Canceled and/or Beloved?

Hello SE friends, Gwen with you today. When we last met, the topic was 1984, and we focused on writers who predicted the future. Several of the mentioned books were banned because the content was controversial. Of course, George Orwell and Aldous Huxley were two of those authors. SE writer John Howell had an excellent post on banned books earlier this year. If you’d like to check it out, you can find it here.

What was so threatening about these books that they were banned? Let’s answer this by looking at the present.

These days we hear a lot about folks being canceled. Basically, anyone who doesn’t accept the popular narrative is a potential target. That narrative covers topics such as sexual identity, COVID vaccines, demonstrations vs. riots, border walls, gun control, and the list goes on. The finger-pointing is everywhere present.  

For writers, this blame environment is challenging. We’re not a group that easily rests inside a box that’s not of our own making. We like to stretch, think about possibilities, and dream. We regularly test the waters and forge paths into the unknown. This is what we do. We’re adventurers and we travel through our words.

Unlike a business or a profession, we don’t have a Code of Ethics. We don’t have perimeters that confine us to certain topics or certain positions. What we do have, however, is an unspoken code. We all know, for example, that plagiarism is anathema, but what else?

Let’s explore this a bit and look to three writers who had multiple books banned. Each of these incredible authors received the highest recognitions available to writers, but that did not stop the attacks against them.

Photos: Lee – AP/Rob Carr, Steinbeck – The Guardian, Morrison – GQ

For Harper Lee, writing was a way she could take a stand. She wrote, Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what. John Steinbeck wanted to experience all of life and this comment underscores his stance: Maybe the hardest thing in writing is simply to tell the truth about things as we see them. And Toni Morrison brought her passion for truth into her writing and said, It is what you don’t write that frequently gives what you do write its power.

Determination, courage, truthfulness, and trust in self. Familiar, right? So, what are the ethical issues in writing? To answer this question, I’ll start with a story.

In a prior life, I was the Dean of Students at a university in the Northeast. One of my roles was as chief judicial officer. For all serious violations, I had a jury of faculty who joined me in adjudicating the cases. I’ve seen/heard just about everything, and I want to share the bare bones of one case.

A prominent athlete attacked a female student. The evidence was clear – medical confirmation, visible physical injuries, witnesses. I brought the jury together, and we questioned the accused and the accuser. Then we sequestered and deliberated. This case was simple because of the evidence, but it was not simple because of politics.

I delivered the ruling, removed the athlete from the college, and then faced the wrath of the athletic department.

That was 25 years ago. I’m pretty certain I’d have been canceled if I handled that case today. Facts are facts unless they challenge the desired outcome.

How does this relate to writers? I suspect we all tiptoe around certain topics. At least, I do. We’re careful about what we write, lest we offend someone. But we’re fallible and don’t have all the answers. We make mistakes.

If I were to create a rule book for writers, I’d take my lead from Harper Lee, John Steinbeck, and Toni Morrison. It would look something like this.

  • Be steadfast – summon determination and write what you need to write.
  • Be honest – hold tight to ethical integrity in all that you do.   
  • Be attentive – listen to your deepest self and write from your passion.
  • Be kind – choose your words carefully and build bridges even when you challenge.
  • Be accurate – research the facts. Know what you’re writing about.
  • Be courageous – when your writing takes you into rough waters, don’t give up. Ride the waves.

I suspect the beloved writers below, all of whom have at least one banned book, would endorse the above and offer additional advice. How about you? What would you add to the list? Canceled and/or beloved, we’re in this together.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic, and I look forward to our next conversation in a few weeks. Till then, ride those waves well, my friends.

101 thoughts on “Canceled and/or Beloved?

  1. I missed this amazing post, Gwen–darn! You said so much I agree with. These are crazy times and I balance between saying too much and not enough. Not sure where the line is anymore.

    Thoroughly enjoyed your thoughts and reminders of other authors who have walked in these footsteps.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thankee thankee. Wonderful look at great writers with great lessons to take for being a better writer.
    Where do you stand for the likes of scifi and their prediction in contrast to contemporary greats?

