Revolutionary Voices: If You Have This Book in Your Library, DON'T Weed It! Here's why:

The banning of any book hurts. The banning of Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology (ed. Amy Sonnie, Alyson Books 2000)--recently pulled from the Burlington County Library System in New Jersey--will hurt many.

Ten years old, the book remains, sadly, as revolutionary as it was when I reviewed it for School Library Journal upon its publication. That year, I nominated it for SLJ's Best Adult Books for Young Adults list (it made the list, as did the other book I nominated, Naomi Klein's No Logo).

If you aren't familiar with the story of how the book got pulled, though no formal challenge had been lodged, and how it relates to Glenn Beck, please click here for the story at Amy Sonnie's blog, Banned Librarian, and here for the updated story in SLJ . I don't want to summarize it here--though I will reproduce a quick quote:

"[I]n a May 3 email, [Library Director Gail] Sweet told staffers that they needed to 'pull' Revolutionary Voices from library shelves. 'How can we grab the books so they never, ever get back into ccirculation (sic),' Sweet wrote to BCLS staffers. 'Copies need to totally disappear (as in not a good idea to send copies to the book sale).'"

Totally disappear. When library books don't go to the book sale, they get a) put in the recycling bin, if the library is responsible or b) put in the trash. Note: Sweet also referred to the book as "child pornography." Of its 54 contributors, only 11 are under 18 (most are in their early 20s), and of these 11, only 2 mention sex at all (and this in ways totally in keeping with YA novels*, etc). Very few of the pieces mention sex, period.

The banning of any book hurts, but Revolutionary Voices is out of print. Copies remain in only 400 libraries, according to WorldCat. And there's nothing else like it out there. 54 youth contributed stories, poems, artwork, and zine pages to the book. Most also contributed pictures of themselves, along with short bios. Here's a sampling of sentences from the bios:

"I am a 23-yr-old mixed-race queer poet of Vietnamese/Scottish/Swedish descent"

"I am a 20-yr-old Igbo woman from Nigeria…I am trying to find my voice as a Black queer woman living in the United States. Our society tries to speak for us young folks, and it's about time we find and use our own voices"

"I am a triracial, First Nation, Two-Spirit Fairy Trans Faggot activist"

"a 17-yr-old queer Latina living between homes in New Jersey and California"

"I am a poet and queer youth activist about to enter tenth grade"

"I am a 19-yr-old Chinese-American, born in Hong Kong and raised in San Francisco"

"i am 23 years old and active not only in the arab community but also in ethnic/feminist/queer communities"

"I am a gay biracial (Japanese and white), Nissei, male, genderqueer"

"I am a 21-yr-old queer boi of mixed heritage (human-melting-pot-style) and intersexed physicality"

Now: it is hard enough for queer youth to find books about white queer youth, and books about white queer youth that talk about more than just coming out. This book is full of the work of young queer writers of color (it does include white queers, too). It has pictures of the young queer writers of color. And it's about a lot more than being queer and coming out.

Here's a paragraph from the Introduction:

"What's so revolutionary about these voices? The young writers in this collection, like so many revolutionary thinkers of the past and present, are moving toward a radical consciousness by questioning heteronormativity and positioning themselves as young and queer in a world that tells us queerness and teen sexuality are discrepant. We think critically about regimes of gender, race, class, ability, and age. We see that we live under a system of heterosexism, white supremacy, misogyny, and capitalism--where homophobia is wielded as a weapon of sexism; where most of us are taught a Eurocentric version of history in school; where young people, especially young people of color and poor people, are being tracked into prisons. This is a system that justifies spending more money on the military than on education and health care combined; a system where foreign business interests control peoples and nations of color and the United States bombs and sanctions whoever it pleases. This system makes possible a society that packages queer identities with rainbow ribbons and sells them to the highest bidder. A society in which Pride has been commodified… Unlearning mainstream society's teachings is a difficult process requiring visible alternatives and open dialogue. This collection is our attempt at opening this dialogue. We share our work to counter our own invisibility, to become allies to one another, and to demonstrate that we believe in ourselves enough to take up a pen, paintbrush, or a camera in our own defense."

This book should be in print**; this book should be in libraries; this book should be in readers' hands. If you own it at your library--we are lucky here; our library system owns 2 copies--please don't weed it, ever. It's ten years old, yes. But it reads like now, and tomorrow, and probably many tomorrows after that.

*as commenter "Josh" wrote in the comments section of the SLJ article: "No one is removing books marketed toward preteen girls in which 150 year old men eating the placenta out of their new wife so that the baby that is devouring her from the inside can be freed. Nope, they are simply further marginalizing an already shaky and oft oppressed teen demographic.

**I've contacted the editor to see if she's interested in trying to get it back into print, or creating an ebook version


Dee Ann said...

Nicely done...thank you. Check out this link which outlines a theatrical performance based on Revolutionary Voices:

Emily Lloyd said...

Wow--that's fantastic! Thanks for the link.

SafeLibraries said...

See also, "Et tu, Mary Minow? Then Fall, Gail Sweet!"

Girl in the Moon said...

Hi. I came over here because David Leeking mentioned the comic and "What would you do if you didn't need the approval of 15 committees?", which are both funny and interesting. But this? This is something I hadn't heard about and am really glad that I have heard about, for all that the banning makes me angry. Thank you.

SafeLibraries said...

"On rare occasion, we have situations where a piece of material is not what it appears to be on the surface and the material is totally inappropriate for a school library. In that case, yes, it is appropriate to remove materials. If it doesn't fit your material selection policy, get it out of there."

"Marking 25 Years of Banned Books Week," by Judith Krug (of the ALA), Curriculum Review, 46:1, Sep. 2006.