PEN America highlights attacks from the Left on books

August 30, 2023 • 10:00 am

The recent “cancellation” of my children’s book about an Indian man and his cats—with the sole reason given that I couldn’t write about India because I was white—has made me extra sensitive to the absurdity of a lot of cancellations based on such claims of “cultural appropropriation.”  Now of course it’s possible to write an ignorant and demeaning book about another culture, and publishers don’t have to put out every book they get; but I plead not guilty to cultural appropriation, and, indeed, most of the examples given by Cathy Young below are cultural appropriation of the right type: the enrichment of cultures by incorporating material from other cultures.

The “sin” of cultural appropriation goes only one way, of course: you are not allowed to “write down.” That is, members of nonminority groups (read: white people, especially men) are not allowed to write about minority groups, even if those groups are not oppressed or the subject isn’t oppression.  But the reverse action—members of minority groups writing about dominant groups—seems perfectly fine. This I don’t understand. If members of one culture supposedly can’t understand members of another, or treat their issues with sensitivity, then the ban should go both ways.  Why is it okay if someone from India writes about an American man who owns sweet shops and takes in stray cats?

Thus the new post by the estimable Cathy Young (click the screenshot below to read, but subscribe if you read regularly)—about a new PEN America report on freedom to write and publish—struck home. The theme, according to Young (I haven’t read the PEN report) is the suppression of literature deemed harmful (often because of “cultural appropriation”), an action taken mostly by the Left. The Right gets rid of books they find offensive by simply banning them from libraries or removing them, but what the Left does, preventing publication of books in the first place, can be seen as more harmful. For in the latter case, the book simply isn’t available to anyone.

Many of these campaigns are fueled by social-media pile-ons, often by people who haven’t read the book they damn. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ll give quotes from Young about the tactics of the Left and some chilling examples of how they’ve worked.

First, what’s going on (Young’s text is indented).

WHETHER THERE EXISTS in American culture a left-wing illiberalism that threatens freedom of thought and expression under the cover of social justice has been a subject of heated debate in the past decade. At a time when right-wing authoritarian populism is on the rise, many people have viewed warnings about illiberal progressivism as a distraction. Liberal and centrist critiques of leftist intolerance, from the Harper’s magazine “Letter on Justice and Open Debate” in the summer of 2020 to prize-winning historian Anne Applebaum’s Atlantic essay on “the new Puritans” the following year, have been met with purported debunkings and derided as moral panic or whining from people who don’t like to be criticized.

Now, a major liberal institution that has championed freedom of expression for over a century—PEN America, formerly PEN American Center and part of PEN International, the writers’ association whose notable figures have included John Steinbeck, Arthur Miller, James Baldwin, Philip Roth, Toni Morrison, and Margaret Atwood—has issued a lengthy report that strongly comes down on the side of taking illiberal progressivism seriously.

Booklash: Literary Freedom, Online Outrage, and the Language of Harm, written by the PEN America research team with a trenchant introduction by playwright Ayad Akhtar titled “In Defense of the Literary Imagination,” is a thorough examination of the chilly climate in publishing and the issues and controversies that have created it. Booklash is particularly valuable because PEN America really cannot be accused of having a right-leaning or even centrist bias: the organization enthusiastically champions racial and gender diversity and has strongly denounced censorship moves from the right, such as red-state policies facilitating school library book removals.

Indeed, the report acknowledges the context of rising right-wing authoritarianism but unabashedly, and correctly, stresses that this context makes it more important to acknowledge troubling illiberal trends on the left. . .

Booklash isn’t too long, and should be read, as should its appendix or companion piece, the famous and short “Freedom to Read” statement adopted in 1953 by the American Library Association and the Association of American Publishers. (It’s been amended in the version Young gives, but I’ve linked to the original.) It’s a passionate endorsement of the duty of publishers to put out books espousing all viewpoints, even if many people find them offensive, and the duty of organizations to avoid censoring or banning as taboo those views they don’t like.