    Like

  3. Pingback: Canceled and/or Beloved? – Jackanori, (MPD)

  4. Oh, such an insightful piece. I love it.💖💖 The world has always been unfair to good people, people who tell people the truth without mincing words. But better the truth that hurts than the lie that kills. It’s sad to have yourself ‘cancelled’ as a writer, but it’s relieving and fulfilling to leave behind a legacy of truth. As writers we have to be strong and steadfast in doing what we love. This is awesome.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. A brilliant post, Gwen. I wrote a blog piece some years ago about banned books and the reasons behind those bans (some of which are quite silly). I believe it should always be up to those creating the content to determine what will or won’t be on their pages. Self-censorship is the only form of censorship with which I can agree.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I went through your blog . You have raised a genuine question . Banning books only may helpful for the regime to prolong its rules . Certainly not for the subjects . A book of a Nobel Laureate is , if banned , it simply means that it was unacceptable to the regime . And the readers nowhere comes in it . A few people can’t impose their will the vast masses of readers . Politics in every thing is absolutely bad . As you have given exampls also . Have you ever heard that our ancient scriptures like VEDAS ( I.E RIG VEDA ) had been banned by the regime as such ? No . It was simply because readers of it were a vast majority of people and they used discuss the issues of contentions in public in details . We have instances in Ancient India about how a woman RISHI GARGI had dialogues with RISHI YAJNAVALKYA on the RIG VEDA’S thought of BRAHMA , the ultimate reality of the world . Secondly , no book uptill now has been banned after arranging an open public discourses as such . Banning a book , how genuinely might be written , are unilaterally handiwork of the regime . A book called SPY CATCHER was banned in Britain in eighties and so in India simply because the then government wanted to hide a truth the author had disclosed . Your approach is positive and genuine. Thanks !

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Gwen, a great post. In my opinion, it all boils down to my favourite comment “do you seek fame or fortune with your writing.” Many of the most enduring and though provoking books have been controversial and caused difficulties for the authors during their lives. Some were even jailed for what they wrote and certainly many such books have been banned. In our modern world of consumerism and ‘what sells’ you have to choose even more which way you are going to go. Sometimes you don’t even know you are making such a choice when you do it. I also find that some readers don’t want to know the truth, they prefer to read a fantasy version of events than something based on truth. I’m okay with that, it is up to the individual, but hiding from truths like climate change isn’t going to help them in the medium term [possibly the short-term based on our current climate trends].

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Wonderful article, Gwen. I especially love your rule book for writers. In today’s world, we will inevitably offend someone, no matter what we write. Banning books has been the tactic of past and present authoritarian governments, and I hate to see it happening here. Cancel culture is dangerous. It takes integrity and courage to exercise our right to speak or write freely. Thank you for shining a light on this.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Reblogged this on PTL Perrin Writes… and commented:

    Gwen Plano tackles this controversial subject with great insight. As a young reader, I raged at historical images of book bonfires when totalitarian regimes took power. They did not tolerate great thinkers, including great authors. What does that say about the current banning of books by the authors Gwen lists here? I love her list of timeless advice for writers. What do you think?

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Before reading the content of your post, I thought of Dr. Suess’s books right away. I was shocked when 6 of Dr. Suess’s books were banned and no longer in print. Some people took advantage of it and are selling the set of 6 to as much as $1,400. Many books and movies reflect on the cultures at the time without any political motives. It’s sad when a certain focus of fictional writing is considered political. Even textbooks writers face the challenge of using the pronouns he/she!! Thank you for sharing this thought-provoking post, Gwen. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you very much, Miriam. You are so right about Dr. Suess’s books. My sister buys books at garage sales that are banned or discontinued, and always says they are for her grandkids. She wants them to know the world we grew up in. I haven’t followed her lead, but I might. 💗

      Liked by 1 person

      • Very interesting, Gwen. I might start looking into state esales again. I bought some vinyl records from estate sales, stored away right now. Just looked it up, the Beatles’ Yesterday and Today worth $125,000. I used to own the single album, I Want to Hold Your Hand… ❤

        Liked by 1 person

  11. I suppose it’s a kind of tribute if one has a book banned. It means you’re actually achieving something and have hit a nerve.
    Thank you for the post. Most interesting, especially the list of people with banned books.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You are right, V.M., it is a tribute of sorts. It certainly means people are reading your books, and like you said, those books hit a nerve. Thank you for adding to the exchange. Most appreciated.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I wonder how often the decision to write about a controversial subject is taken out of the hands of a writer by their publisher unwilling to deal with the backlash.

