Saturday, March 3, 2012

Freedom of expression: Riots, banjos, fiction becoming truth, bad jokes, Lululemon headbands, and more...

I was incredibly proud of everyone's hard work to make Censored out loud 2012 an overwhelming success.

I was sitting there, surrounded by such good friends (Barb, Mary, MC) and my husband, watching each performer take the stage, and thinking (selfishly?) how wonderful it was that, after almost 6 years in Ottawa, I have these people around me. It was such a joy to see a lot of our hard work come together in a truly outstanding event with speakers, readers and performers of tremendous quality and passion. Now I have new friends in Bob, Kerry, Cheryl and Teri, also. I am very lucky to have such wonderful connections in this city.

Some of my favourite moments from CoL 2012 included: chatting with (and listening to) our special guest Zaganar(a Burmese actor, writer, comedian, opposition activist and honorary member of PEN - visiting North America for the first time!), being reminded of the power of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak as it was read by Nichole McGill (the school that tried to ban it later were accused of also covering up rapes within the student population - truly despicable), being bewilderingly charmed by Max Middle's recitation from Kurt Schwitters’ Ursonate, being just plain charmed by Andrea Simms-Karp's banjo-accompanied slow singing (joined by the audience) of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire,” killing myself laughing at Marc Nelson (above at right) and his deadpan delivery of Olivia Newton John’s “Physical,” complete with found (at least, that's his story and he's sticking to it) headband, excitement and pride at OPL's own taking the stage (Sarah Campbell getting us all to roar for the tigers in The Story of Little Black Sambo, Dorothy Jeffreys reminding us how lucky we are to live in a country where authors are not perseculted, Barb putting some numbers on self-censorship by school librarians in the U.S.) , Jenn Farr choking up over And Tango Makes Three (there are some books I can't read in storytime for precisely this reason), and MC's totally spot-on reading ofJimmy Pritchard’s (terrible) New York City Bartender’s Joke Book, reminding us that some things should perhaps be left banned.

You can see almost all the performers in my photos here, or get a full recap with the performer's own descriptions of their chosen pieces here.

In related news, one instance of muzzling of freedom of expression that I have been following with interest recently is the cancellation of Rushdie's talk at the Jaipur Literary Festival in January 2012. This is a tough one: would you censor a reading (by cancelling it) if you felt the lives of the listeners were in jeapordy? Extremist groups in India were prepared to use "any amount of violence" in order to stop Rushdie's voice from being heard at the Festival. Some of these individuals went to the press: one told a reporter from the Times of India that "rivers of blood will flow here if they show Rushdie," (incidentally, this story was even picked up by my favourite Guyanese paper) while the Muslim Manch representative Abdul Salim Sankhla was quoted as saying: "We will not allow Rushdie to speak here in any form. There will be violent protests if he speaks." While all this was happening, some of the other activists were turfing school children out of their seats and intimidating festival guests, and Rushdie's appearance in person at the Festival was cancelled. William Dalrymple gave a rousing defense of the decision in an article for the Guardian: they had a Plan B, as previously arranged, and went ahead with TV interview of Rushdie, and "what we could not show to our audience of 10,000 was seen instead that evening by millions."

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