Last week was Freedom to Read Week.
On Saturday, I was part of a group of readers celebrating this event. Besides making me think about the freedom to read, I couldn't help thinking about the freedom to write. So here I go, writing about our event. By the way, that's Liz Bachinsky and her partner, Blake Smith. The people up at the top are Bob, Kasey, and Janet. There's more about all of them as you scroll down. Go ahead and exercise your freedom to read on!
Our celebration offered snippets from books that had been banned or challenged. It also featured "outrageously priced and outrageously sweet" Danishes. And no, these weren't cartoons. These were the real thing, complete with cherries and blueberries.
Author Marion Quednau, who organized the evening, read from the recently-challenged Three Wishes. Written by the well-respected Canadian author, Deborah Ellis, this book presents remarks from Palestinian and Israeli children. They offer their views on how the ongoing conflict has affected their lives. Yet the York (Ontario) District School Board has decided this book is 'inappropriate' reading.
Quednau also read work by the Hungarian writer, George Faludy. His poem, 'Learn by Heart This Poem of Mine' reminds us how fragile freedom can be.
Hearing the Faludy poem reminded me of the Russian poet, Osip Mandelstam. His wife, Nadezhda, went so far as to memorize his poems, as she feared his work might become 'disappeared.' Imagine, keeping someone's work safe by storing it in your mind.
Poet Liz Bachinsky read a poem by bill bissett. He's the poet who drew the wrath of Les Wedman, then Member of Parliament. Wedman railed against bissett's writing and tried to make a case against the Canada Council. After all, it uses taxpayers' money to support the arts.
Liz later read (along with Kasey Kieler) from Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho. Kasey also read from William Burroughs' Naked Lunch, as did poet Bob Martens. Janet Vickers, yet another poet, read from D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover. She also read a poem by Pablo Neruda.
Because I used to work in the Surrey School District, I read from two picture books that were deemed unsuitable by that school board. The two I read from were Asha's Mums and One Dad, Two Dads, Brown Dads, Blue Dads. It probably sounds crazy to think of picture books as any kind of threat, especially as the books seem to do a good job of promoting tolerance of differences -- an attitude that is among the goals of the province's primary curriculum.
But apparently in Surrey, tolerance of differences doesn't always apply, especially if 'different' happens to mean gay. The Board has spent a million dollars trying to keep three little books away from children's eyes.
Other artists whose works were read included J.D. Salinger, Kurt Vonnegut, and Robert Munsch. All of them have had work challenged or banned.
It was more than twenty years ago that George Faludy spent time in British Columbia. During that visit, Alan Twigg of BC Bookworld talked with him. Faludy's closing words are as powerful now as they were then: "Poetry, freedom. It is like air. You know you must have it only when it is taken away from you." You're even free to read the whole interview here.