When I met Maurice Sendak, he told me, "The librarians have taken it upon themselves to put little cloth diapers on Mickey." He'd of course drawn Mickey au naturel. And, even though this was 1970 and liberalism was in full flower, some librarians were outraged. Of course, no one's bothered by Mickey's full Monty today, and In the Night Kitchen is an undiapered classic. Even so, censorship is alive and well in 2010. Ask almost any writer of edgy YA novels.
Not long ago, I was muzzled or muffled or something like that at a children's hospital where I was hired to do a storytelling and reading. The program director asked me to read from How Chipmunk Got Tiny Feet, but when she heard one of the stories, she said, "This won't do. The policy of this hospital is not to promote religion, and your story tells a deviant version of Genesis." "My story comes directly from Navajo origin tales," I stated. "This is their version of creation." Her eyebrows raised and she censored the book.
Sometime later, I was prevented from selling my Bob Marley biography, The Boy FromNine Miles (co-authored with Bob's eldest daughter, Cedella) at a school. I was told that I could sell any other book, but that one was wrong for the school. I put it on the display table anyway and a middle-schooler came up and bought it for his grandmother.
On a conservative radio program, a caller said to me that she wasn't going to listen to any more American Indian stories because "they were un-American." When I said the stories were the very essence of what it means to be American, the caller said, "Oh, I wish they'd all go back where they came from."
I had nothing to say to that. It was so over-the-top. But a little later, in North Carolina, a principal expressed great disappointment in my choice of words during a storytelling. He said I'd used the word "witch" and that was anti-Christian. I explained there was no other word to describe the human-demon in the story. "Besides," I added, "the Native American storyteller who told me that story said the correct word was 'witch' even though the character thus described was a werewolf, or as the Navajos say, a skinwalker. I was culturally bound to tell it like it is, or was, but that did not prevent me from censure, and I got a letter saying I would not be asked, ever, to return to that community of higher learning.
So, anyway, I can tell my grandchildren, if they ask, that I have at least been excoriated in North Carolina and muzzled in Mississippi. Not to mention miffed in Manhattan. But, in any case, it's as Bob Marley said - "I didn't come to bow, I came to conquer."
Gerald Hausman, author and storyteller, calls himself a native of the world. He is the author of 70 books, some of which have been made into films, many of which have been translated into foreign languages. His latest book, The American Storybag, was released by Stay Thirsty Press in October, 2010.
All opinions expressed by Gerald Hausman are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.