But back to Young.  Here are only a few of the examples she and the PEN report give of attempts to ban “offensive” views:

*Online hate campaigns directed at books deemed “problematic” for one reason or another have resulted in books being killed when already in the final stages of publication. A prominent recent example, from this past spring, comes from Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love. After she announced on June 6 that her next book, The Snow Forest, would come out early next year, it was strafed with one-star review bombs. Its attackers were outraged that a book set in Russia was coming out at a time when Russia is waging a brutal war of aggression in Ukraine. Never mind that it’s not a present-day story: The novel is a partly fact-based tale of a Soviet-era family fleeing into the woods to escape religious persecution. By June 12, Gilbert had had enough: She released a video saying that she was indefinitely “removing the book from its publication schedule.”

*. . . OTHER BOOKS, AS BOOKLASH DETAILS, were not literally canceled but endured some degree of suppression. Initial positive reviews in key industry outlets such as Kirkus Reviews have been downgraded; books have been rewritten under pressure; book tours have been canceled, as in the case of Jeanine Cummins’s bestselling 2020 novel American Dirt, a sympathetic treatment of Mexican migrants that was savaged as exploitative “trauma porn.” Aside from the impact on the targeted authors (Cummins seems to have completely withdrawn from public life), there is also the larger chilling effect on publishing. In the case of American Dirt, the report said, “Despite the book’s commercial success, the episode left many within the literary world with the impression that books perceived to trespass across racial or cultural lines could be risky and undesirable.” Indeed, the report cites conversations with authors and editors who would speak only on conditions of anonymity to describe this overall climate of intimidation as well specific incidents in which books were canceled or revised.

*In 2018, the Nation issued an abject apology for publishing a white poet writing in the voice of a black homeless woman. The poem was allowed to stay up, but underneath a contrite statement that read, remarked Nation columnist Katha Pollitt, “like a letter from re-education camp.”

*In June 2020, the young adult novel Ember Days by Alexandra Duncan was at the center of a bizarre drama with two layers of cancellation. First, the novel was withdrawn at Duncan’s request because of complaints about chapters written from the perspective of a woman with Gullah Geechee heritage (African Americans from the Lowcountry regions of Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida). Then, Publishers’ Weekly removed its story about the book’s withdrawal because of complaints that the story had led to “online abuse” toward Duncan’s chief critic, novelist Bethany Morrow, and replaced it with an apology and a pledge to ensure that “our articles will not cause harm in the future.” Obviously, the PEN America report couldn’t cover every such episode without massive sprawl, but these examples seem remarkable enough to merit a mention.

*Novelist, journalist, and Bulwark contributor Richard North Patterson recently wrote about the dispiriting experience of having his novel Trial “rejected by roughly 20 imprints of major New York publishers” despite having 16 New York Times bestsellers to his name. According to Patterson, many of the rejections came with glowing compliments but bluntly stated that the problem was race: the novel deals with racial injustice, and Patterson is white. (Trial was eventually published by a small press.)

There are many more examples, but you get the gist, and I bet you’ve heard of some of these before, like the American Dirt fracas described by Young in greater detail.

Now Young notes that the PEN America report, while conveying a strong message, is somewhat diluted by its occasional tendency to “balance their defense of intellectual freedom with their commitment to the values of social justice, bending over backwards to accommodate the latter.” While it’s okay to give a nod towards social justice, the “Freedom to read” mantra should extend to defending publication of all viewpoints, including those inimical to current versions of social justice.

Here’s Young’s indictment of the greater harm done by the Left than by the Right in censoring books. First, a quote from Jonah Winter, a children’s-book author who has been censored:

As [Winter] put it in a Dallas Morning News column:

Book-banning, the “cancel culture” of the right, doesn’t hurt a book or an author.

What hurts a book or an author is the far more effective cancel culture of the left, by which I mean the small but vocal subsection of illiberal ideologues who’ve commandeered both liberalism in general and the publishing world specifically, often using their power to attack well-meaning authors in the form of social media pile-ons and the resulting cancellations, both of which I’ve experienced.