    I also wonder how many writers are influenced by negative reviews they receive for purely political reasons rather than the content of their novels. Authors and publishers have to have the courage to stand by their convictions.

    Liked by 4 people

    • HI Pete, I am of the view that modern publishers are less likely to publish a controversial book now than in the past. Publishers are businesses now with a primary goal of making money. They are no longer a medium of literary expression. Perhaps they never truly work, but I believe it is worse now. The only way to have freedom of expression as a writer is to either self publish or find a small publish who has backbone and moral fibre. Corporates do not have this, corporates care about profits not people.

      Liked by 2 people

  13. Superb post, Gwen. I’m so done with cancel culture, political ramblings, internet trolls, hackers, and pandemic-related misinformation. It’s too much. When did basic human decency become a thing of the past? As for my writing, I never want to offend anyone. Could someone be “triggered” by one of my stories? Probably. I had a woman get upset over a meme last week. A meme! The world’s gone crazy.

    Liked by 4 people

    • You are so right, Sue. The world has gone crazy. A meme?? I guess the person doesn’t have enough to do. Thank you for adding to the conversation. Always appreciated. 💗

      Liked by 2 people

  14. Great post, Gwen. Your steps on what we do as a writer about being honest and writing our passion is a great one to follow. I feel that writers often tap into universal truths in our society that can impact how we see the past, present, and future.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Great post, Gwen. I don’t pay too much attention to political correctness in my own writing, I’ll admit. Fantasy allows for a lot of social commentary without getting all up in someone’s face. That said, one reader had an issue with my bullying of corporations, and another didn’t like my take on Christianity. I think our characters and worlds need to be true to themselves, and as authors our choice is more about who will prevail as well as the underlying theme and message of our stories. As humans who write, we are constantly improving our craft as well as maturing as people. Hopefully that’s reflected in our books. I would love to be banned, by the way. 🙂 Nothing like notoriety!

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you, Diana. Like you, I weave my inner commentary quietly through the story and characters. I’d rather open doors and let readers choose the path they take. You’re right about notoriety…it does bring attention.😁

      Liked by 1 person

    • Me too! Ban me! But this BS of trying to silence an author not because of their writing, but because they just decide that don’t like the author? That’s uncalled for. As mentioned earlier, some people just have too much time on their hands.
      Sherrie

      Liked by 2 people

  16. This might be the best post I’ve read on the subject. Cancel culture is real, and it’s something we’re all concerned about. I was nervous publishing Grinders, because it touches upon a couple of hot-button issues in a peripheral way. I think many of the cancelers are downtrodden themselves, and use the anonymity of the Internet to lash out at whatever catches their eye. They gather angry mobs and create unrest wherever they go. I suppose I’m not big enough to benefit from being banned, and small enough to be crushed by an organized group.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you very much, Craig. The Internet certainly fosters the canceler behavior. It seems impossible to actually “meet” in the middle to converse, for even the concept of doing so is suspect. Unsettling times for sure.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. This is a superb post, Gwen! Social media now gives a voice to anyone who wants to spout their rhetoric, and we know that controversial and angry views are favoured over mainstream ones because of the financial response they generate for those social media platforms. The fact that anyone can post anything anonymously adds to the danger because it removes a crucial layer of responsibility for what’s being posted. Staci’s experience highlights the dangers in allowing people a voice to spew hatred and threats. It was a lot harder in the days when you had to take the time to compose a letter, find the address to send it to, buy a stamp to put on it and post it. I think that system would have been enough to deter most of today’s ‘opinionstas’. Like you, I believe in honesty and integrity and I hope that my writing reflects that. Again, a superb post! xx

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you so much! I couldn’t agree more about the social media platform and anonymous posts. And you are so right about when we were younger and had to compose letters. It took time and as a consequence, it was far more thoughtful. Thank you again! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  18. This is a very thought-provoking post, Gwen. It’s a shame that politics has carried over into so many areas of life. It seems you can’t turn around without offending someone these days. It boggles the mind how we ever got to this point.

