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Danforth book taken off reading lists
Writers of note have had their works banned or censored since the beginning of time, and now an award-winning writer whose debut novel is based in Miles City has now joined their ranks.
Miles City native emily m. danforth (sic) was informed by a Twitter contact in late June that her novel, “The Miseducation of Cameron Post,” had been voted off a summer reading list for incoming freshmen by a school board in Delaware. The Cape Henlopen school board voted 6-1 to remove the book, citing inappropriate language, most notably the F-word, for its reasoning. The result of the voting was originally reported by Chris Flood of the Cape Gazette on June 30.
“I woke up Sunday to a tweet by a lady who follows me on Twitter bringing the story to my attention,” Danforth said in an interview with the Miles City Star. “It wasn’t the best way to start a Sunday. It took a while to find the article, but when I found it, I was surprised. But I was told when the book was published this might be an issue, so it’s been on my radar.”
danforth grew up in Miles City, and is the daughter of Miles City resident Sylvia Danforth.
“Post” was part of a 10-book list called the Blue Hen List, which was given to “district middle school students entering high school in the fall and taking college prep and honors classes,” according to the Cape Gazette. The books were all deemed age-appropriate by librarians across the state of Delaware.
“There were 10 books on that original list, and, if I correctly understand the parameters of their assignment, students were asked to choose, at most, two of them,” danforth explained. “Why the objecting parents couldn’t have simply asked their students not to choose my novel, to instead choose from any of the other nine books, is beyond me. It seems a simple enough solution to the objections of a few parents.”
Set predominantly in Miles City in the early 1990s, “The Miseducation of Cameron Post,” tells the story of Cameron, a teenager coming to terms with the death of her parents, surviving life in small-town Montana and dealing with and accepting the fact that she is gay.
Since its release in early 2012, “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” has received outstanding reviews from such industry notables as Publishers Weekly, the Los Angeles Times, Kirkus Reviews and Booklist. It was also named a finalist for the 2013 Young Adult Library Services Association Morris Award, given for a debut novel written for teens, and also made the list for the Best Young Adult Books of 2012 by the Boston Globe. It also won the 2012 Montana Book Award.
Issues of the book’s removal were raised when it came to light that no member of the Cape Henlopen board had read the book, only certain passages gleaned from the Internet or pointed out by concerned parents. Further, other books on the Blue Hen List also contain inappropriate language, yet were allowed to remain on the list.
“That’s what makes this situation so ridiculous,” danforth said.
The website AfterEllen.com, created in 2002 to focus on lesbian and bisexual women in the media, was also made aware of the book’s removal, and decided to respond. The writers of the AfterEllen blog crafted a letter they emailed to each member of the Cape Henlopen board, implying that perhaps its content, rather than its language, was the reason for the removal.
“On June 30, your body announced that it was removing the acclaimed and award-winning young adult novel ‘The Miseducation of Cameron Post‘ from the high school summer reading program for college prep and honors track freshmen,” the email read. “The reason you cited for this book’s removal was inappropriate language. As writers and readers, we feel it is incumbent upon us to point out the logical inconsistency of this assertion, and suggest that it is the book’s depiction of a young woman discovering her identity as a lesbian with which the board took issue.”
After deciding on a course of action, danforth also decided to respond to the board by email. She called her book’s removal both a sincere disappointment, but also one of unexpected pride.
“I’m disappointed, of course, that you, the members of this school board, have taken it upon yourselves to overrule the work of the dedicated and informed librarians who crafted the Blue Hen reading list in the first place, particularly because you admit to not even fully reading my book before voting to remove it from said list...” danforth said. “However, as I said in this letter’s opening, your decision has made me proud, too. Very proud. And honored. And humbled. I’m proud that ‘The Miseducation of Cameron Post’ is now in the company of so, so many novels that have been banned and challenged and censored throughout history - many of them among my all-time favorites, the very books that shaped me as a reader, a writer and a person.”
The board’s decision has also prompted a response from a local Delaware bookstore called Browseabout Books, which is participating in a program to give donated copies of “Post” to readers in the area. danforth said dozens of local readers have already been searching out the book in the wake of the board’s decision, and this project will make it easier.
“With the donation program now in place at Browsebaout Books, I’m confident that any area teen who wants to read ‘The Miseducation of Cameron Post’ will now have a good chance to do so, and this feels absolutely phenomenal,” danforth said. “But it doesn’t mean that I think it’s a complete correction of the serious offense of censorship caused by removing my book from the Blue Hen list in the first place.”
Susan McAnelly of Browseabout Books said the store was approached by AfterEllen.com about the donation program, and the store agreed to participate. The reaction has been positive, with donations coming in from all over the country.
“We’ve had about 60 people call in to donate copies of the book,” McAnelly said. “I think 40 of them have already been given to kids in the area that have come and asked for them. And we have 150 more books on order.”
Operating without a political agenda, McAnelly said the mission of the bookstore is to put books in people’s hands, and this was a good opportunity to do just that.
“If you’re a bookstore or a library, you have a well-curated selection of books that represent diverse opinion,” she said. “We try and make sure every customer, regardless of their religion, race or sexual preference feels comfortable coming into our store.”
Other Montana writers also weighed in on the issue. Craig Lancaster, award-winning author of “600 Hours of Edward,” and its sequel “Edward Adrift,” called the decision a disconcerting one.
“Beyond the specious contention that language was the driver of this decision - books that remained on the list had far more cursing - I’d say simply that it’s a shame that a wonderful book like Emily’s, which should be celebrated by those who value critical thinking and self-realization, is being put out of the reach of kids who would benefit greatly from reading it,” Lancaster told the Star. “That this is being done ostensibly for their own good is heartbreaking.”
Lancaster went on to say, however, there are positives to this controversy.
“First, book bannings never work, because those who would restrict the flow of ideas don’t know how ideas work,” he said. “Second, I suspect Emily’s book will ultimately receive much more attention than it would have. I’m glad of that. It’s one of those rare books that everyone should read.”
Fellow Billings author Russell Rowland agreed, though expressed a slightly different take on the issue.
“The situation with Emily Danforth is just one more example of the religious right struggling to hang on to whatever illusion of control they think they have over the American public,” Rowland said. “History has proven that once they throw their tantrums, which always hurt a lot of people, they are the ones who get slammed the hardest in the long run. I hope this generates a lot more sales for this wonderful book.”
Anyone interested in purchasing a copy of “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” as a donation can do so by going to www.browseaboutbooks.com.
For people interested in the book for themselves, it is also available at Discovery Pond.