And I’ll add this since it hits home: one of Winter’s books that was banned was a respectful biography of the great baseball player and humanitarian Roberto Clemente, outfielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates (I saw him play at Forbes Field), who died at 38 in the crash of a plane bringing relief to earthquake-devastated Managua, Nicaragua. Winter says this:

I’ve had two book contracts canceled because of my identity in relation to the subject matter. I am a white man. The irony of the big to-do being made over the banning of my Clemente book by conservative activists is that, were I to try and publish that exact same book today, I would not be able to get it published because of progressive activists.

And from Young:

There is another factor as well. When attacks on literary works come from the right, they are typically counteracted not only by progressive activists but by institutions that act as guardians of culture: public schools and teachers’ unions, libraries, universities, publishers, the mainstream media. When the attacks are from the left, the same institutions typically offer no objections, or even collude.

So what’s the solution? First, we have to recognize that if you’re on the Left like me, you have to indict your own side for this kind of ludicrous and harmful censorship. The cure begins with recognition, and that’s what PEN America has done.  Young also notes that Booklash has recommendations like preventing book-review websites like Goodreads from going after books that haven’t been read, or damning them on flimsy grounds. And publishers should issue “formal statements of principles.” (This is desperately needed.)

Young closes by arguing correctly that being on the Left does not conflict with arguing for free expression in books, nor does condemnation of censorship trivialize the arguments of social-justice advocates. It’s merely a way to enact the First Amendment through publication, for books are one of the most effective ways to make and to vet arguments:

Such a shift [in the present Leftist illiberalism about publishing] must also include much greater willingness on the part of authors and publishers to stand up to pressures, particularly when it’s a matter of just a few voices denouncing alleged bigotry and “harm” in works the vast majority of people from the supposedly injured group do not see as offensive. But this would also require challenging a key tenet of social justice progressivism: the belief that even to dispute a claim of racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. is in itself “problematic,” and in most cases actively harmful. Such claims must be examined skeptically, especially when suppression of speech or other expression is at stake.

Pushing back against left-wing illiberalism in publishing need not entail a general dismissiveness toward the existence of racial or gender-based injustice and prejudice in American culture, particularly given the recent rise of overt white supremacism, misogyny, and homophobia on the far right and their seepage into more mainstream right-wing discourse. What it does mean, though, is understanding that “canceling” books and authors for transgressing progressive moral codes does nothing to counteract injustice and prejudice. Instead, it inhibits and silences important conversations and trivializes the very evils it supposedly protests.

h/t: Steve

46 thoughts on “PEN America highlights attacks from the Left on books

  1. I ask writers of color this question: what gives YOU the right to represent ALL people of color? White writers don’t claim to represent people of color; they are just writing fiction. Have you gotten authorization from all people of color? If not, then just shut up.

    1. Interesting point. It’s quite easy to imagine an African American writing a book set in say Kenya and about Kenyans. Would that be problematic or is cultural appropriation literally skin deep?

      1. Richard Dawkins was born in Kenya. When he writes about that is he guilty of cultural appropriation because of his skin color? The entire body of Puritanical Fake Left dogma is bullshit pure and simple.

      2. Having spent more time in Kenya than in America (and a lot more in Tz than both put together), I rather suspect an Afro-American writing a novel about a Kenyan in Kenya would be more hilariously bad than “problematic”. The straighter a bat that was played (a legal requirement in Uganda ; I’m not sure about Kenya, but I wouldn’t be surprised), the more hilarious.

    2. I heard this notion on a competition show where the contestant says they represent all ______s and _____s.

      It is a jarring declaration (so, good for TV). But really, ALL of these ____s?

      I sense a spiritual vibe in it – again, good for TV.

    3. It’s particularly odd since it is not like “BIPOC” authors, let alone “BIPOC” people in general, are a monolith when it comes to their stance on these issues, or anything close to it. I recently read an excellent piece by Sherman Alexis about viewpoint diversity among American Indians (, who many progressive whites seem to think of uniformly environmentalist and socialist. Indeed, I think it’s been obvious for a long time now that most white progressives are much more woke than the people of color they claim to represent. I think this is really a form of therapy for whites, as Kat Rosenfield has said (, who use the nonwhites who actually do think this way as political props in the quest to flaunt virtue.

