In its fifth annual Ashland Literary Festival, authors were still “tabling” and selling books but moving more into the creative realm with networking and well-attended workshops on the how-to of writing, publishing and marketing.
The popular one-day event Saturday at Hannon Library, Southern Oregon University, showcased a banned-books reading by a dozen authors, articulating “what the culture is afraid of” at any particular time, such as the Harry Potter books, which brought up dread of witchcraft in 1997, supplanted after 9/11 by Islamophobia, says Jeff Gayton, SOU University Librarian.
“Harry Potter was a big challenge, but a lot of it now is around Islam, which many people are concerned about,” Gayton notes.
People sought censorship of both, based on fears of them getting into children’s books, he adds. “People are concerned they are dangerous, but Islamophobia is the most challenging and libraries are responding by saying ‘it’s a major world religion and we need to understand it.’"
Gayton says the event is now aimed more at students, with brief, participatory workshops, instead of just authors selling their books.
In one such popular event, SOU Honors College staged a “Banned Book Read-Out,” with professors, students and others reading from well-known banned novels, such as “Fahrenheit 451,” Ray Bradbury’s dystopian work on book-burning; Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” about love of literature in the face of racism; and John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” about poor refugees from the environmental collapse in Oklahoma and other Mid-Western states known as the Dust Bowl, seeking work from newly blooming corporate farms in California.
Most people may think unlimited free speech, as guaranteed by the First Amendment, is an absolute good, but it cuts both ways, said speakers, with the Patriot Act restricting it and the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision liberalizing it amid concerns it overwhelms the electoral process with corporate money.
Sometimes book-banning can be enriching. Ashland publisher Steve Scholl of White Cloud Press, which has over 100 books in print, said “Approaching the Qur’an,” which he published in 2002, was made required reading for incoming freshmen at University of North Carolina, as it translated scripture in highly readable and lyrical language. However, a large Christian organization in the region sued the school, saying it was trying to proselytize the whole class. The case was tossed by the court, but it got huge coverage on networks and newsmagazines, resulting in additional sales of 60,000, Scholl told the amused class. It is still used in 300 universities.
Ashland historian John Enders displayed proof copies of his new “Lithia Park, the Heart and Soul of Ashland,” tentatively due out Oct. 26 at $24.95, as a benefit for the Ashland Parks Foundation. A reading will be slated at Bloomsbury Books and it will be for sale there, at Paddington Station, Tudor Guild shop and on Amazon.
Marking the centennial of the park, the book will celebrate how, said Enders, “Ashland loves its park. It got the park it deserved. Despite floods, recessions and divisive politics, people put enough resources into the park to protect it over many decades.”
The “most stunning thing” he found in his research, says Enders, is how Ashland almost lost the park in 1915, when a group of capitalists and Southern Pacific Railroad wanted to make the then-eight acre Chautauqua Park a for-profit destination resort based on mineral springs.
As an example of the networking energy of the event, a group of half a dozen published mystery authors, calling itself the Monday Mayhem Writers, were all selling their novels at the same table and drawing in buyers with their mirthful stories of success.
“We meet every other week on Monday and critique 20 pages of each other’s work, which we email four days before,” said author Michael Niemann. Author Carole T. Beers said it’s not so much the criticism that has helped her get published, but the connections of a fellow author in the group who likes new writers and took her on.
John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at email@example.com.