pat conroy on banning his books

Chris Anson of North Carolina State University forwarded a link on the WPA list to a pointed and hilarious letter from Pat Conroy to the editor of the Charleston (WV) Gazette in which he lambastes the Kanawha County school board’s suspension of his books, The Prince of Tides and Beach Music. The letter begins with:

I received an urgent e-mail from a high school student named Makenzie Hatfield of Charleston, West Virginia. She informed me of a group of parents who were attempting to suppress the teaching of two of my novels, “The Prince of Tides” and “Beach Music.” I heard rumors of this controversy as I was completing my latest filthy, vomit-inducing work. These controversies are so commonplace in my life that I no longer get involved. But my knowledge of mountain lore is strong enough to know the dangers of refusing to help a Hatfield of West Virginia. I also do not mess with McCoys.

And ends with:

The school board of Charleston, West Virginia, has sullied that gift and shamed themselves and their community. You’ve now entered the ranks of censors, book-banners, and teacher-haters, and the word will spread. Good teachers will avoid you as though you had cholera. But here is my favorite thing: Because you banned my books, every kid in that county will read them, every single one of them. Because book banners are invariably idiots, they don’t know how the world works — but writers and English teachers do.

Update, 9:18pm: Video from Zack Harold who is one of three finalists in West Virginia for MTV’s Choose or Lose ’08 election coverage. He submitted this as port of the interview process.

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2 Responses to pat conroy on banning his books

  1. Steve, the Nitro teacher says:

    Well, I am the teacher who assigned the works. I have been doing so for 4 years. I’ve had other students ask for an alternative–no problem. They usually hate the alternative, typically, James Fennimore Cooper or some other innocuous work that I read in college at Bob Jones University.

    Parents want a ‘disclaimer.’ How do I give a disclaimer? “The book you are about to read may contain instances of profanity, violence, rape, sex, masturbation, abuse, and religious insensitivities?” That’s almost the disclaimer I would have to do to teach the Bible as literature!

    One parent didn’t like a book I use with average English students because it described a honeymoon scene where the old bed breaks. The people were extremely poor and married. But don’t they have sex too?!

    I tell the kids to get over the sex thing…without it, none of us would be having the discussion. Violence…well, right now we can read about the 4000 who have died in this inane war we are in. Profanity…sometimes it’s just appropriate…or human nature. Rape…never excusable…but tell that to the 1000s that happen each year. You see my point.

    Thank God, (I hope that doesn’t disturb anyone’s religiosity) the students focus on the issues. What if reading about the horrific rape causes one of my students to pursue a college degree or future profession to help victims of such issues? Or some sympathy for a soldier who comes home after experiencing graphic violence in real life?

    However, what happens when the kid wants to read the book, but the parent objects. You know as well as I do that kid will read the book! Of course, the test I give will be on the alternative. I do value my job.

    This has happened and that particular student was allowed to stay in the room for discussions; the parents trusted me not to discuss the details. The student knew enough to discuss the work–Hmmm…now how did he do that! Forbidden fruit is always more tempting. That’s why none of the Conroy books can be found in bookstores and libraries in the Charleston area.

    The exceptional thing in all of this has been the students! They know their First Amendment rights and have articulated them well and passionately. Their grasp of the issue is beyond the years of those protesting and of some of whom will be voting on it. I figure, if these students will stand up for 700 pages of fiction, then when a much larger life issue confronts them, they will be able to speak up for what they believe.

    I’ll keep on trying to build success with my program. If I can get just a few students to develop a love of reading…or better yet, some critical thinking on sensitive issues, my job will be worth it.

  2. TO Steve:
    Thanks for posting your response. Growing up in a hardcore Christian home and attending Christian schools I was “sheltered” from many books, music, and movies. All that I found on my own. Some then and many now as I’m still trying to fill in the gaps of my Christian childhood.
    Conroy examines areas of the South that most Southern writers ignored, and Conroy examines them with a fresh perspective. I appreciate Pat Conroy and teachers like Steve.
    Scott T.

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