  2. When the attacks are from the left, the same institutions typically offer no objections, or even collude.

    Yes, that is the critical piece. The attacks on books shouldn’t be viewed in isolation from the general spirit of censorship which has taken over the establishment left, as evidenced by the campaigns against misinformation of the last several years. The fact that the press, social media, the bureaucracy, and many left politicians now seem to think that censorship is actually a Good Thing, makes the left much more dangerous that the right. Not only can it stifle opinions that it doesn’t like, it can suppress criticism as well. The right, at the moment, does not have that power, nor does it seem likely that just winning the White House would give it that power, given the array of forces against it.

    1. “The fact that the press, social media, the bureaucracy, and many left politicians now seem to think that censorship is actually a Good Thing, makes the left much more dangerous than the right.”

      Agreed. Nearly all other freedoms hinge on free expression, and one side is actively working to stifle it. After all, when you have the right answers to all of life’s ills, it would be immoral to let wrong-thinking people undermine your Progress.

      Tribalism trumps principle nearly every time. And no tribe is as potentially dangerous as one convinced of possessing an unsurpassed moral and intellectual superiority in service of “humanity.”

  3. Helen Mirren is currently being criticized for playing Golda while not being Jewish. I don’t remember this criticism when she played Maria Altman in Woman in Gold in 2015. (I honestly have no clue which way this is supposed to be punching!)

    She’s also played various queens while not being royal (or, as far as I know even a royalist – punching up, peasants revolt? Or are royals a protected minority? Then again she’s descended from Russian aristocracy, but not royalty, on her father’s side, so perhaps that’s OK, plus she’s a dame – but then how could she possibly be Jane Tennison). It’s all so complicated.

    I thought that actors play roles and that writers were free to imagine. A little tough to lose – for example – Remains of the Day, because Kazoo Ishiguro was born in Japan. (Again, no idea which way, up or down, this one goes).

    Where does this go? Is John Irving not supposed to have gay and trans characters because he’s straight?

    Jeez, get of the damned grass already!

      1. And only slightly less youthful in Caligula and Excalibur, although you could argue that Arthurian England was, for Dame Helen, an appropriation only of time and not of place.

        1. Thanks for the reminder – I need to download “I Clavdivs” some time this week before it disappears back into the archives.
          But that was Sîan Phillips, not Helen Mirren ; I can see the resemblance though.

  4. In similar vein, I was just hunting around the website and noticed that his merchandising stream (tee-shirts, mugs, etc) had been shut down by the online shop because they too had received complaints from the Govt. of Pakistan.
    Since both you and The Author suffer from the same problem, does anyone here know of a merchandising channel (print-on-order tee-shirts, mugs, posters, etc) that specifically does not kow-tow to censorship requests?

  5. This I don’t understand. If members of one culture supposedly can’t understand members of another, or treat their issues with sensitivity, then the ban should go both ways.

    It’s not about understanding, it’s about power.

    All of woke “critical theory” is about power-relations, and about how to overturn and invert the power-relations that the “privileged” group supposedly enjoys over the “minoritized” groups.

  6. I have been always a fan of cultural appropriation — the more, the better. I can’t understand why one culture adopting and adapting the best from another could possibly be considered wrong. Cultural appropriation is one culture paying a compliment to another. In the realm of literature, sure a person of one culture can get things wrong about another. But, so can a person belonging to a certain culture and writing about it. Cultural appropriation, in all its aspects, reduces division and misunderstanding between cultures. That is certainly a good.

    Of course, as in most things, the discussion about cultural appropriation has turned political. In this instance, it is manifested in terming people the subject of Cathy Young’s rightful ire as the “Left.” For those of us on the Left, such a characterization is wrong. Being on the Left means opposing the activities of the Woke in such areas as cancelling the publication of books. Author Susan Neiman has written a book entitled “Left Is Not Woke.” In an interview with Yascha Mounk, a firm advocate of free speech, she delineates three principles that delineate the Left and the Woke. The first is that the Left believe in universalism. The Woke do not; it believes in tribalism. The second is that the Left believes in a principled difference between justice and power. The Woke believe that so-called justice is an excuse for the powerful to remain in power. The third is that the Left believes in progress; the Woke do not. The interview goes into much more depth discussing these points.

