from https://www.wbir.com/article/life/books/knoxville-author-uninvited-from-local-teen-reading-festival/51-cb005c4a-71d1-44e7-a74c-a624e1a2ab0f

Advertisements

Choosing Your Sources: A Basic Guide for Young Writers

I’m currently working on a series of informational guides to have available in the computer areas of our library. I just finished the basic skeleton of the first one, and I wanted to share it freely because I think it’s important information: choosing sources, examining bias, and fighting fake news!

I created this with teens in mind: it’s a very simple and pared-down guide that I hope will be approachable and engaging.

Feel free to download, print, and use for non-profit and educational purposes.

-Shauna

Saga: Quick Spoiler-free Review

HideNGoShauna

It’s been a while since I read Saga Vol 1, but I’m discussing it in my comic course so I gave it a reread and remembered afresh why I love this series so much. The plentiful fantasy and sci-fi elements, plus a beautiful forbidden love story between two complex and flawed badass characters, sprinkled with startling imagery and unexpected humour, makes for a really compelling tale.

saga4

Vaughan’s dialogue throughout feels so raw and real, especially with Alana who pulls no punches beginning with the memorable first page. The world, too, feels very attached to our own despite the whimsical fantasy of it. The story takes itself seriously at its core, depicting the brutal cruelties of life and war, as well as more tender moments. There are some very messed up things happening in Saga’s universe, but these atrocities are closer to the realities of our Earth than we’d like to…

View original post 107 more words

The Time for Comics is NOW!

Comics are a format for everyone: from the young girl toting around her worn copy of DogMan to the grandfather who is outraged at the latest political comic shared on his Facebook newsfeed. Generally speaking, the perceptions of the masses haven’t caught up with how far comics have come since the Golden Age of superheroes. Today, a diverse wealth of comics is being published, crowdfunded and shared online, and there’s something out there for readers of all interests and literacy levels…

I’m so happy- my article about the versatility and power of comics has been published by Perspectives on Reading.

Check it out here!

Bounce Back: 16 Books on Resilience

When I was freshly reeling from a painful and embarrassing failure, a respected mentor asked to meet up with me in a coffee shop. We chatted for a while and he asked me what I had learned from my struggle. I was so deep in shock and self-pity that I couldn’t think of anything positive to say. He told me I’ve learned that you’re resilient. I didn’t feel resilient at the time, but his words helped me to shift my perspective and inner story, and to work toward new goals.

These books compiled here are a variety of books on resilience, picking yourself up after failure, learning from mistakes, and owning your life as it is now. Some of these are titles I certainly could have used when I was going through that tough time- hopefully they will help someone somewhere who needs them.

(Descriptions provided from publishers, book-jackets, covers, etc. Kid-friendly books at the end.)

Mature Readers

Stop Doing that Sh*t: End Self-Sabotage and Demand Your Life Back– Gary John Bishop

Look, you might have fu*ked up in the past, so what? Stop Doing That Sh*t reveals how you can break free of those deep-seated patterns to live the life you always knew you wanted but could never quite seem to have.

How to Fail: Everything I’ve Ever Learned From Things Going Wrong-Elizabeth Day

Part memoir, part manifesto, and including chapters on dating, work, sport, babies, families, anger and friendship, it is based on the simple premise that understanding why we fail ultimately makes us stronger. It’s a book about learning from our mistakes and about not being afraid.

You’re Going to Survive: True Stories From People Who’ve Endured Soul-Crushing Moments In Their Careers- Failure, Rejection, Disappointment, Public Humiliation- and How They Got Through It- and How You Will Too- Alexandra Franzen

Each chapter is filled with honesty, humor, and heartfelt encouragement to help you stay motivated, keep marching, and never give up―even when things feel incredibly tough. No matter what’s going on in your career right now, this isn’t the end of your story. You’re going to survive.

Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness– Rick Hanson

Warm, encouraging, and down-to-earth, Dr. Hanson’s step-by-step approach is grounded in the science of positive neuroplasticity. He explains how to overcome the brain’s negativity bias, release painful thoughts and feelings, and replace them with self-compassion, self-worth, joy, and inner peace.

Resilient Grieving: Finding Strength and Embracing Life after a Loss that Changes Everything– Lucy Hone

“This book aims to help you relearn your world . . . to help you navigate the grieving process as best you can—without hiding from your feelings or denying the reality, or significance, of your loss.”
—from Resilient Grieving

Supernormal: Childhood Adversity and the Amazing Untold Story of Resilience– Meg Jay

Drawing on nearly two decades of work with clients and students, Jay tells the tale of ordinary people made extraordinary by these all-too-common experiences, everyday superheroes who have made a life out of dodging bullets and leaping over obstacles, even as they hide in plain sight as doctors, artists, entrepreneurs, lawyers, parents, activists, teachers, students and readers. She gives a voice to the supernormals among us as they reveal not only “How do they do it?” but also “How does it feel?”

The Art of Failing: Notes From the Underdog– Anthony McGowan

Stumble with Anthony McGowan from minor embarrassment to small-scale catastrophe to improbable fiasco. Cringe at one man’s idiosyncratic attempts to navigate the quotidian challenges of married life. Discover just how many ways it’s possible to flop, amidst the glory and desperation of everyday existence.

