June 7, 2012
ASJA Presents Open Book Award to Arizona Group for Its Brave Defense of the Right to Read
The American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA), the national professional association of independent nonfiction writers, will present Librotraficante with its distinguished Open Book Award.
The award recognizes the courageous and creative actions that Librotraficante, or "Book Trafficker," an Arizona-based organization, has taken in response to a ban on ethnic studies in public schools. The Arizona law, House Bill 2281, has resulted in the removal of books by such authors as Isabel Allende, Junot Diaz, Jonathan Kozol, James Baldwin and many others, even including works by Thoreau and Shakespeare.
"The removal of books from school shelves in Arizona is not an isolated phenomenon," said Claire Safran, chair of ASJA's First Amendment Committee. "There has been an unfortunate rise in the number of book bannings, attacks on academic freedom and other efforts to limit the freedom to read."
Under the leadership of Tony Diaz, a Houston Community College professor, Librotraficante went beyond simple protest to imaginative and effective action. In caravans throughout the southwest, Librotraficante has been holding readings, organizing book clubs, setting up "underground libraries" and distributing copies of the many books that have been exiled from the curriculum of Arizona public schools.
"No history is illegal," as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once warned. "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Thus ASJA sees the threat to Mexican-American studies in Arizona as a potential threat to the right to teach or read about the lives and literature of any other group that would-be censors might deem to be out of the mainstream.
ASJA's Open Book Award pays tribute to individuals and/or organizations who have taken courageous action in defense of the freedom to read. It is not given annually but only in those years when there is an appropriate and deserving recipient. Previous winners of this award include: columnist Nat Hentoff, librarian Leo Melrose, the National Coalition Against Censorship, People for the American Way, Viking Penguin (for continuing to publish and sell Salmon Rushie's The Satanic Verses despite lethal threats), the New York Shakespeare Festival, the University of Iowa Press, Senator Christopher Dodd.
The Open Book Award will be presented to Librotraficante during a teach-in they are holding in Phoenix, Arizona from June 20 to 24, 2012.