    The implication of what Neiman is saying that the true Left must disassociate itself from the Woke. So far, it has been failing utterly, allowing the Right to conflate Leftism and Wokeism. The Left must get over its self-guilt that by criticizing the Woke it is somehow betraying minorities.

    1. You sound like a liberal, not a leftist. There was a period in the past, say, from the 1930s to June 10, 1967 when there was a degree of overlap between the two, but those days are over. Sorry, but Left is as Left does.

    2. As for “the true Left”, what is true is that “socialism is a rich tradition of political thought and practice, the history of which contains a vast number of views and theories, often differing in many of their conceptual, empirical, and normative commitments.” (SEP entry on socialism)
      So there is no general consensus among the Left as to what and who the true Left is. That said, there is no doubt that the Woke belong to the Left, being the Woke Left (or the “New New Left”—the Left after the New Left of the 60s/70s).

    3. Well said (as always) Historian. I believe that Neiman’s three points of difference are an excellent summary of left v. woke and that it is critical that the left get over its self-guilt. Virginia’s former governor Ralph Northam’s bottomless-self-guilt driven agenda and apology tour set the table for the election of the reprehensible Glenn Youngkin. The stakes are large.

  7. I’m a member of PEN and highly recommend the “Booklash” report. It’s one of the more thoughtful analyses of the issues that I’ve come across.

  8. The current prevalence of Leftist illiberalism in much of US academia, publishing, and the culture of arts, museums and NGOs recapitulates the experience of that galaxy far away and its colonies, as well as its Asian variants. In addition, we have avowedly Leftist parties in Venezuela and Nicaragua which, once in power, impose police state measures in order to retain power forever. All this suggests that the conventional US association of the words “Liberal” and “Left” is a category error. Perhaps the continental European definition of “Liberal” (e.g., German FDP, Polish Civic Platform, etc.) is the more nearly correct usage. The long decline and reshapings of the British Liberal Party are not, of course, very helpful in regard to this problem of word use.

    1. As a life-long centrist who refuses to declare party affiliation and can find himself under attack from right wing and left, I will admit being a bit amused as card-carrying members of the Left (the good Left!) are tarred as “reactionary” and “conservative” for reacting against Leftist excess and seeking to conserve cherished freedoms. If only more of them would react.

      But as you say, in a galaxy [not actually] far, far away . . .

    2. Gallant: to re-phrase what I think you intend about the new “meaning” of Liberal, I’ll elaborate that the e.g. German FDP (Freie Deutsche Partei) has been in opposition to the “liberal” push to change basic German grammar to be more “gender-respectful” (Gendergerechte Sprache, so called “gendering”). The FDP is not dissimilar to the Libertarian Party here in USA, though much less “extreme” (ideological?) than the latter. Libertarians, or “classical liberals” often lament the loss of the originial meaning of liberal, as it has been co-opted by the left decades ago. So for the meaning of Liberal to now be further polluted is par for the course.

      1. Regarding gender issues, the liberal German party called FDP (Freie Demokratische [not Deutsche!] Partei/Free Democratic Party) has gone woke too: They write in their program for the 2023 state election in Bavaria that sexual identity (= sexual self-identification) ought to be mentioned in and protected by the Grundgesetz (Basic Law), which is the German constitution.

      2. Odd – with three genders literally in the text books of a century ago, German is one of the languages I’d have less expected to have a major problem with “non-binary” terminology.
        Damn – it must be a month since I did any work on my German. Will correct after lunch.

  9. I was already quite familiar with the real story of the Lykov family (who lived alone in the wilds of Siberia for 40 years). The self-cancellation of “The Snow Forest” is appalling to say the least. Of course, it should be noted that all of the works of Elizabeth Gilbert are worth canceling.

    Note, her cynical shrewdness. She pulls the book now to avoid the flak. Later she fully intends to make money from the book (presumably when the current war is over)

    I should say that I have many ties to Russia and the Ukraine.

