Playwrights Define Censorship

July 13, 2010

Before heading to ALA’s Annual Conference in Washington, D.C., young-adult author Adam Rapp spent an evening with fellow playwrights Edward Albee, Terrence McNally, and David Henry Hwang discussing censorship. Forty publishers, writers, artists, and supporters of the First Amendment gathered June 23 in the Manhattan apartment of Jane Friedman, former CEO of HarperCollins and current CEO of Open Road Integrated Media, for an informal dialogue with the four playwrights. The event was sponsored by the National Coalition Against Censorship’s Free Speech Leadership Council, which Friedman chairs.

The evening’s conversation led to some verbal sparring between Albee and McNally on the definition of censorship. Albee, the author of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Zoo Story, both of which have been censored, accused Broadway producers of being interested only in making money instead of caring about the quality of the plays they finance.

McNally, who has won Tony Awards for his plays Master Class and Love! Valour! Compassion!, disagreed that economic decisions are censorship, asserting that censorship is when a story cannot be told in any public forum due to pressure from special interest groups. The Catholic League condemned his play Corpus Christi, he noted, and its performance was canceled this year at Tarleton State University near Fort Worth, Texas.

“If a work disappears, it's censorship,” said Hwang, best known as the author of M. Butterfly, in agreement with McNally.

Adam Rapp, whose book Punkzilla (Candlewick, 2009)  received a 2010 Printz Honor award, used his experiences with book banning as the basis for his recent play, The Metal Children. In 2005 his book, The Buffalo Tree (Front Street, 1990), about life in a youth detention center, was banned by Muhlenberg High School in Laureldale, Pennsylvania. It was after going to that town and hearing both sides present their views on his book that the nucleus for The Metal Children emerged, Rapp said.

“The National Coalition Against Censorship must exist to help high school teachers and others on the frontline,” said NCAC Executive Director Joan Bertin. The alliance of 50 national nonprofit organizations, including the American Library Association, is united in the conviction that freedom of thought, inquiry, and expression must be defended, she noted. "The council is a group of intellectual, cultural, legal, and business leaders committed to the defense of free expression."

ROCCO STAINO is coordinator of the Empire State Book Festival for the New York Library Association and a contributing editor for School Library Journal.


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