A Conversation On Censorship
story Scott Currie
On March 3, the Writers’ Centre hosted a panel of four esteemed guests to discuss issues related to the censorship of children’s books. According to Professor Robin Hemley, Director of the Writing Program and published author, this panel was inspired by a controversy over the National Library Board’s decision to remove books from their children’s section and pulp them in July 2014. “[Censorship] is the most topical and obvious issue there is,” he said, adding that it was best to “air these things—otherwise they fester.”
The panel was composed of Susie Bright, a frequent author on topics of sexual politics, Suchen Christine Lim, a celebrated author and winner of the inaugural Singapore Literature Prize in 1992, Jeanie Okimoto, the co-author of The White Swan Express (one of the books embroiled in the controversy), and Mark West, a scholar on children’s literature. The panel was moderated by Alvin Pang, a prominent poet and author who is also teaching a course on poetry at Yale-NUS for a semester, and Abdul Hamid ’17. According to Mr. Hemley, the panelists were chosen to reflect a “balance between the local and global”, and also be “even-keeled and reasonable enough to see [the panel] as more than a pulpit.”
During the session, a recurring idea was the importance of discussion over censorship, especially during the question and answer session. On whether certain literature should be kept from children, Ms. Okimoto said that children and most readers self-select for what they are ready to read. Mr. West said that censorship should not be an answer to problems, advocating for open discussion instead in all instances. In an interview, Mr. Pang agreed and added, “Whether a book is deemed suitable or unsuitable depends on the political and social climate, not the book.”
Panelists also acknowledged the complexities of these issues. In particular, Mr. West said censorship is more complicated than most people understand, as it exists on a spectrum. In a Rector’s Tea the following day, he added, “In many ways the bureaucratic, bury-them-in-paperwork type is a more insidious and perhaps pervasive form [of censorship].”
General consensus among panelists and attendees was that the event was a success. Raeden Richardson ’17 said, “All panelists presented decisive, mature critiques of censorship … [and] put the fear of offending aside for an engaging discussion.” Mr. Pang emphasized that it was important for universities and public libraries to serve as venues for “intelligent and informed debate”, adding that he hoped discussion over the issues raised would continue after the panel.
Also included in the two-day series of related events were a Rector’s Tea with Ms. Lim and Mr. West, and two writing workshops.