I’ve thought a lot about censorship lately.
Just a few weeks ago, in my home state of Virginia, a school system decided to pull To Kill a Mockingbird and Huckleberry Finn from its shelves. This decision makes me sad. It makes me frustrated. But mostly, it makes me determined to push the limits as a writer.
Material which is censorship-worthy belongs in our books. In my experience, people censor ideas which are meaningful, like history they’d rather ignore, relationships which are out of their comfort zone or fantasy and science-fiction. There’s always something.
The thing is, I’m most moved when I read about situations which bother me – situations which make me squirm with discomfort. Those moments replay in my mind long after I’ve finished the book, but it doesn’t mean they should be censored. It doesn’t mean the author shouldn’t include them. Often, those disturbing scenes – which some people might leap to censor – give me a new perspective on life.
In short, those questionable moments make me think and, as an author, that’s what I want to offer my readers: material and situations which make them question their world.
As writers, we should remind ourselves not to self-censor. Sometimes our characters take a life of their own. They act in ways which might be offensive to us, but that doesn’t mean we can’t include that material in our writing. In fact, we should use our talents as writers to test our comfort-zones.
This goal, of course, doesn’t come without its drawbacks. I’ve seen John Greene’s unhappy responses towards those who censor his novels and I've heard Sandra Cisneros talk about those who ignore her books' meaningful messages because they challenge their own beliefs. These authors are so passionate about their craft, and the last thing they want is for a school system to classify their books as unacceptable reads, alienating their target audience.
We are writers. It’s our job to share the world – be it historical, contemporary, or futuristic – with our audience. That means sharing the good, the bad, and the very, very ugly. But I challenge you to suspend your inner censor, particularly in your own writing. Difficult topics make for great stories and great connections with your target readers.
Recently, I read The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, which was challenged and censored in Texas in 2016. It was nothing short of wonderful, and I'll be teaching it to my AP Language and Composition students next month.
Which book are you daring to read?
Bethany Masone Harar is an author, teacher, and blogger, who does her best to turn reluctant readers into voracious book-reading nerds. Check out her blog here.