Some luminaries of the literary world recently lent their signatures to a movement to liberate books from the grip of school authorities in Arizona. At the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference, a group of writers, including Junot Diaz and Yi Yun Li, signed onto a statement condemning the Arizona education authorities for its crackdown on ethnic studies programs.
Amid intense pressure from right-wing culture warriors, and over the objections of students and community groups, the state has effectively barred teachers and students from using works like Zoot Suit and The House on Mango Street to explore the country’s Mexican American heritage and other issues of culture, conflict and social change. In other words, these writers had a vested interest in defending school programs that help continue the literary tradition that they, as young novelists and poets, represent: social consciousness, open-mindedness and pushing the boundaries of convention through writing.
Here’s the full statement, which was delivered by Ben Okri following the Conference’s session on “Censorship Today”:
We, the undersigned writers attending the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference have learned, to our dismay, that the state of Arizona has passed House Bill 2281, which among its other provisions, specifically prohibits, in the public schools, books ‘designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group’. This is being used to ban Latino studies and the dissemination of books written by and about the Latino community. In future this legislation could be used to target any ethnic group and its literatures.
We abhor this racist law and the infringement of the rights of readers and writers. This is a clear case of censorship, which we oppose, and we call upon readers and writers in the US and all over the world to demand the overturn of this law. House Bill 2281 is not just the beginning of a dangerous trend – this is a drastic assault on civil liberties.
Edinburgh, 21 August 2012
Michel Le Bris
José Rodrigues dos Santos