PEN launches the Twitter campaign #shesnotfree in support of Chinese artist and poet Liu Xia on the eve of our landmark report on China.
PEN Mourns Loss of Free Expression Defender Edward de Grazia
PEN is saddened by the loss of Edward de Grazia, a lawyer, playwright, and longtime PEN member who devoted his life to fighting censorship and promoting free expression. He will be missed.
photo courtesy of Cardozo Law School
Jailed human rights lawyer and journalist Nasrin Sotoudeh ended a hunger strike of 49 days after Iranian authorities acceded to her demand that they no longer bar her 12-year-old daughter, Mehraveh, from traveling abroad. Sotoudeh is incarcerated in Tehran’s Evin Prison, along with many other political prisoners; she has served 27 months of a six-year sentence on charges of disseminating “propaganda,” violating mandatory hejab, and “acting against national security.” Her blood pressure had reportedly fallen dangerously low toward the end of her hunger strike, in which she consumed only salted and sugared water…
…Reacting to news of the end of Sotoudeh’s hunger strike, Peter Godwin, president of PEN American Center, which awarded her the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award last year, declared,Nasrin Sotoudeh embodies the bravery of the Iranian people’s struggle for the rule of law and a vibrant civil society. That she was imprisoned at all is appalling. That she was forced to risk her own health to end the vindictive persecution of family members has shocked consciences in Iran and around the world. Now is the time for everyone who shares Nasrin’s unbending commitment to protecting the rights of the Iranian people to stand with her and call for her freedom.
Bryonn Bain, Nick Flynn, and Toure read at the PEN Prison Writing event at The Strand Bookstore.
With the support of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, Association of American Publishers, The Independent Book Publishers Association, PEN American Center, and National Council of Teachers of English, CBLDF wrote a letter arguing for the retention of SideScrollers on the school’s summer reading list:
September 19, 2012
Dr. Jeffrey Schumann
Enfield School District
27 Shaker Rd
Enfield, CT 06082
Dear Dr. Schumann,
We are writing to express our concern over the removal of the graphic novelSidescrollers(Oni Press) from high school summer reading lists in the Enfield School District. We are concerned both with the merits of the removal of the book from the list, and with the procedures the district followed in taking this action.
As we understand it, the District requires a written request for reconsideration, which triggers a review of the challenged material by a committee to evaluate the merits of the material and make a recommendation to the Board of Education. None of these steps was taken in the present case. The ban was triggered by a verbal complaint from a person who is not even the parent of a child in the school. The District’s policy contemplates challenges only by parents. It states that “noparentnorgroup of parentshas the right to negate the use of educational resources for students other than his/her own child.” (6163.1a) (Emphasis added.) This is a reasonable restriction, since it allows complaints to be resolved by providing alternative assignments, rather than restricting the access of all students because of the concerns of some parents. In the case of the summer reading list, five alternatives were already offered.
In removing the book, you have allowed the vocal complaints of one resident —not even a parent—not only to dictate what texts student may read and discuss but to undermine the judgment of your professional staff. The teachers of Enfield and Enrico Fermi high schools have been compiling summer reading lists based on professional reviews and the opinions of Media Specialists without controversy for years.Sidescrollershas been an item on the reading list for several years, since the graphic novel category was introduced.
Sidescrollers,Matt Loux’s popular graphic novel about three slacker friends was named one of the Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens in 2008 by the American Library Association. The book’s anti-bullying and anti-drinking message is delivered in a way that teens find organic rather than preachy, through dialogue that approximates the way these characters would really speak to one another. For that reason, it speaks to young people—and specifically to students who might be reluctant readers—in a way that more sanitized texts might not.
As public officials, school boards are bound by the obligation to adhere to constitutional principles. School officials “may not remove books from library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books and seek by their removal to ‘prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.’” Board of Education v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853, 872 (1982)(plurality opinion). The failure to follow the district’s own procedures and the unwarranted removal of the book raise serious due process and First Amendment concerns. The proposal to create a system to review texts in the future for summer reading does nothing to address these serious concerns. It remains to be seen whether such a system, if implemented, adheres to constitutional standards, which require that the selection of materials be based solely on educationally-sound criteria. If instead the purpose is to rate or evaluate books based on whether they contain “controversial” content, that will raise not only additional constitutional concerns, but also questions about the nature and quality of the education students receive.
