Friday, October 21, 2011

In Trouble: About Publishing Controversial Books

In 2009 Ellen Levine came to our winter residency and gave a wonderful lecture on writing non-fiction. We all really enjoyed having her with us for those few wintry days.

During that stay, she mentioned that she had written a novel set in the sixties that involved an unwanted pregnancy and an abortion and she was having trouble placing it. During her time in Minneapolis she made contact with Andrew Karre at Carolrhoda. Andrew admired the novel and was happy to offer Ellen a contract. It’s now published, In Trouble. Last Saturday Ellen gave another insightful talk, at the Boston Book Festival. The subject of her talk this time: her experiences in writing a novel that involves a controversial topic.

Reading this talk is almost like having her back with us--except it's not snowing. Welcome Ellen Levine!


  1. Thanks, Jackie. All the stories we might not be able to tell. Censoring goes so deep. Why write a book if you can't sell it? Will we even try? How much does the market influence us--in ways we might not even guess.

    But hurray for Ellen and for Andrew. Courage to tell the stories.

  2. Ellen makes a powerful case for how language, in this case the word "political" is used to marginalize authentic stories, and thus to marginalize a large group of people whom those stories may represent.

  3. Yeah, that's a spectacular take on the use of the word "political." Basically shorthand for not needing to listen.

  4. Thank you for posting this, Jackie. Who can speak? Some are permitted, while "others" (there's an allusion to Spivak for y'all) aren't. Most folks shy away from politics, yet it's impossible to have a real conversation about censorship, education, etc. without treading into that "political" water. Pullman's response is so poignant; who has the right to live without being shocked, anyway? Truth is, no one knows who they're protecting from what anymore. And why all the protection? Why be a gate keeper? A gate keeper to what? The truth? Hope for those young women? Words that show them they're not alone? Books they can turn to when everyone else around them have turned away? Words, our weapons, the most powerful ones in the world, are also our greatest demise. They silence and simultaneously give a voice to so many. And thank goodness for Ellen and Andrew, who offer the truth, hope, and a voice to so many.

  5. I like Pullman's response too. We all *should* be shocked once in a while.

    We definitely have to fear censorship of controversial ideas. And I worry, as markets for our work seem to shrink, that writers may be limited to writing what will sell well, because that's all so many publishers will want to buy.
    I hope not.