    1. Note, her cynical shrewdness. She pulls the book now to avoid the flak. Later she fully intends to make money from the book (presumably when the current war is over)

      Professional authors normally (well, the ones I speak to) having 3 or 4 books in the pipeline between “get off the keyboard, please, cat!” and “I should have chosen the other cover art”, tacking according to current wind direction isn’t that huge a deal.

  10. As for the accusation of “cultural appropriation”, here’s an important point for the Resistance:

    “DO NOT OBEY IN ADVANCE! Most of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then offer themselves without being asked. A citizen who adapts in this way is teaching power what it can do.”

    (Snyder, Timothy. /On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century./ New York: Tim Duggan Books, 2017. p. 17)

    The censorship practiced by the illiberal woke left is part of what Roger Scruton calls “the soft tyranny of political correctness”.
    (To call it “soft” isn’t to say that it cannot ruin people’s lives or livelihoods, but that it is still different from “hard” forms of left tyranny—the Stalinist/Maoist sort. The Woke haven’t yet started building gulags for dissidents.)

  11. Writing fiction requires, among other things, imagination and insight. Sure, its an advantage to an author writing about a particular group or culture to have obtained the necessary insight first hand through membership in that group or culture. But a rough approximation can be had through curiosity, empathy, and research. No one has any business telling an author that any subject matter is off limits.

  12. PEN have a LOT to undo. I recall their shameful excuses for the killers of that French satirical comic magazine a few years ago, Charlie Hebdo. I’ve lost respect for them. That kind of thing, fearing the nonsense “Islamophobia” charge is a deal breaker for me. Damn – freedom of expression is supposed to be their THING.
    (Haven’t read your piece yet… later).

    1. My understanding is that PEN gave Charlie Hebdo an award, but a number of authors protested, not that PEN provided excuses.

  13. A modest proposal:

    Jerry should lightly rewrite his children’s book: the main character’s name should be Brenda Katz; she should live on Lon Gisland (try the pronunciation); and she should own a bakery selling rugelach. Jerry could then change his nom de plume to Jeevan Sikka, and he could Sokal the hell out of that book.

  14. I want to point out a dialectical trick at work in general, that goes like this :

    Books have been banned in the past. This is roundly agreed to have been bad. Libraries make a show of it in fact, and good for them. Further, graphic novels like Maus have broken new ground to tell difficult stories about history to children. Good, I say.

    The dialectic takes an ideologically twisted turn, however, using those prior advances – not banning books and giving graphic novels to kids – and forwards quite obviously bad ideas onto children.

    For example, how many strap-on dildos getting sucked off, or “tasting vagina slime”, and other strongly sexualized material should be in graphic novels that have been marketed to children in schools? Further, the highly sexualized material in libraries is utterly astonishing.

    Thus, while religious conservatives reliably make lots of noise about that, they appear as clowns because of that dialectic. No one wants to look like them. The trick gets people to fall for the idea that these new developments are mere advances just like before and there’s a side of History to stay on.

    My plea, to liberals, is to please think about this dialectical trick, and does it really justify such strongly sexualized material as virtues of any sort for children. Is there any sound limitation to material when children are targets for it – is there in fact a clear side of History being chosen for us?

    Remember, the President of the ALA has detailed her plan to “Queer the catalog”. How extensive will this Queering get? Will “pornography” be redefined so the President says it is ok?

    Thank you.

    1. It is really interesting to me how people can hold what seem to be regressive views on what is appropriate behavior or speech in the presence of adults, particularly adult women, but simultaneously believe that almost anything is appropriate for young children.

      “Queer” is not gay. Queer is always transgressive, and meant to elicit conflict and outrage. Once something becomes normalized, or at least people get used to it and stop complaining, the queer activists need to push farther in order to generate a strong reaction.
      From what I have been able to learn from reading and interacting with queer activists, there is no limit to where they will be willing to take this. The only limit is what the normal people are willing to put up with, which appears to be quite a bit. One facet of the normies is that they tend to be really conflict averse.
      I think we all have a limit, which once exceeded, we are compelled to act.

      1. Discernment – I think this needs to be exercised.

        Yes, there is Hokusai art that, technically, is erotic art.

