In honour of Freedom to Read week, which runs from Feb. 26–March 4, Q&Q spoke to author Raziel Reid, who took part in an FTR event about book censorship in the digital age in Calgary on Feb. 28. Reid has first-hand experience with the issue after a petition was launched to revoke the 2014 Governor General’s Literary Award for children’s literature he won for When Everything Feels Like the Movies (Arsenal Pulp Press), which features a genderqueer teen trying to survive junior high.
Some may think of book banning as a thing of the past; how are censorship and freedom to read issues still relevant today? Denmark just enacted a blasphemy law for the first time in nearly 50 years over the burning of a Koran; university campuses across the U.S. are protesting or rioting over speakers they want censored; social media users on Twitter can influence a corporate publisher to drop your novel… I’d say these are extraordinary, new times in censorship. The fear of literature will never go away, it’s only increasing in a sterile digital age where physical books have become even more sacred. The transportive power of books remind us of our own godliness. There is nothing more dangerous!
Are there aspects of our digital era that make these issues even more pressing? The Internet can’t burn, but that hasn’t stopped some from trying to blow it up. Twitter outrage has replaced people standing around a bonfire of books cheering.
How have you dealt with attempts to censor your work? My writing for young readers goes against a certain construct of childhood. I believe the Internet has dismantled and rebuilt the construct. Pushing creative boundaries pushes human consciousness, and there’s always resistance from people afraid of the changes.
How can readers fight book banning and censorship, and support freedom to read? Dreaming is how we win the war. Read books that have been challenged, that make you uncomfortable, that you disagree with. Buy them from bookstores that haven’t imposed a morality on the literature available.