One would think that writers whose works frequently attract the attention of censors would avoid presenting a high-profile target by gathering in one place. But a dozen of them have dared to do so in Places I Never Meant To Be: Original Stories by Censored Writers. Judy Blume, one of the nation's most popular and censored writers, has persuaded these accomplished authors to participate in a project that presents the written word in one of its most potent forms: short fiction. These stories focus on young people grappling with life, but they have an appeal to readers of all ages.
In this book, Julius Lester writes: Language can seduce us into forgetting where we are and who we are; it can make us believe in things we know rationally could never be; it can resurrect experiences of pain, discomfort, and suffering we thought we had forgotten. Is it any wonder that Plato banned poets from his utopia? Those are the sort of emotions summoned by these short stories, a fact that alone recommends the book.
The stories take on an added dimension, however, with the accompanying essays, which portray the writers' struggles with censorship and the self-censorship it provokes. All these writers ask for is to be allowed to use the language that is authentic to young readers. How else can they communicate and inspire? Norma Fox Mazer defines their dilemma: Where once I went to my writing without a backward glance, now I sometimes have to consciously clear my mind of those shadowy censorious presences. That's bad for me as a writer, bad for you as a reader. Rather than allow young children a view of the world through the safe window of a book, the censors would send them out into that world ignorant of its ways and its wonders. Books allow children to sample life at arm's length, to reflect on it, put it in context, speed it up or slow it down without the passions and ambiguities of the moment pushing them toward error. In a sly reference to the writer's revenge, Susan Beth Pfeffer says in her essay that you can never censor the future. Sadly, we live in a world of fearful adults who would censor the future of young readers every day.
Places I Never Meant To Be clearly demonstrates that what enlivens the heart of the writer startles the mind of the reader. Sometimes that can happen even in the shadowy presence of the censor.
Paul McMasters is the First Amendment Ombudsman at The Freedom Forum. His weekly essays on First Amendment issues appear on the free! web site at www.freedomforum.org.