For your information, we suggest you refer to “The Student’s Right to Read,” a guideline established by the National Council of Teachers of English and available online at:http://www.ncte.org/positions/statements/righttoreadguideline. In addition, NCAC offers an online Guide to the First Amendment in Schools, available at:http://ncac.org/education/schools/index.cfm. We hope these materials will be useful to you and others involved in this discussion.
We strongly urge you rescind your ban onSidescrollers.Those who object to this book are entitled to their view, but they may not impose it on others. They have no constitutional right to restrict students’ access to a book because it conflicts with their personal values. We urge you to stand by the principle that is so essential to individual freedom, democracy, and a good education: the right to read, inquire, question, and think for ourselves.
If we can be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us.
National Coalition Against Censorship
American Booksellers Foundation For Free Expression
Comic Book Legal Defense Fund
Director, Free Expression Advocacy
Association of American Publishers
The Independent Book Publishers Association
Director, Freedom to Write & International Programs
PEN American Center
Senior Developer, Affiliate Groups and Public Outreach
National Council of Teachers of English
cc: Anne MacKiernan, Chief Academic Officer
Kevin Fealy, Jr., Member, Enfield Board of Education
Tina LeBlanc, Member, Enfield Board of Education
Vincent M. Grady, Vice Chairman, Enfield Board of Education
Timothy Neville, Chairman, Enfield Board of Education
Joyce Hall, Member, Enfield Board of Education
Jennifer Rancourt, Member, Enfield Board of Education
Charles L. Johnson III, Member, Enfield Board of Education
Donna Szewczak, Secretary, Enfield Board of Education
The Athol Fugard Theatre in Cape Town, South Africa. Devil’s Peak looms in the background.
I’ve had a fantastic week at the Open Book Festival in Cape Town, where I’ve been traveling on behalf of PEN with the poet Cathy Park Hong. You can find more posts at penlive.tumblr.com penamerican.tumblr.com and returnofthedeji.tumblr.com. Got it?
We’ll be posting content from the festival over the next few months.
From left: Poet and professor Cathy Park Hong, PEN Freedom to Write Fellow Deji Olukotun, and Executive Vice President of South African PEN Margie Orford
Today, I spoke with Cathy Park Hong and Margie Orford at the Cape Town Book Festival about the work of PEN American Center, PEN International, and South African PEN. After our lively discussion—which ranged from linguistic diversity to digital media—Cathy read a translated work from a South Korean poet. It turns out that Cathy, the author of the new collection Engine Empire (Norton), is a translator and used to be a journalist.
A great event, with more to follow.
PEN America #16 has arrived!
Featuring writing by Sonia Sanchez, Julie Otsuka, Kimiko Hahn, and Ludmila Ulitskaya; photography by Liu Xia; comics by David B. and Jean-Pierre Filiu (tr. Edward Gauvin); and much, much more.
cover art: Outdoor Class by Rockefeller Hall, 1958. Courtesy of Special Collections, Vassar College Libraries
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, whose assault on press freedom led to the jailing of a number of journalists—and the exodus of many more—died last week in Brussels. Now Hailemariam Desalegn takes the helm as acting prime minister. Will he reverse the course that his predecessor led against free expression?
PEN has sent the following letter, urging Hailemariam to release our jailed colleagues, including 2012 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award winner Eskinder Nega, and free Ethiopia’s besieged press.
August 28, 2012
Acting Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn
P.O. Box 1031
Fax: +251 155 20 30
We are writing on behalf of the 3,000 members of PEN American Center to ask you, as you assume leadership of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, to review the cases of a number of our colleagues in the Ethiopian press who have been convicted unjustly for criminal offenses simply for practicing their profession.
Leading PEN’s list of those who have been so convicted is Eskinder Nega, who as you know was sentenced last month to 18 years in prison for articles and public statements expressing viewpoints your predecessor disfavored. The trial and conviction of Eskinder and 23 others under Ethiopia’s vaguely-worded anti-terror legislation attracted international attention to the climate for press freedom and freedom of expression in your country—a climate that contrasts sharply with the image of achievement and progress that Ethiopia aspires, for many commendable reasons, to project.