“How They Do It” and the Role of the Author in the Censorship Debate

Chris Crutcher’s article “How They Do It,” which discusses the removal of his book Whale Talk from a school in Fowlerville, Michigan, brings up an interesting point about the perspective of the author in regard to censorship issues. When we think of challenges to a particular work, we typically think of the complainants and the local school system as the case’s key players— the author is removed from the equation almost entirely. In the Gwinnett County Harry Potter case, for instance, local newspapers discuss Laura Mallory or GCPS representatives such as Dr. Lisa Eikholdt, but rarely, if ever, bring up J.K. Rowling outside of giving her credit as the author of the series. I myself, as someone studying this case, have given little thought to Rowling in this context. Because the author is not directly involved in the effort to remove their book from an individual school/school system, we can easily forget that they are the force behind the contested material. By writing a public response to the removal of his book in Fowlerville, Crutcher actively puts the author back in the conversation. He also, however, uses strong language in his post which, I’d argue, pulls too much attention from the case back to the author. He makes the claim, for example, that “Every book I’ve written since has been censored somewhere. In the early years I believed the censors had the same agenda I had — the good of kids — and that we just perceived the meaning of that differently. I have come to believe something else altogether. These people embrace their philosophy over their humanity” (Crutcher 2). While his point here that a person’s reason for wanting a book censored could be more deeply rooted in larger ideology than in human opinion is valid, it gets buried in the connection to his own text, skewing his viewpoint to that of an upset author. His use of phrases like “these people embrace their philosophy over their humanity” further stresses the Fowlerville case as a personal issue rather than being indicative of a larger problem. Such phrases also create an “us versus them” rhetoric which once again masks Crutcher’s argument that sudden removal of pre-approved classroom material can be disruptive to students’ learning environment in his own anger at the parents who contested Whale Talk. His response makes the author a recognized factor, which is important, but it also overshadows the role of the students, teachers, and parents in Fowlerville. Crutcher unintentionally speaks over them in this post, advocating for the text on their behalf rather than in conjunction with them. As his opinion takes precedence, the voice of the community gets lost. “How They Do It” highlights, then, the balance of voices which must come into play when we navigate the blurred lines of censorship cases. The author, as creator of the challenged work, is a relevant player in these cases. Their intention in creating the work, their intended message, and even their opinion on the book being contested if, like Crutcher, they become aware of the challenge, can be incredibly useful information. If they do get involved, however, it is essential that they remain one of many contributing voices and not the star player. When authors get overly involved, other vital viewpoints are overlooked. Finding a necessary balance between the two allows the author a place in the censorship debate alongside local community members rather than “above” them.

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