A private school in Texas recently returned a three million dollar donation rather than submit to the donor’s request that a controversial book be removed from the school’s reading list.
A group of teen book authors was so impressed by the school’s actions that they gave themselves a name, Authors Supporting Intellectual Freedom (or AS IF!), and are now all donating signed copies of their books, which the school will display in a planned ‘Freedom Library’.
The school, St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Austin, Texas, had been promised the donation by the family of Cary McNair, who later objected to the presence of the Annie Proulx short story “Brokeback Mountain”, on the school’s list of optional reading for twelfth graders.
“St. Andrew’s has a policy not to accept conditional gifts,” school spokesman Bill Miller told the Austin American Statesman. “When the McNair family looked at their gift in a conditional manner, then the school could not accept it.”
According to AS IF! member Brent Hartinger, author of the gay teen book Geography Club, he and his author friends were overwhelmed by the depth of St. Andrew’s conviction. “They gave up three million dollars rather than compromise the principles of academic independence and intellectual freedom,” Hartinger says. “We authors wanted to show our thanks, so we formed our group, and are now all sending signed copies of our books.”
So far, Hartinger says, over sixty books have been sent, including many by bestselling and award-winning authors.
“I sent a signed first printing,” says Newbery winner Cynthia Kadohata. “I saw a copy on E-bay go for eight hundred dollars. It’s not $3 million, but it’s a start.”
The point of the book drive, says another AS IF! member, Lisa Yee, is to make a positive statement, not just add more acrimony to the ongoing debate over controversial books. “Rather than tear down those who make negative or uninformed judgments about literature,” Yee says, “we want to support those who stand up for freedom of choice, and thank them for their efforts.”
Other gay AS IF! members include Jeanne DuPrau, David Levithan, Bennett Madison, and Chris Tebbetts.
“We’re not going away,” says AS IF! member Jordan Sonnenblick. “AS IF! definitely plans to continue doing whatever it can to support all those who fight efforts of censorship and intellectual suppression, especially of books for and about teenagers.”