Censorship Kills Cultures

Our nation’s Constitution keeps government from abridging free speech but doesn’t stop social media, publishers, and other private entities from doing so.  It’s about censorship.  Censorship takes many forms, though I’m talking about censorship of the writing arts in this post.  My recent experience at the Western Writers of America Convention in Colorado brought me face-to-face with the subject.   It was notable that Owen Wister Award winner Kathleen O’Neal reminded attendees that “killing the story kills the culture.”  For me, it was akin to being double-struck by lightning.  Seems many of my fellow authors have dealt with censorship in its various ugly forms, while I’ve been lucky enough to mostly avoid the problem.  I think.  Then again, Judy Blume in Places I Never Meant To Be: Original Stories by Censored Writers wrote, “In this age of censorship, I mourn the loss of books that will never be written, I mourn the voices that will be silenced–writers’ voices, teachers’ voices, students’ voices–all because of fear. How many have resorted to self-censorship? How many are saying to themselves, “Nope…can’t write about that. Can’t teach that book. Can’t have that book in our collection. Can’t let my student write that editorial in the school paper.”  I thought on the words of those two ladies.  Dang, but I’m embarrassed to admit that I have yielded just a bit, have self-censored.  I’ve kept the F-bomb out of my novels…found euphemisms for the N-word.  And I’m not even being kept in line by the “sensitivity readers” typical of the big New York publishing houses.  It occurs to me that it’s intellectually dishonest.  For one thing we dare not change history to make it more palatable.  Likely as not, my audience for western genre is looking for unbounded, take-no-prisoners, true-to-life action.  It’s about grit and passion, but also very much about the honesty associated with America’s western frontier.  They’ll find that honesty in my novels coupled with my unfettered balanced treatment of the cultures that populated the Nueces Strip of mid-1800s Texas.  Slavery and abolition, Indians, bandits, prostitution, sanctity of life, and more…are woven within the pages of my narratives.  As Cowboy Mike Searles reminded everyone at the WWA Convention, “the pen is mightier than the sword.”  I for one am committed to opposing censorship, especially in the arts.   After all, when you kill a culture’s stories, you do kill the culture.  Censorship kills cultures.