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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters


I Am Just Back from the FAME Conference in Orlando

For those of you not up on your acronyms, this was the Flordia Association for Media in Education conference, not a workshop on how to get on American Idol. Since ALA was in Anaheim, and I recently went to an NCTE at Opryland in Nashville, I’ve now had a real eyeful of the resort-convention-center-theme-park-hotel-atrium. They are all similar, and similarly weird. You are living in a computer design — you can just picture how the layout looked on someone’s screen, and all of the faux rock, and faux pirate ships, and faux jungle, and the bored, dozing, real turtles and alligators also seem plucked directly from a screen. They have that almost real yet clearly fake quality of computer-generated cartoons. Being in this theme park just as Congress debates a $700 billion bailout, you have a sense of disjunction, of distance. The park seems like a relic from the Roman empire, from a moment of display and excess — even if its faux display and budget excess — just as the nation has the a sense of vertigo — of looking at a terrifying abyss.

The theme of the FAME conference was Intellectual Freedom (or FREADom as their banners put it), and I was put on a panel with Chris Crutcher — who had plenty of war stories to tell. But I felt a bit out of place. I gave a presentation on what Intellectual Freedom means to me — the freedom to think. Yet not one book I wrote or edited was ever challenged — or at least if one was, no one told me. I was edited Lutz Van Dijk’s, Damned Strong Love — a novel based on a true story, about a homosexual relationship between a German soldier and a Polish young man — and was told that it was in effect silently banned. Libraries chose not to buy it, nor did any paperback house reprint it. And while I have gotten emails from people who were upset by Race (or as much of it as they read), no one has argued against its being on shelves. 

I wonder if nonfiction somehowflies under radar — it is not Harry Potter, the bestseller that is in the media and parents fear will corrupt their kids. It is not the novel with the provocative cover, or title, or theme parents fear is whispering in their child’s ear. Perhaps nonfiction seems too dull, or schoolish, I suppose some book on evolution might be challenged, but then the school would be debating evolution, not that book. And Robie Harri’s books on human development are always on list of banned books — but I think it is fair to say that books dealing frankly with sex and sexual development are a distinct category. 

So have any of you had experiences with nonfiction books (outside of sex ed) being challenged or banned? Which? Why? I told the conference that as a nonfiction writer, I simply want my readers to think, that is the freedom I want to protect. Have you had other kinds of intellectual freedom challenged?


  1. Kelly Milner Halls says:

    Hi Marc,

    I work for Chris Crutcher and I write nonfiction for kids. When I found out you were going to be on his panel, I told him you were who I wanted to be when I grew up — and the smartest nonfiction writer I’ve ever had the chance to read. Once he spent that time with you, he wrote me and said I was right.

    One of my books was censored in the most fascinating way. WILD DOGS, as you predicted, dealt with the evolution of prehistoric animals that became dogs, canines. One Christian school reviewed the book very positively, except, they said for my “theories” on evolution. They suggested a hand written correction in the blank space at the bottom of the page to “fix” my mistake. It’s not a challenge, but it certainly was a form of nonfiction censorship.

    Just thought I’d share. Thanks for writing such amazing books.

    Kelly Milner Halls

  2. Marc Aronson says:

    Kelly: Thanks, I enjoyed meeting Chris and hope to stay in touch. My point at the conference is that Intellectual Freedom is freedom to think. Thinking does not mean you are right — in fact, you must be open to being wrong. So sure, evolution is a theory, just as the concept that I exist may, in fact, not be true. But I don’t feel constrained to amend every use of the verb “to be” just in case I don’t.