    To Kill a Mockingbird rates as one of my favorite books of all time. There are such valuable lessons in that story and yet it rests on a banned books list. So sad.
    My writing (fiction and blogging) does not veer into hot button or controversial territory, but that’s because I’ve chosen to write what I enjoy. I have strong opinions, but (for the most part) I choose to leave them out of my stories and blog posts. Even then, I’ve found myself a target.

    As member of a book club, I was once singled out for choosing not to add my thoughts to a blog post about a controversial topic. I had joined the club to enjoy books and connect with other readers and authors. If I wanted to debate politics or current issues, I’d join in a discussion on Twitter. The topic in question was not related to a book or anything regarding the club, it was just an opinion post that the blogger expected everyone to weigh in on. How sad that these things invade so many aspects of life that were once avenues to be enjoyed without being put to a litmus test.

    So much fodder for thought here!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you so much, Mae. To Kill A Mockingbird is one of my favorite books of all time. Having grown up on the border of Mexico and California, I was part of the 10% who were white (and poor). All my friends were brown. I never understood racism until I read Lee’s book. It was life-changing for me. I believe those who criticize it, don’t understand it. BTW, I had a similar book club experience and share your perspective. 💗

      Liked by 1 person

  19. I don’t know where to start, Gwen. This is not only a powerful but also a thought-provoking post. As writers, I don’t think we should shy away from sensitive topics. We live in a real-world and if our writing can help someone deal with a hard situation in this real world, then we are doing our jobs as messengers. I love your rule book and I have printed them out to post next to my computer, lest I forget. I am more than willing to ride the waves. Rick always said there was no such thing as bad publicity. Perhaps that’s true. I know of a situation with the Romance Writer’s of America just this year, where a book won the top award in their contest and then they took back the award because someone objected to the subject matter in the book. Really? Where did the backbone go? Thank you for this awesome post!

    Liked by 4 people

  20. Gwen, this is such a timely and insightful post! Like you and everyone who commented, I hate cancel culture and it certainly exists on many levels and from all sides. I think it does stem from people not being able to handle the truth, that somehow the truth disturbs their view of the world. The “cancell-er” maybe confuses standing up for their own values with forcing them on everyone else, seeing that as a virtue. Sometimes it has an opposite effect, too. When I was in high school (a strict religious school, many years ago) our English class was told we couldn’t read Catcher In the Rye. Guess what was the most popular book read by the students that year? The cancel culture is affecting education right now, too. It is exhausting, but also frightening. Thanks for your excellent post, Gwen!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Maura, for sharing as you have. Your example of Catcher In The Rye brought a smile. Of course the students would have rushed to read it. What an incentive! 😊 It seems that now it’s the loudest voices that are being heard, and what is needed is conversations on safe ground. All the best to you. 💗

      Liked by 2 people

  21. I saw the politicization of literature when I was in grad school in the ’80s, and it’s only gotten worse. Literary criticism now is pretty much fitting whatever book is under discussion into a particular theoritical or political stance.

    Liked by 2 people

  22. Excellent post, Gwen.
    I hate the cancel culture we live in. I refuse to identify as anything other than a woman. In solidarity with JK Rowling, who has received numerous death threats for speaking her truth, I will not be reduced to ‘A person who menstruates’. And, of course, the ridiculousness in that descriptor is it doesn’t even fit all females. Okay, climbing off my soap box now!
    Requirements change rapidly these days. Not 2 seconds ago, writers were supposed to include people of colour as well as different gender identifying groups, etc., in their books, but now that offends many people and is labelled as cultural appropriation. It can be dizzying trying to keep up.
    All I can do is write from my heart and my experiences. That is my truth. Frankly, I would feel proud to have a book banned.
    Thanks so much for sharing this wonderful post 💕🙂

    Liked by 6 people

    • Thank you, Harmony. I love your passion and your truth. It is “dizzying” to try to keep up or even understand the evolving jargon. Like you, I believe we all need to write from our hearts and from our experiences. Therein lies authenticity. 💗

      Liked by 2 people

  23. Very thought-provoking post, Gwen. As writers, if we tried to please everyone, we’d never write a single word. Like Staci, I don’t write political posts (or books) although some of my passions do come through in my writing. But I’ll stay true to myself and if someone is offended, so be it.