        There is a difference, though, with Yes, Roya (look it up – it actually has “ADULTS ONLY” printed on it, FWIW).

        I have no problem with grown, functioning adults seeking this out on their own terms. The only problem, as I see it, is how this freedom can exist with kids in mind.

        Queering the library seeks to remove discernment.

    2. Gender Queer is pretty graphic, but it seems to be an extreme case. Are there any other books besides in HS libraries that have pictures of strap-on dildos being sucked off? Should schools require permission slips before letting kids look at Gender Queer? I think so, but the same is clearly not true of biographies of Roberto Clemente. ( I don’t mean to accuse you of supporting the extremely broad book bans described in the link above. But there is a gray area between the two extremes I just listed: books that deal with gender and sexuality, but that handle those themes in an age-appropriate manner, and that have clear artistic value, like Beloved and the Bluest Eye, and I think those books should definitely be available to Highschoolers and Eighth graders. Adolescent sexuality is a fact of life, which means that, yes, books written for adolescents will deal with sex. I feel as though you are conflating the radical crusade being waged to deny the reality of sex differences, leading to gay and lesbian kids being pushed into puberty blockers, with a basic recognition of the scientific reality that teenagers are not asexual. For example, if I remember correctly, in an earlier post, you described ”comprehensive sex education” as a postmodern and Marxist front. Of course, the far-left has damaged sex education, just as it is damaged all other subjects. But all “comprehensive sex education” simply means the teaching of methods of contraception/protection, alongside abstinence. Who opposes that, besides the Christian Right? The people most responsible for wokeness are motivated by what Jonathan Haidt called safetyism: An obsessive desire to stamp out speech and expression they deem harmful, a redefinition of harassment to include anything that they claim makes them “uncomfortable”, and a reliance on hyperbolic claims of danger. The Trumpists, of course, have similar impulses, but different targets. Those of us who truly want to build a free society and who oppose authoritarians left and right (and I think you and I would both put ourselves in this group) should reject the notion (being propagated both the religious right and the sexual harassment DEI bureaucrats on the left who are ruining the lives of young boys for innocent mistakes that teenagers are weaklings who need to be protected from all talk of sexuality by the censor.

      1. Appreciate that reply, and PCC(E)’s graces here. It seems so simple to write it out. I’ll try to be brief:

        I have found no other way to say it :

        No, schools are for literacy. For thinking. For writing ideas, solving problems, and such. Yes, thinking about society too. But not importing the gamut of society without discernment.

        Popular entertainment, “finding yourself”, finding lives or lifestyles outside your own, other ways of life, exploring sexuality… or you know, ahem – the magazines on the top shelf – is inevitable. It is for mature – mature! – individuals to find on their own and decide on their own, outside school – and with parental input. I mean, the queer library is now, well, queered. So I’m befuddled.

        As such, I can only see these ostensibly tiny advances as political indoctrination – to be discerned from “social studies”. There is SEL which is suggestive of religion – then CSE is just a whole other level.

        Thus, I wrote discernment. All of the points I made being dissected by queer theory, like what “mature” is, or the private property of “family”, to be decided by The Queer Family Marxist wizards like the President of the ALA. Every word is up for alchemical transformation.

        I mean, what AGE were those kids?! BARELY LEGAL?! Good grief. I’m glad I didn’t put the book in there.

        Again, thank you.

      2. Example – not sure if it’s in schools. Definitely libraries :

        A Quick & Easy Guide to Queer & Trans Identities
        Mady G, J.R. Zuckerberg (no full names?)
        Limerence Press
        Portland, OR
        ISBN 978-1-62010-586-3

        Read it, then – a question to ponder : what, precisely, is this book doing?

        Ok I’m done.

