From the Library: Revolutionary Voices Banned, Revolutionary Readings Emerge
This past spring, Revolutionary Voices, a multicultural queer youth anthology published in 2000, was pulled from the shelves at a Mount Holly, New Jersey high school library. A formal complaint was filed by Beverly Marinelli, a resident of Lumberton, NJ who just happens to belong to a local chapter of Glenn Beck's 9.12 project. Marinelli stated that the book is "pervasively vulgar, obscene, and inappropriate." Following the request to remove the book, a review committee voted to take the book off the shelves at the school library.
The book was also pulled from Burlington County's public library shelves. The county ban was a bit quieter, as the library did not follow its own policy for handling challenges of controversial materials. The book was pulled off the shelves without so much as a word.
Alright, so it turns out there were a few words, exchanged through email. After being asked to investigate the ban, The New Jersey ACLU recently uncovered emails sent from Gail Sweet, a librarian in Burlington County. Here's an excerpt from one of those emails:
"How can we grab the books so they never, ever get back into ccirculation (sic)...Copies need to totally disappear (as in not a good idea to send copies to the book sale)."
Totally disappear? How very Fahrenheit 451 of you, Gail.
When asked in another email why this book was being banned, she responded with the words, "child pornography." Because if it's queer and it mentions sex, it's porn, right?
Revolutionary Voices is out of print and tends to sell for at least $100 online. So if the library doesn't carry it, it's going to be pretty hard to get a hold of a copy. Which makes it even more important that public libraries aren't making this anthology "totally disappear."
Revolutionary Voices, edited by Amy Sonnie, has been described by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) as "the first creative resource by and for queer and questioning youth of every color, class, religion, gender and ability." The anthology is comprised of prose, art, letters, diary entries, and performance pieces.
Amy Sonnie has received hundreds of comments from readers who have been touched by Revolutionary Voices over the last decade. After the book was challenged this spring, she shared a letter that she received from a man named Lewis who first picked up the book when he was 15 years old:
My friends and I passed around a single copy of this book for weeks… I was fascinated and relieved that there were other people out there who shared elements of my identity. At the same time, it was really important for me as a pretty sheltered young person to see that I was by no means identical to other LGBTQ youth, that there was a wide diversity of voices within the community. This was an illuminating and strengthening part of the book for me.
It is extremely important that queer identities are not only present, but celebrated in the reading materials that students have available in their libraries. It is also important that libraries fulfill their duty to provide a wide array of perspectives and ideas. After sharing the letter from Lewis, Sonnie writes that queer students "certainly deserve a chance to discover the 'diversity of voices' that make balanced library collections so crucial for the health of our communities and democracy".
And speaking of healthy communities, a group of young theatre artists recently got together in response to the bannings and decided to create a theatrical reading of Revolutionary Voices, which they call revolutionary readings. They describe the goals of the project on their website:
Libraries are not a place for personal, political, and religious agendas. By removing this and similar books from their shelves, the voices of the LGBTQ community are silenced. They deserve the opportunity to be heard, and students should be given the option to hear these voices if they so choose. Opponents claim that this book is pornographic. The legal definition of pornography is as follows: "material that depicts erotic behavior and is intended to cause sexual excitement."
Upon witnessing our performances, upon reading this text, upon viewing these images, upon hearing these stories, you will recognize that Revolutionary Voices is not pornographic. The stories in the book do not intend to sexually excite its readers. They are not meant to preach or to force, but to share perspective, generate discussion, and educate.
Image: revolutionary reading performers
What an awesome way to protest the banning of this book, right? These artists are making sure that the voices in Revolutionary Voices are not silenced, and if you're in New Jersey, they just might be performing near you (they'll be in Montclair, NJ on August 19th and Riverton, NJ on August 22nd). Support their project if you can! If you can't, make sure to check out Revolutionary Voices from your own library (check to see where the closest copy is here). And if you're really in the mood to fight censorship this weekend, consider writing the Rancocas Valley Regional High School Board of Education a letter to let them know what you think about their decision to ban this revolutionary book.
Do you own a copy of Revolutionary Voices? If you're in possession of this anthology and interested in donating your copy to a library, please consider the Bitch Community Lending Library! We'll take very good care of it, lend it out often, and make sure that it is never banned.
*Comments on this post have been turned off due to excessive derailing. Further comments can be sent via email to kelsey(at)b-word.org*
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