    Cancel culture is dangerous. I won’t get on my soapbox here, but I believe it’s all because some people can’t handle the truth.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thank you, Joan. I think you’re right — some people can’t handle the truth. And it appears, they’d rather create a version that fits their intended reality. Dangerous is a perfect description. All of us need to follow your lead and stay true to ourselves. 😊

      Liked by 3 people

  24. This is such a great post, Gwen…and so timely. My rule book is similar to yours. I’m with Staci, the cancel culture is definitely a step backward and seems to becoming more out of control. To Kill a Mockingbird…banned? What a joke. I blame social media. In order for me to maintain my sanity, I strive to keep my mind focused on the good and avoid the noise, otherwise it destroys my creativity. Happy weekend! xo

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thank you, Jill, for adding to this conversation. I share your point about social media. I rarely watch the news, and when I do, it’s only a few minutes. I just can’t bear the weight of the negativity. A short walk can lift my spirit and free my soul, and then I move into gratitude. I hope you have a wonderfully blessed weekend. 😊

      Liked by 3 people

  25. I’m not popular enough to have a book banned, but I have been threatened via blog comment by Antifa. And I don’t write political posts, so you can imagine my surprise and concern. In the end, I convinced myself they didn’t know where I lived, and I wasn’t important enough for them to hunt me down (even though they threatened to). I didn’t change my message. Honestly, I wouldn’t have known what to change if I wanted to. (Like I said, I don’t post political messages.) But they didn’t like something. And I wasn’t going to be scared into silence by such a threat. I think writers need to be true to themselves, or there’s no point in writing at all.

    If I was more well-known, would I have backed off? The threat would have carried more weight. After thinking about that, I decided I wouldn’t change my words for anyone, even if I perceived a legitimate threat. I try to write from a place of honesty. Life is messy. Not everyone will like what I have to say (via my characters or my posts). But if they don’t like it, they don’t have to read it. No one should have the right to silence another just because the message is an opposite or offensive ideology. Besides, people seem to be looking for ways to be offended these days. Wouldn’t it be nice if we looked for common ground instead? I’m so tired of cancel culture. It feels like a huge step backward to me.

    Loved this post, Gwen.

    Liked by 6 people

    • Powerful response, Staci. Thank you for sharing so deeply. And I agree — if we aren’t true to ourselves, there’s no reason to write. If only common ground was recognized as the treasure it is, we’d have a different world right now. 😊

      Liked by 3 people

    • I am fortunate enough to only have had a review from someone being, not offended, but upset by the ending of one of my books. I was truly sorry that it upset her. (It was a suicide, and she had personal experience of that, and said it brought it all back.)
      It was an excellent review apart from that, but the fact that I had upset her upset me. I thought long and hard about softening the ending, but it would have drastically changed the next book, if not made it impossible to write.
      I decided that, although I regretted the effect it had on one reader, (who said she did not want to know anything more about the character left behind so would not be reading any more of my books) I decided that I needed to leave it as it is.

      Liked by 2 people

      • We never know how our stories will affect others. I can imagine how the reviewer’s comments impacted you, and yet, by her last statement, she released you to proceed. A blessing of sorts. Thank you, V.M. for sharing this.

        Liked by 2 people

  26. I believe a banned books gives us great insight to the time period in which it was written, not simply because of what is written but also because of how society reacted to it. I have read books by those authors and have truly enjoyed them. To write a book that creates that big of a reaction means you struck a nerve. Perhaps it will be banned/cancelled during that time, but at some point, it may be revered, so write it anyway! Great post, Gwen! 🙂

    Liked by 8 people

  27. Great post, Gwen 🙂 I make a point of reading banned books, it has the opposite effect on me. I will go on doing what is right to me in this strange world and hope to shine some light along the way. I look where the kindness or another perspective even in written form. I can find it even in a horror or murder story. All we can be is ourselves, and I won’t let all these labels interfere with that.

    Liked by 6 people

    • Thank you, Anita. Your question is a great one. Given the times we live in, I suspect even we Indie writers might face scrutiny if we veered into complicated topics. But, who knows? 😊

      Liked by 3 people

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