The Freedom to Read — I have written and spoken about the censorship of children’s literature on many occasions over the span three decades, but my recent speaking engagements in Singapore stand out as a highlight in my career as an anti-censorship activist. Since Singapore gained its independence a half century ago, the government has imposed controls on the publication and distribution of books and other forms of printed material. This aspect of Singapore society came into play last year when the government’s National Library Board decided to remove several children’s picture books from the public libraries on the grounds that these books were not “pro-family.” These books included Jean Davies Okimoto’s The White Swan Express: A Story about Adoption, in which a lesbian couple adopts a baby from China, and Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell’s And Tango Makes Three, in which two male penguins hatch and raise a baby penguin. The banning of these two books sparked an international controversy. Eventually the National Library Board decided not to ban these books but instead moved them to the adult section of the libraries.
In response to this controversy, my long-time friend Robin Hemley, who now teaches at Yale-NUS (National University of Singapore), organized a series of events related to the censorship of children’s literature, culminating in a panel presentation titled “What Children Shouldn’t Read: A Global Controversy.” I was one of four participants on the panel. The others were authors Susie Bright, Suchen Christine Lim, and Jean Davies Okimoto. The event took place in a packed auditorium on the campus of the National University of Singapore. For two hours we gave presentations, responded to the other panelists’ points, and answered questions from the audience. The event was covered by the Singapore press and monitored by university and governmental officials. I later learned that this panel presentation was one of the first times that the topic of censorship was discussed openly in Singapore. As I came to understand, the panel presentation was one of several recent incremental steps toward greater freedom in Singapore. I know that the other panelists and I were honored to play a small role in this change.
Welcoming Micah Nathan — Please join me in welcoming fiction writer Micah Nathan to the department. Micah arrives this week as a visiting professor, and he will stay with us for approximately one month. While he is here, he will teach an advanced fiction writing course and deliver the keynote address for our English Major Day on March 24. Micah’s publications include the novel Gods of Aberdeen (2005), the novel Losing Graceland (2011), and the collection Jack the Bastard and Other Stories (2012). For more information about Micah’s writings, please visit his website: http://www.micahnathan.com/ Micah is also a writer-in-residence at Kingston University in London, and his visit to our department is part of our larger efforts to collaborate with Kingston University in the area of creative writing.
Kudos— As you know, I like to use my Monday Missives to share news about recent accomplishments by members of our department. Here is the latest news:
Alan Rauch and Suzan Alteri of the Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature received a $5000 grant from the American Library Association’s Carnegie-Whitney Fund to develop the exhibit: “Woman Authored Science Books for Children, 1790-1890.”
The research of Becky Roeder and Boyd Davis came up in last Friday’s ‘Charlotte Talks’ with Mike Collins. Walt Wolfram and Jeff Reaser from NCSU talked about their new book, Talkin’ Tar Heel, and they referred to sociolinguistic research conducted here in our department. They discussed how much identity (and ego) is tied up in language varieties, and you can hear a sound clip in which Boyd unpacks all the information that is read merely from how someone talks – in this case, her very own speech. Here is the link:http://wfae.org/post/talkin-tarheel-0
Upcoming Events and Deadlines— Here are some dates to keep in mind:
March 14 — The fourth annual Seuss-a-Thon will take place from at Park Road Books from 11:00-3:00. Co-sponsored by the English Department and Park Road Books, this event will involve people reading their favorite Dr. Seuss books aloud to children.
March 24 — The English Major Day will take place on March 24. The event will include three workshops and a keynote address by Micah Nathan. More details will be announced soon.
On March 24 — Paula Connolly will give the fourth and final presentation in this year’s Personally Speaking Series. The event will take place at the Atkins Library and will begin at 6:30 p.m. She will speak about her book Slavery in American Children’s Literature, 1790-2010.
Quirky Quiz Question — Micah Nathan’s visiting position in our department is tied to our collaboration with Kingston University. Two members of the English Department have served as the faculty advisor for the UNC Charlotte’s students who participate in the study-abroad program at Kingston University. Can you name these faculty members?
Last week’s answer: Malaysia