It’s Great to Suck at Something: The Unexpected Joy of Wiping Out and What it Can Teach Us About Patience, Resilience, and the Stuff that Really Matters- Karen Rinaldi

Coupling honest, hilarious storytelling with unexpected insights, (It’s Great to) Suck at Something is an invitation to embrace our shortcomings as the very best of who we are and to open ourselves up to adventure, where we may not find what we thought we were looking for, but something way more important.

Better: How I Let Go of Control, Held on to Hope, and Found Joy in my Darkest Hour– Amy Robach

“I have breast cancer.”

With honesty, humility, and humor, Robach connects deeply with women just like her who have struggled with any kind of sudden adversity. More important, she shares valuable wisdom about the power of the human spirit to endure the worst—and find the way to better.

The Resilience Dividend: Being Strong in a World Where Things Go Wrong- Judith Rodin

Through an astonishing range of stories, Judith Rodin shows how people, organizations, businesses, communities, and cities have developed resilience in the face of otherwise catastrophic challenges.

The Bounce Back Book: How to Thrive in the Face of Adversity, Setbacks, and Losses– Karen Salmansohn

Here are 70 easily digestible, potentially life-changing tips on how to bounce back from adversity, each on a spread that’s as punchy in look as it is powerful in message.

Shame is an Ocean I Swim Across– Poems by Mary Lambert

Beautiful and brutally honest, Mary Lambert’s poetry is a beacon to anyone who’s ever been knocked down―and picked themselves up again. In verse that deals with sexual assault, mental illness, and body acceptance, Ms. Lambert’s Shame Is an Ocean I Swim Across emerges as an important new voice in poetry, providing strength and resilience even in the darkest of times.

Kid-Friendly reads

Sometimes You Fly- Katherine Applegate & Jennifer Black Reinhardt

With every try, sometimes you fail . . . sometimes you fly.

Even Superheroes Make Mistakes– Shelly Becker & Eda Kaban

Even superheroes sometimes slip up and err. And when that happens, do they say, “It’s not FAIR?” or give up in despair? NO! “Ashamed Superheroes who goofed up somehow . . . First STOP . . . then CONSIDER what’s best to do now.” 

Famous fails! Mighty Mistakes, Mega Mishaps, & How a Mess Can Lead to Success!– Crispin Boyer

Read to learn what went right, what went wrong, and what kids can learn from each failed attempt

Bounce Back: How to Be a Resilient Kid– Wendy L. Moss

Bounce Back will help you find your bounce using cool quizzes, lots of advice, and practical strategies that build up resiliency skills.

No More Poems (Because They Were Censored)

A Facebook post went viral recently because a woman came across a book at Costco and was offended by the poems in it- specifically one poem, Brotherly Love:

The post was clearly written to provoke outrage, which it did achieve. The thousands of comments are filled with calls to pull the book, questioning the store for selling it, the authors for writing it, and the publishers for supporting it.

I understand if this poem isn’t appealing to everyone – it’s definitely dark in its humour, and filled with imagined instances of hyperbolic violence. Some kids might find it frightening, but others will surely find it hilarious. In the comments of the post parents are also asserting that kids couldn’t possibly understand the dark humour for what it is and will take the poem literally; to this I say no two kids are the same, and kids in general are smarter than we give them credit for. This book isn’t going to incite mass fratricide, and this outcry is just yet another attempt by adults to remove a unique book that would be enjoyed by certain kids.

Parents are understandably protective of their kids, but what one kid can’t handle might be what another kid clicks with. For some kids, the love of reading can suddenly be sparked with something a little edgy
— something shocking, scandalous, gross, ghoulish, or morbid. When a book steps out of the safe and into the daring, that very act alone might garner a kid’s respect and begin a lifelong reading habit. Thinking back to my younger years, the books that were widely popular and always checked out at the school library were rarely “nice” books- they were the kind of books that you pass around at the back of the class and get in trouble for giggling about.

Despite its dark content, there’s no reason to fear this book- if someone doesn’t like it, they don’t have to read it, and can also ensure their kid doesn’t read it. If a parent wants to control what their kid has access to, that’s their choice. However, when people try to prevent others from exercising that choice, that’s where we have a problem.

Fearing that they might decide to pull the book from their stores in a reactionary act of censorship, I wrote this to Costco executives:

Hello,

I am an educator, library worker, and MLIS student, and as such I wanted to share my thoughts and perspective on the children’s book carried by Costco “No More Poems”. 
As I’m sure you are aware by now, a parent shared a poem in this book which they found offensive and are warning others not to buy it as well as questioning your company for carrying it, the publishers for approving it, etc. The post has since gone viral on Facebook. 
I understand that in situations like this the impulse may be to pull the title from your stores, but on the contrary I hope that you keep it available. No book will appeal to the sensitivities of all kids (or all parents) but censorship isn’t the answer. 
I think the poem is funny and could totally be appreciated by some kids who get the dark humour. Kids are smarter than we give them credit for- this book isn’t advocating actual violence, it’s playing on exaggerated fantasies of a kid annoyed by their brother. I hope you keep the title in your stores- I would buy it, and I’m sure others would too. Those who don’t want it can close it and walk away. 
Thanks for your time,

-Shauna