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

Professional Nerd?!

Lovely fellow nerd blogger Kayla recently included me in her Professional Nerd Series on her blog https://goodlordthatsfunny.com/ for my work with graphic novels, comics, and manga! Thanks Kayla, and keep up this awesome project!

Check out the post about my work here 🙂

And her previous post about cosplayer Hillary Laine here!

 

What makes an awesome librarian?

I wrote this personal essay for the final assignment of my LIS 501 class (Foundation of Library and Information Science). My professor based the assignment on the This I Believe essay project, and the intent is to explore what we currently believe about libraries and librarianship.

I’ve just completed the first semester of my Master of Library and Information Science. While I’m continually learning and changing, this is what I currently believe makes an awesome librarian.


 

When I first transferred from my bookstore job to the public library about eight years ago, I thought I was staying in the book business. I believed that my love of books and knowledge of their contents would be my greatest asset at the library. However, these were false assumptions of mine, based on a simplified, inaccurate, and outdated view of what libraries are. Libraries, I soon learned, are dedicated to far more than books. Libraries are not in the book business — they are vessels that professionals use to support and empower their communities, and books are but one powerful and conspicuous piece of that large and complex puzzle. Each library serves a unique community, and so each comes together a bit differently. Some libraries are small and specialized, full of niche items and specialized services, while others are colossal structures that serve masses of the public each day, offering broad services, programming, entertainment, diverse book and media collections, and access to technology. Some libraries offer quiet study spaces, while others are noisy and animated places full of collaboration and activity. Libraries can be all of these things and more, and everything in-between.

When the designs and missions of libraries vary so greatly, it’s understandable to question what makes a library a library, and more importantly what makes a library an awesome library. However, behind every awesome library is an awesome librarian (or librarians). The real question is, what makes an awesome librarian? While our title is often romanticized and praised amongst ourselves and our supporters, our profession is not immune to complacency and shallow thinking. We cannot ever rest on our laurels and must constantly and actively embody what we want to see in our profession. While I will proudly call myself a librarian, I don’t only want to be a librarian — I want to be a critical librarian. I believe that critical librarians are professionals who work passionately every day with and for their communities, providing indispensable services that support intellectual freedom, social justice, and critical information literacy.

To be a librarian is to be a professional. I reject the idea that the cookie-cutter version of a professional (a smartly dressed person with a polished look and businesslike manner) is the only model of professionalism; to me a professional is an individual who is authentic and dedicated to their profession. Librarians are trusted sources of information and resources because they have proven their dedication to their communities. Librarians may have a degree, diploma, or other accolades to acknowledge steps they have taken to learn and build library knowledge, skills, and values, but the most essential marker of an awesome librarian is what they do with their library and their community. As an educated professional, I acknowledge that I have privilege, power, and social responsibility that comes with my knowledge and position. I strive to be an approachable, ethical, and helpful steward of my community. I will dedicate myself to lifelong learning and continual skill-building that will support me in critical librarianship. I will think like a librarian, and that involves checking facts, citing sources, respecting privacy, fighting censorship, and being literate in the various forms of literacy.

Critical librarians have passion for what they do. Not only are they excited by the privilege to work alongside and for their communities, they are also forward-thinking, embracing with open arms all of the possibilities that might come with purposeful change and adaptation. In my goal of becoming a critical librarian, I will immerse myself in my curiosity. I will be always listening, searching, conversing, and learning. I will not be deterred by “that wouldn’t work here” or “well, we’ve always done it this way”- critical librarians know that the best way is the way that works best for all, whether that’s an old trick or a radical new idea. I am not perfect, but I must not be afraid of failure or embarrassment- rather, I will harness my passion and use it carefully, proactively, and concentratedly toward my goal of innovating and improving to better meet the needs of my community. When I take the time to truly listen to and wholly understand the needs of my community, I will ultimately support and empower my community by providing life-changing services inside and outside of my library.

Librarians are indispensable because they provide immense value and support to their communities, facilitating their communities in a wide variety of pursuits, problem solving, learning goals, life-enriching endeavors, and serendipitous discoveries. As a librarian I will constantly strive to provide these services in an inclusive and accessible environment that forms a sanctuary for everyone in my community. As a critical librarian, I will teach and empower my library members to be critical consumers of information themselves. I will not chase an illusion of neutrality, but I will think critically as I work for social good, supporting equity, democracy, social justice, and human rights. I will fight censorship, oppression, and marginalization through the services, resources, programs, and outreach I provide. I will empower my library members and support them in using their voices and being heard. I live in a time when so many people, especially marginalized communities, are relying on libraries, and librarians are providing more services and value than ever. At the same time, library budgets are being slashed and the very existence of libraries and librarians is being questioned by people who are ignorant to the realities of our immense worth. I believe that all librarians and their partners and friends must be loud and proactive in shouting the true value of libraries from the rooftops- I’ll be shouting with them through my words, my art, and most importantly, my actions.

I believe that a library’s worth is dependent upon the work of its librarian(s). A library can be big, beautiful, and stocked full of resources, but without a dedicated and passionate librarian it is just a building with some stuff in it. I know now that libraries are vital to a thriving and democratic community – not just as a place for books, but as a safe and inclusive space and a hub for learning, literacy, sharing, questioning, confirming, cooperating, experiencing, and creating. I will advocate for the truth of libraries as I work towards my goal of becoming the kind of critical librarian that builds awesome libraries with and for her community.