Wednesday, February 22, 2006

AS IF! Makes School Library Journal

There was a nice little piece in today's SLJ Online edition about AS IF! (The article makes it sound like the group is all my doing, which is so not the case, but I guess they thought it made a better story that way.)


SLJ TALKS WITH AUTHOR BRENT HARTINGER

Author Brent Hartinger was so moved when he heard that a school district in Texas refused to ban the short story "Brokeback Mountain" that he created the anticensorship group AS IF! (Authors Supporting Intellectual Freedom). Ironically, a school district in Washington recently banned Hartinger's Geography Club (HarperCollins, 2003). SLJ spoke to Hartinger about AS IF! and how it feels to be at the center of a censorship case in his own hometown. For more information about the author, visit www.brenthartinger.com.

How did AS IF! come about?

AS IF! started when a group of teen-book author friends of mine read about the situation in which St. Andrew's Episcopal School in Austin, TX, chose to return a $3 million donation rather than submit to the donor's request that the short story "Brokeback Mountain" be removed from an optional reading list for 12th graders.

This really impressed us. We loved the idea that for this one school, and the people involved, there was literally no amount of money that could get them to violate their principle of academic independence.

Jordan Sonnenblick, [who wrote] Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie (Scholastic, 2004), and Mark L. Williams, [who wrote] the "Danger Boy" [series] (Candlewick), suggested sending the school signed copies of our books in appreciation and thanks. So that's what we did.

What was the reaction?

Eventually word spread to our author friends, and the school ended up receiving something like over 80 teen books [from the authors], which they planned to display in a "Freedom Library" section of their school library.

We especially liked that we were able to do something positive, make a positive statement, since so much of the book-banning debate involves people criticizing each other for doing the "wrong" thing. In this case, we were able to support and praise someone for doing the "right" thing.

So how did all of this lead to creating AS IF!?

At the same time this was happening, we decided to make things a little more formal, and start an actual organization. When we were brainstorming names, I came up with AS IF! We all agreed that this seemed to capture our mission, but with a bit of a teen sensibility.

The founding of our group all happened last fall. Ironically, my book Geography Club was banned two weeks or so after we officially created AS IF! As I worked to reverse the banning of my own book, the other members of AS IF! were extremely supportive, writing letters to the school board, and to others involved locally. But this time, of course, I got to see the censorship fight up close, especially since the ban was in the town where I happen to live.

Have other founders of AS IF! had their books banned?

I'm the only member who has had a book banned since we founded the group, but many of us have experience with challenges and even outright bans.

Tell us about the organization's Freedom Award.

In keeping with our attitude, we thought we would create a "Freedom Award" [for extraordinary contributions to the cause]. We're currently monitoring several situations where we may bestow our award, which also involved donations of signed books from our members.