There's a literacy organization I support. In today's mail, I received a flyer from this organization touting an annual short-story contest. Students from grades 1-12 may participate, provided that they adhere to guidelines that "must be carefully followed."
A quick skim reveals requirements that sound intricate but fairly routine. One, though, lodges in my eye like a dust mote:
"Manuscripts with content dealing with self-destructive behavior will NOT be considered for an award."
I'll concede: Specifying go and no-go zones is the prerogative of the contest host. Still, my nose wrinkles at the scent of censorship. Shouldn't an opportunity open to teens permit them to mull a fraught topic like this through story telling? Or at least not explicitly rule it out?
What if this constraint were removed? Would the judges find themselves inundated with tales of self harm?
I worry that labeling topics taboo, like self-destructive behavior, makes them harder for young people and those who support them to address honestly, whether in writing or conversation. Are there times we must close doors like this so firmly? Are there times we shouldn't?
Community, what do you think -- in this case or related ones that now come to mind? Share your two cents in the comments below, and I'll make a donation for each thought shared in October to the American Library Association, which champions free and open access to reading and annually observes Banned Books Week.
Postscipt on Nov. 1: ALA contribution made. Thanks, community, for your thoughts.