BEAUFORT, SC—In 1962, the Beaufort County School District faced a parental complaint calling for a ban of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. The novel was defended before the school board by storied Beaufort High School English teacher Gene Norris, mentor to a then sixteen-year-old high school junior named Pat Conroy. In his empowering description in My Reading Life of how his English teacher addressed and won this challenge against Salinger’s beloved coming-of-age story, Conroy also recalled Norris’s overarching message to his student and to all readers: “Literature tells us to be brave. It demands it of us.”
As the Beaufort County School District is now in the midst of responding to an unprecedented challenge against 97 books in its library collections, the nonprofit Pat Conroy Literary Center will host a panel discussion on book challenges and bans, and the forces behind them, on Sunday, December 11, at 2:00 pm in the McLean Hall auditorium of the Technical College of the Lowcountry’s Beaufort campus (104 Reynolds St., bldg. 12). This event is free and open to the public.
The educational conversation will be led by New York Times bestselling author and former South Carolina Poet Laureate Marjory Wentworth and will focus on the organizations, the funding, and the politics surrounding banned books, censorship, and challenges to free speech and intellectual freedom. Wentworth is currently teaching a College of Charleston Honors College course on banned books and literature suppressed on political, religious, social, and sexual grounds, as well as the origins of book banning in western culture and contemporary issues around internet regulations. Wentworth will be joined in dialogue with South Carolina ACLU legal fellow and legislative advocate Josh Malkin; community education advocate, consultant, and nonprofit leader AJ Davis; and Charleston journalist Paul Bowers.
ABOUT THE PANELISTS
Marjory Wentworth is the New York Times bestselling author of Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets (with Kwame Alexander and Chris Colderley). Her books of poetry include Noticing Eden, Despite Gravity, The Endless Repetition of an Ordinary Miracle, and New and Selected Poems. Her poems have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize seven times. She is also the co-writer of We Are Charleston: Tragedy and Triumph at Mother Emanuel (with Herb Frazier and Dr. Bernard Powers) and Taking a Stand: The Evolution of Human Rights (with Juan E. Mendez). She is co-editor with Kwame Dawes of Seeking: Poetry and Prose inspired by the Art of Jonathan Green, and the author of the prizewinning children’s story Shackles. She served as the poet laureate of South Carolina from 2003-2017. This year, she was named a Black Earth Institute Fellow. In 2020, she was named a National Coalition Against Censorship Free Speech is for Me Advocate. Wentworth teaches courses in writing, social justice, and banned books at The College of Charleston, where she is part of the Social Justice Working Group for the Center for the Study of Slavery and the Refugee Resettlement Taskforce.
Josh Malkin joined the ACLU of South Carolina as a Legal Fellow in the fall of 2021. He comes to the ACLU deeply committed to advocating for racial and educational equity and protecting the rights of children. Prior to law school, Josh spent five years teaching middle and high school math in New Orleans East. He understands how difficult it is to be an educator even in the most favorable of climates. He finds the constant, radical attacks on the ability to learn, read, and teach very troubling, and is committed to doing all he can to both be present alongside local communities as they fight back, and make statewide information more accessible to those who do not spend an unhealthy amount of time at the statehouse.
Anjene “AJ” Davis is a resident of North Charleston in the Chicora/Cherokee community where he is the neighborhood association president. AJ is also an employee of Charleston County School District and a cofounder of Community Solutions Consulting, a consulting firm that creates and drives strategies for programs that improve equity, community engagement, citizen values, and organizational effectiveness, establish strong external partnerships for promotion of racial and social equity and inclusion, and advance equity through thoughtful community engagement, strategic partnerships, and innovative program development. AJ created and directed a parent engagement concept, Lowcountry Black Parents Association, designed to provide parents of students in high poverty schools with the skills to enhance their advocacy abilities. He earned his M.S. degree in organizational management and his B.S. in Human Services at Springfield College.
Paul Bowers is a writer, father of three public school children, and former education reporter in North Charleston, S.C. He serves as volunteer communications secretary for Charleston Democratic Socialists of America and writes a weekly newsletter at brutalsouth.substack.com.
Learn more about the nonprofit Pat Conroy Literary Center at www.patconroyliterarycenter.org.