In the midst of the Fun Home debacle, it’s easy to forget that the College of Charleston wasn’t the only school to be threatened for handing out copies of an LGBT-themed book to students. Legislators also voted to cut $17,000 from the University of South Carolina Upstate for assigning Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio. The essay collection was gathered from the radio show for Southern gay and lesbian voices that has been on the air since 2005. Spartanburg’s Hub City published Out Loud and, suffice to say, the company is not happy with the cuts and is asking writers to fight back.
“This action has had a chilling effect on the public universities,” says Betsy Teter, Hub City executive director. “Faculty members are beginning to ask themselves, ‘Will I get my university in trouble if I suggest a book?'”
Even worse, Teter believes that if it can happen in South Carolina, it can happen anywhere. To avoid that, Hub City has reached out to hundreds of authors across the country asking them to join Writers Speaking Out Loud (WSOL), a movement bringing attention to LGBT censorship in South Carolina and beyond. The response has been tremendous.
“We’ve had 1,100 people join our Writers Speaking Out Loud Facebook page in one week,” says Teter. And those include big names in the literary world. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Diaz can been seen on the page proudly sporting the WSOL T-shirt with the accompanying message: “Why am I speaking out: Because censorship is the primal enemy of the artist and of a democratic society. Because our so-called leaders should be funding our university system, not censoring it. Because without LGBTQ artists, what hope do any of us have? And because the just nation we deserve is not the one the politicians are trying to twist into being in South Carolina.”
Dennis Lehane (Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone), George Singleton (Between Wrecks), and John Lane (My Paddle to the Sea) are also on the page. And then, of course, there’s the award-winning Ann Patchett of Bel Canto fame who is all too familiar with South Carolina censorship.
In 2006, Patchett’s Truth & Beauty was chosen by Clemson to be the incoming freshman book. But in advance of a visit to speak to the Clemson student body, Patchett discovered not everyone was thrilled with her story. In fact, many parents were furious. One even claimed that Truth & Beauty was inappropriate for 18-year-olds to read due to its depictions of “pornography, fetish, masturbation, and multiple sex partners.” But Patchett insisted on going through with her speech and shared what she told the incoming Clemson freshman in an article in The Atlantic:
“If stories about girls who are disfigured by cancer, humiliated by strangers, and turn to sex and drugs to escape from their enormous pain are too disgusting, too pornographic, then I have to tell you, friends, the Holocaust is off-limits. The Russian Revolution, the killing fields of Cambodia, the war in Vietnam, the Crusades, all represent such staggering acts of human depravity and perversion that I could see the virtue of never looking at them at all … If I am the worst thing the students of Clemson have to fear, then their lives will be very beautiful indeed.”
Patchett’s Writers Speaking Out Loud message recalls her 2006 experience: “I had a similar run-in with higher education in South Carolina a few years back and learned that academic freedom is a serious business. We all need to stand up for what’s right.”
To learn more about Writers Speaking Out Loud, visit outloudsc.com