Welcome to the conversation!

Welcome to the conversation!

Harriet Beecher Stowe's (1811-1896) best-selling anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852), made her the most famous American woman of the 19th century and galvanized the abolition movement before the Civil War.

The Stowe Center is a 21st-century museum and program center using Stowe's story to inspire social justice and positive change.

The Salons at Stowe programs are a forum to connect the challenging issues (race, gender and class) that impelled Stowe to write and act with the contemporary face of those same issues. The Salon format is based on a robust level of audience participation, with the explicit goal of promoting civic engagement. Recent topics included: Teaching Acceptance; Is Prison the New Slavery; Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North; Creativity and Change; Race, Gender and Politics Today; How to be an Advocate

This blog will expand the reach of these community conversations to the online audience. Add your posts and comments to keep the conversation going! Commit to action by clicking HERE to stay up to date on Salon and social justice news.

For updates on Stowe Center programs and events, sign up for our enews at http://harrietbeecherstowe.org/email.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Who Speaks for the Animals?: Guest Bios

Harriet Beecher Stowe owned lots of animals including dogs, cats and birds. During the years that Harriet Beecher Stowe lived in Hartford, she used her voice and influence to protect and improve the quality of life for animals. What is society doing today to address animal welfare?

Our September 30th Salon will feature the following guest speakers;

Gabirela Gonzalez-Wong
A foster care giver at Hidden Treasures Adoption Center
Gabirela specializes in socializing cats that have been traumatized by conditions and abuse. She joined Hidden Treasures in 2008 because of their volunteer work and their initiative to help reduce animal overpopulation.

Representative Annie Hornish
D-CT 62nd District
Represents Barkhamsted, Granby, East Granby, and New Hartford. She serves on the Commerce, Education and Environment committees. She is Founder and Co-Chair of Legislators for Animal Advocacy and Co-Chair of the Rural Caucus. She is a healthcare professional with a bS degree from UCONN College of Agriculture and Certification in Cytotechnology from the UNCONN Health Center and an MBA from Western New England College.

Carol Pirek
Hidden Treasures Adoption Center
Carol started volunteering with Hidden Treasures about 3 years ago and has now fostered dozens of cats. Away from cats, she works as a commercial banker.

Pamela Rickenbach
Blue Star Equiculture
Pamela grew up in Peru and in Bolivia, returning to the US in 1990. She studied organic horticulture and began working with draft horses. She founded Blue Star Equiculture with Christina Hansen. It is a sanctuary for homeless working horses which brings equine awareness to the community.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Banned Books: Who Decides?

Featured Guests:
Sonya Green, Program Coordinator, Harriet Beecher Stowe Center
Ramona Harten, Director, Cheshire Public Library
Craig Hotchkiss, Coordinator of Education, Mark Twain House & Museum

Stowe's novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, has been banned since it was first published in 1852, but for different reasons over the years: too political; too offensive; too vulgar. Stowe herself sought to address those who challenged the work in A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin (1853) but the controversy continues today. So, who decides what we can read and why? What is offensive to one person may not be to another, but once a book is banned, the opportunity for individuals to decide for themselves vanishes.

Craig Hotchkiss deals with challenges surrounding Twain's Adventure of Huckleberry Finn, which has also been banned since first published. Racial epithets and the characterization of Jim are the leading reasons that schools put it on the banned list today. Actively working with schools, Hotchkiss provides teachers with strategies to discuss the book in class and how to recognize if students are ready to handle the content.

Sonya Green stressed the necessity of safe places to have conversations around difficult subjects such as this. Using Stowe's words to emphasize the danger of denying access to material that may be viewed as challenging, Green reminded the group that while the truth is not always pretty, there is a real danger is denying its existence.

Ramona Harten noted that the vast majority of challenges comes from people wanting to protect children. 95% of these challenges are unsuccessful, but some succeed and the book is removed from circulation. There is no one particular type of book that is banned, or one particular type of person that challenges a book. Every piece of information is offensive to someone and Harten listed some recent titles to comes under scrutiny from Webster's Dictionary to Harry Potter.

While most people challenge a book out of a sincere concern, it is still motivated by an individual's opinion. If people are free and open to a variety of viewpoints and ideas, ultimately they will make the right decision and have the opportunity to choose for themselves what they read, or choose not to.

The group discussion focused on the danger of one person's opinion affecting what the majority could read or have access to. Different viewpoints were shared and while the group overall was opposed to the idea of banning it was noted that everyone had a flash point. Each of us views things differently and has something that we feel might not be good for others to be exposed to - fear of promoting hate, dangerous behavior, and providing platforms for criminals were mentioned as reasons some might consider challenging a book.

It was noted that the mere act of challenging or banning a book often increases interest in the book. Might this be a ploy for publishers to utilize, one participant wondered. Hotchkiss shared that Twain acknowledged those that challenged his works, thanking them for ensuing their success.

One member of the audience called attention to the fact that sometimes censorship affects what content is even published, noting that Texas, the biggest market for textbooks, controls the entire textbook market. If Texas won't buy it, then it won't be published. This impacts curriculum, limits viewpoints and denies some historic truths.

There is no definitive list of banned books in Connecticut. Decisions are made at the town level and libraries and schools differ in what they ban or challenge. There are resources and groups one can consult for assistance with reinstating a banned book or opposing a challenge. (See Information to Action list below) One member of the group said, the remedy to expressioni that is found distasteful is not suppression, but more speech and discussion.

Information to Action:
These action ideas were captured during the group discussion:
- There is no typical person that challenges books. All different types of people challenge for all different reasons.
- We all have the right to receive information. The 1st Amendment allows you to ban books and demand the right to choose what you read for yourself.
- Changing communities impacts library selections.
- Question textbooks. What will sell determines what people will write and publish.
- Create settings and environments where difficult subjects can be discussed. Create readiness.
- Monitor local situations. Pay attention and get involved.
- Join the Friends group at your local library.
- Get on your local library board.
- Vote - elected officials advocate on your behalf.

Additional resources for more information and ways YOU can take action:

American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression

American Civil Liberties Union

American Library Association

Banned Books Online exhibition

Cheshire Public Library

Controversial Banned Books

Freedom to Read Foundation

Harriet Beecher Stowe Center

Hartford Public Library

List of Banned Books by Governments

Mark Twain House and Museum

National Coalition Again Censorship

Monday, September 13, 2010

Banned Books: Guest Biographies

The Fall Salons at Stowe series kicks-off on September 16, 2010 with a discussion of banned books in anticipation of Banned Book Week, September 25 - October 2. Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin which is still banned in some places today. When books are banned, how does a community explore challenging topics? Who is in charge of what you read?

Featured speakers include;

Ramona Harten
Director of the Cheshire Public Library
Ramona has worked in public and academic libraries in New England for twenty years. She holds a B.A. in Anthropology from Yale University, and a Master's Degree in Library Science from Southern Connecticut State University. In 2009 was faced with opposition by local residents for purchasing a controversial book about the 2007 murders of the Petit family.

Craig Hotchkiss
Education Program Manager for the Mark Twain House since 2007
Prior to his time at the MTH he taught History at South Windsor High School (CT) for 33 years. He holds a B.A. in American History from Bates College, an M.A. in Educational Psychology from the University of Connecticut, a sixth-year certificate in World History, and an M.A. in American Studies, both from Trinity College.

Sonya Green
Program Coordinator for the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center
A member of the Education and Visitor Services team and her work at the Stowe Center is focused in the areas of public programming and community outreach. Sonya is a graduate of Trinity College in Hartford, CT and worked in fields of ministry and in both public and independent schools before joining the Stowe Center staff in 2007.