Some people fantasize about making an Oscar speech and being applauded by millions. I fantasize about being reviled.
Or at least having my work banned.
It’s possible. Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man is being pulled from school libraries in a North Carolina county because, in part, as one board member said, “I didn’t find any literary value.” My books have way less literary value than Ellison’s. Another board member claimed, “It was a hard read.” My books are poetry. Everyone knows poetry is a “hard read.” Why my work hasn’t already been banned, I don’t know, but it’s time.
I want to see my titles grouped with Beloved, Persepolis, Fifty Shades of Grey, and Captain Underpants. I want my name to be included with Maya Angelou, Harper Lee, J.K. Rowling, and Kurt Vonnegut. I want to be a presence during Banned Books week.
It’s not because it might mean a financial windfall. Mark Twain famously said when the Concord Public Library banned The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, “That will sell 25,000 copies for us, sure,” and there are some writers and artists who consider controversy as profitable. But, I don’t have any particular desire to make a buck this way.
Nor is it because I take pleasure in annoying people (at least not ones that I don‘t personally know). I don’t deliberately want to shock for shock's sake. I don’t think that’s cool or valuable.
It’s because the ability of a book to evoke discomfort, fear, suspicion, anger -- the primary forces behind censorship -- means that it is powerful.
Censoring, “challenging,” banning, and even burning books are affirmations of their power. These actions mean books matter. The opposite of love isn’t hate, but apathy. It would be much worse if people didn’t care about books, if, instead of outrage, there was simply a collective shrug. The absolute worst response? “It’s just a book.”
It will be a terrible sign if we reach a time when books are no longer banned. It won’t mean that we’ve reached an age of tolerance, openness, and inquisitiveness, but one of indifference.
The board members who believe Invisible Man has the ability to affect people are right. It does. If someday my work is censored in some way, it will mean someone thinks it’s powerful and that my writing might move people, change them, stir them to act or think. What a wonderful compliment.