        1. First of all, I appreciate your gracious reply. We absolutely need to prevent school curriculum from being infected by Queer Theory. It is outrageous that kids are being taught that sex is a social construct, instructed to pick pronouns as those they were menu items at a restaurant, being told that they should transition if they do anything that does not conform to gender norms, and in some cases, being socially transitioned without the knowledge of their parents. But my concern is with instituting vague and broad prohibitions on anything that is deemed sexual. For instance, a ban on books containing content related to “prostitution” sounds good, but what about the scene in Catcher In The Rye, when Holden hires a prostitute, but doesn’t go through with it? We might want to prevent kids from being forced to read about rape, but would that include To Kill A Mockingbird, which doesn’t actually depict rape, but whose plot revolves around a false accusation of rape? It seems to me like rules such as these, although well meaning, will end up sweeping out classic literature alongside woke garbage- there were some HS teachers in Florida who wouldn’t assign Romeo and Juliet because of the implied sex, until the Secretary of Education personally okayed it. And once the floodgates have opened, I don’t see what will stop the woke from responding in kind, like getting rid of Huckleberry Finn because they say it promotes racism. I am unwilling to start down that road.

          1. Jus’ sayin’ I actually thought of CitR after my reply!

            But I’m sticking to signing off.

            ‘Til next time, cheers.

  15. I gave the Clemente book to my 10 year old grandson, (along with a Willie Mays bio – kid’s a Giants fan) and I’m pretty sad to see that Winter has been “judged” for something other than his excellent story telling. This isn’t progress, nor is it healthy. See also “Woke Racism: How a New Religion has Betrayed Black America” by John McWhorter

  16. I completely sympathise with your predicament concerning your children’s book, and I acknowledge the unprofessionalism of the literary professional involved. But maybe it is also worth thinking about this from the perspective of the unpublished writer. You are an established, and successful, author and, because of this, you were always going to get a personalised response to your submission of your book. And the agent’s response confirms what I have known for some time: there are secretive, unannounced, and probably unwritten rules embedded in the literary submissions system.

    I don’t know how the system works in the US, although I suspect it is similar to the one here in the UK, but an unpublished novelist only rarely gets more than a stock email in response to their submissions and accordingly could never know that the rules exist. It only became clear to me after I had invested much of our limited income and all my passion throughout most of my adult life trying to get published without success. This means that writers who write novels that adopt a philosophical, political or other ideological stance will never get published if they break the rules. Would someone with a strong political case such as a George Orwell get published today? If not then, I suggest, the literary industry is failing in its duty.

    Young is completely right to support the PEN report recommendation that the industry needs “formal statements of principles”. Not just for published authors who are in danger of being cancelled, but so that prospective novelists are in a better position to know what to write and submit – although I suppose this entails the risk that this might entrench and formalise some of the institutional prejudices both you and I would oppose.

    It is slightly amusing that my second novel, “Inside Adam” was about a member of a fictional species of Neanderthal-like hominins, called Tazians, who was surreptitiously cloned and was living in modern society. The absurd corollary of what they are saying is that to avoid misappropriation this book could only have been written by a Tazian!

    I’m currently writing an article for the literary trade magazine, “The Bookseller” to explore these issues, which will need amending, in light of your post. Although, as usual, I have more hope than expectation of getting it published. Let me know if you’d like to see the draft.

  17. For anyone who dislikes Goodreads, here is a website attempting to offer a non-partisan, ideologically diverse alternative: (I don’t know how to embed a url.) Disclaimer: I wrote one topical post for them because they asked me to and they looked interesting.

  18. Ala Rachel Maddow’s “Deja News”… I just encountered a discussion about Ezra Jack Keats’ (Jacob Ezra Katz) children’s stories from the early 1960s. Keats thought it sad that there were no children’s books featuring black or minority children, so he wrote and illustrated some of the very first ones. They were set in a poorer city neighborhood such as the one he’d grown up in. By the late 1960’s and into the 1970’s he was attacked for stealing money from legitimate African-American writers and illustrators and told he had no right to write about black characters. He was deeply wounded. So while we may not have had terms such as ‘cultural appropriation’ yet, it sounds like this has been an issue in the publishing world for 50+ years now.

    Following all this to its (il)logical conclusion, writers will be confined to writing autobiography with other people appearing only with respect to documented actions or recorded speech because none of us can truly know someone else’s thoughts, motivations, emotions, etc., i.e., we cannot fully share someone else’s ‘identity’. Yes, we’ll still have technical writing as well.

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