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Random House Offers Prize For Teen Nerds Who Love Them Some Banned Books
Hey, you chickenshits at Scholastic! This is how you support diverse reading!
As the far Right keeps trying to ruin school and public libraries with attempts to restrict access to books and even shut down entire libraries out of fear that somewhere a child might learn that it’s perfectly fine to be LGBTQ or to know about American history as it actually happened, publisher Penguin Random House is pushing back. Earlier this year, the publishing giant, along with authors, parents, and students, joined with PEN America to sue Florida’s Escambia County Public School district over the school system’s book censorship ban, arguing that it violates the First Amendment.
That’s in marked contrast to how Scholastic responded to the book banning mania. For its popular book fairs, it put many (though not all) of its “diverse” books in a single case that schools could either include or just not, making censorship easier for school districts where “diversity” is assumed to be optional.
Last week, Penguin Random House, clearly Gallant in this little story, announced it’s adding a new “Freedom of Expression Award” to its annual Creative Writing Awards for high school seniors, in partnership with national diversity in literature nonprofit “We Need Diverse Books.”
In a press release, Penguin Random House said,
In the face of book bans and attacks on free expression on the rise in America, Penguin Random House and We Need Diverse Books celebrate the power of books and stories. Applicants to the new award will be asked to answer the prompt, “Tell us about one banned book that changed your life and why.”
Hoo boy, I bet we all have some stories there, and I will happily go on and on about how Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five (Wonkette cut link) helped fundamentally reshape my worldview when I was a college freshman (during Ronald Reagan’s first year in office, which gave Vonnegut’s observations on war and nationalism particular oomph). Between Vonnegut and Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, which I read my senior year in high school, I just didn’t see things the same anymore. My very Catholic mom was in her own way absolutely right: Reading poisoned my mind. Thank goodness!
Hey, if you’re shopping on Amazon anyway, this button also gives us a piece of the action.
Oh, but wait! I am not a current high school senior who attends public school in the United States, including the District of Columbia and all US territories, and who is planning to attend college in fall 2024, so I am not eligible for the contest. But a lot of really smart kids all over the country are, so if you know any kids or teachers who might want to apply for this sucker, or for one of the other five categories, read up on the awards here and point ‘em to that link for the full rules and application form, too.
The prize in each category will be $10,000, as well as mentoring and other “professional development opportunities.” The competition opened October 16, and applications will close January 16, 2024, or when the first 1,000 applications have been received, which seems likely to happen first.
“This year it is of particular importance that we honour diverse young voices. As book bans proliferate across the country, we celebrate the power and importance of the written word. […] Students today deserve to be heard. With this award we celebrate and amplify their perspectives.”
But we bet she spelled “honor” in American and then the Guardian translated it.
The website announcing the new award points out that “by and/or about LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC communities” are among those most frequently targeted by would-be censors, adding that the contest sponsors “believe books change lives, and that everyone deserves to see themselves in a book,” which is why moves to censor books are so infuriating, of course.
And that’s not just corporate talk, either. I can’t begin to tell you how many accounts I’ve read about people whose only refuge as a kid was the public or school library, where they discovered they weren’t alone, that there were other people like them out in the world — often LGBTQ+ folks, but also just others whose parents didn’t get them, who were introverted or nerdy or awkward or worried they were too weird to matter. Heck, I bet even some jocks have found solace in books about protagonists who feel that other people’s expectations can be crushing.
So hey, you hyperliterate filthy fuckaducks, even if we’re all too old to apply for this writing contest, feel free to share your “book that changed my life” (it doesn’t have to be banned) story in the comments, which of course Wonkette does not allow.
And if you have time and inclination, show up at your local school or library board meetings to let ‘em know you support real liberty.
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