Sunday, January 20, 2008

Orson Scott Card and Intellectual Freedom

Apologies for this being off topic, BUT:

I was just reading Roger Sutton's blog and I came across the SLJ article he'd linked to discussing the- apparent- controversy over Orson Scott Card being awarded the Margaret A. Edwards award. According to the article (which can be read in full here), some people feel like Card was an inappropriate choice for the award because he's expressed, in a number of different arenas, openly anti-gay sentiments. The award committee was unaware of this dimension of their decision, but they are standing by it nonetheless, saying that it's Card's books and writing for teens that they're awarding, and that his personal opinions should not be a consideration. Or, as the wonderful Roger quips in the article: "“The award is not for being an idiot in real life; it's for writing books that have made a positive difference in the reading lives of young people.”

On the other side of the controversy, David Levithan says:

“I would like to believe that the Edwards committee would not have honored someone who had written essays that were as racist or as anti-Semitic as Card’s are anti-gay. The charter of the Edwards award says that it “recognizes an author’s work in helping adolescents become aware of themselves and addressing questions about their role and importance in relationships, society, and in the world”—I think Card’s writings on homosexuality do the exact opposite of that.”

It's an interesting debate, and I'd be curious to know what you guys make of it. Personally, I think I am with Roger- we're awarding the books, which are not ostensibly homophobic, not his personal opinions. Whatever they may be, he has a right to them. While David might be correct that a racist or anti-semitic writer would be treated differently, I don't think that would make depriving a racist or anti-semite the RIGHT thing to do. However, there is something to the argument that his homophobic writings are not likely to help a confused adolescent find themselves which is, in a way, what the award is celebrating. I don't think there's *enough* to it to change my opinion that Card deserves the award, but its definitely a point worth thinking about. Are YA and children's authors personal lives a more necessary consideration because they write for a more impressionable audience? Or should Orson Scott Card be allowed to have his award and be homophobic too?


Amanda said...

oh, margaret, i'm glad you tackled this (and it's definitely not off topic). i've been reading rumblings over this here and there and not sure what to make of it either. i think roger's quote is perfect. i would like to think people who are anti-gay are not rewarded with anything, much less an award that praises them for helping teenagers understand their place in the world.

it's really a messy one, isn't it? because, like levithan, i DO think that if an author were overtly racist, that would affect the mind's of the awards committe. i really do. i think because he's homophobic, and then can fall back on that he's coming from a religious standpoint, and you're then attacking his religion, it's more complicated. i obviously don't have to tell you guys i don't think that's okay by any means (being anti-gay for any reasons, justifying anything with religion, um, religion itself...), but if he were a racist, you could just say, "you're an ass!" but since he's anti-gay and it seems to be tied to his religious background, it's like, "you're an ass! but you seem to have some crazy religious justifications for your stances." i'm rambling.

i guess i don't want to see a world where people's personal lives have too much to do with their work, but don't want to see hatefulness rewarded. it's my right to then say, i don't agree with you and i won't read your books. so there.

that all said, i have only ever read ender's game. since i knew nothing about card before this, i was surprised to see all of this come about. have others read more of his work and find it to be anti-gay?

Cassandra Mortmain said...

I think another thing that complicates the homophobic v. racist/anti-semitic double standard, or at least my reaction to it, is that I can easily imagine an intelligent and decent person who also happens to be homophobic (which is what Card appears to be) but I can't imagine a racist who I'd call either intelligent or decent. Open racism is just so taboo these days that it's hard to imagine a writer worthy of an award indulging in it. Homophobia, on the other hand, is still more entrenched in our society- which I think is wrong, but also understandable, considering how much longer we've been fighting against racism.

I guess the tricky thing here is maintaining a balance between the fight against homophobia and the fight against our country's intelligence-leeching commitment to empty political correctness. I know I want to get to the point, as a society, where no decent and intelligent person would think publishing a homophobic article was appropriate- I just don't think depriving a good writer of an award is necessarily the way to get there.

rebecca said...

but in this case, it's not a question of his work vs his "personal life": card's homophobia is all over the world and the web in the form of ESSAYS he writes. that tips my opinion from the sutton side to the levithan side. it's one thing to have a personal point of view; it's quite another to spew hatred into the public domain.

another thing making the waters murky is that this award is for him, not for the certain books they evaluated.

i'm angry that he got the award.

Jess said...

I'm with those who are upset about this award. I don't feel there's any intelligent or OK way to justify homophobic beliefs--and I don't think "we" (the children's lit community) should award someone with widely and publicly stated homophobic beliefs this award. In my opinion, it's one thing to allow someone freedom of expression, which our culture does by publishing Card's work and providing a forum for his essays. But it's quite another thing to award and honor him for being a positive influence to teens.