At the Women's march

At the Women's march
All Lives Matter

Never Again

Never Again
We Won't Go Back

Monday, January 23, 2017


A wire clothes hanger bearing the stark message "Never Again." The woman marching next to me saw this sign and confided that her mother had nearly bled to death after the self-administered abortion of what would have been her fourth child, one she could not take care of.

"My Life Matters." A heart-wrenching sign carried by a small African-American boy riding on his father's shoulders. His message is more important than ever in the months and years ahead.

"Putin's Poodle." Donald Trump's head on the body of a dog. What does the election of this man mean to the independence of our nation?

The signs held aloft during the marches in cities and towns across the United States and in nations around the globe were many and creative and inspiring -- and emphasized why we -- millions of us -- were marching on the day after the inauguration of the least qualified person ever elected president of our country.

The Women’s Marches the day after the inauguration of Donald John Trump as President of the United States exceeded expectations in every way, in cities and towns across the United States and in nations whose citizens feared not only for our government but for theirs and for the world. Many more thousands of people took part than anyone had estimated (2.9 million in the U.S. alone), and more goodwill was shown, with one police officer in Manhattan saying on television there was not a single problem for all the hours that people were on the streets – other than handling traffic. Civility pervaded the streets throughout the day, even when the march was at a standstill because so many people joined from so many different directions. 

The streets were filled for hours with citizens — and non-citizens — of every ethnicity, every color, every age from infants in arms to ancients in wheelchairs (and yes, many grandmothers and grandchildren). Many wore the ubiquitous “pussy hats” – hand-knitted pink hats with little ears — to hold up to ridicule President Donald Trump’s vulgar videotaped acknowledgment of his own sexual predations. A large contingent of men joined in the continual chanting with “Her body, her choice!”

My group, under the aegis of Eleanor’s Legacy (an organization inspired by Eleanor Roosevelt and dedicated to expanding the role of pro-choice women in government) met at 10 a.m. at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza at the United Nations. Although it was impossible to hear the speakers during the two and a half hours we stood there before we were able to begin marching, they must have said good things because there were periodic shouts and waves. Despite impatient chants of “Let Us March!” there was no pushing or elbowing, and people were unfailingly courteous in stepping aside to let small groups of friends and family stay together. 

The minute I had heard that women would be marching to protest the ascension to the presidency of the most unqualified person in our country’s history, I knew I wanted to be part of it. Why? When people asked me what good it would do, I could have quoted Mahatma Gandhi when he said “Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it’s very important that you do it.” 

Or I could have quoted Harry Belafonte who called the street march “one of the great weapons of a democracy.” I wanted to be part of a global statement to let this administration know how many worldwide were shocked by what this singularly unqualified president has been saying, the people he has been appointing to his cabinet, and what this council of governing know-nothings plan to do. 
I had not marched for a long time – since demonstrating for civil rights in Chicago, pro-choice in Washington, anti-war on Long Island, and probably others I can’t remember. Did these marches bring about the Voting Rights Law and the Fair Housing Law, the Roe v. Wade decision, and other changes in government? Yes, they moved public opinion and reached Congress and the Supreme Court and eventually led to changes in the laws of our land. 

So what will be the real impact of this march? Nothing unless people involved take it further. And this we must do. We must build democratic structures at local levels in red, blue and purple states. We must engage our young people and inspire them to become leaders. We must educate ourselves and be alert to any encroachment of power upon the rights of the people. We must support the organizations carrying on this work – Planned Parenthood, The American Civil Liberties Union, the National Coalition against Censorship, others fighting for a better world – with our efforts and our pocketbooks.

We need imagination, effort, and knowledge to do this. Donald Trump talked about returning the government to the people. We the people must do this ourselves for ourselves and our fellow citizens, since his promises as put into practice so far will take it away from us. What can we do? We need to organize at local levels, we need to fight the gerrymandering that has paralyzed forces for progress, we need to urge reformers to run for school boards, for city councils, for judgeships, for elective offices at the most basic levels. Only then will our country be able to reap the democratic rewards for the many, not the few.

Sunday, August 14, 2016


This article was recently published on the online website The site is temporarily down, but should be up fairly soon.

A recent study found that most adult Americans live within 25 miles of their mothers. Surprising to me, since I know practically no one who fits this description, mother or child! My friends’ children more often live in other cities, other states, or other countries.

Of course, as researchers tend to do, the two economists who wrote the report, Robert A. Pollak, PhD, an economics professor at Washington University, and Janice Compton, PhD, a professor at the University of Manitoba, tempered their findings by saying that this figure does not hold up when the children have college degrees. For these, about 50 percent live more than 30 miles from their mothers and, for married couples, only 18 percent live within 30 miles of both mothers. Most – but not all -- of the children in the families I have talked to do indeed have college, and sometimes graduate, degrees.

“If you go to college, you’re more likely to work away from the place you grew up,” said Dr. Compton. “Plus, you’re more likely to marry someone who’s not from your home town or even from your state.” (Or even from your country.)

When my daughter Jenny told me over twenty years ago that she and her German husband were moving from the United States to live in the little town where he had grown up, I felt bereft. She was pregnant when they moved, and I missed being able to be with – or at least near -- her at her baby’s birth and later, being unable to help her with the care of her three children.  I was grateful that her in-laws lived close and could be of great help, but at the same time I envied her mother-in-law, who saw her grandchildren every day, while I could see them only two or three times a year.

But this was not the era of “Fiddler on the Roof,” when Tevye’s daughters left their shtetl and they all knew they would never see each other again. Nor was it like the 1950s when my brother Ben moved to Italy from Philadelphia with his pregnant wife and toddler son to further his art career, and didn’t see his parents for three years. Middle-class working people like my parents rarely traveled to Europe then, nor did they chat across expensive transatlantic phone wires.

I can map changes in family geography from my own history. My parents lived two doors away from my mother’s mother until she died. Then they moved to a different Philadelphia neighborhood, within a few blocks of my mother’s brothers and my father’s mother and sister. But my brothers and I redrew the family map: I moved to Cleveland, while Ben came back from Italy to live in Florida, and Carl went to California.

My youngest daughter lives right here in Manhattan, my eldest lives about fifty miles away, and then there’s Jenny. Fortunately, my husband and I were able to visit Jenny and her family at least yearly – and then, when her youngest turned two, she and the children began spending a month with us here. And then when email, Skype, and cheap phone plans arrived, letting us talk with Jenny and her children for only pennies a minute or even for free, they made a huge difference in the ability to stay in touch.

Like my own parents, no parents of faraway children who talked to me would have chosen this situation, but we have made our peace with it in one way or another. What else could we do?

When Betty Mosedale’s daughter Laura told her mother that she and her family were moving to London because her husband took a job there, Betty’s first reaction was sadness. Eighteen years later, she says, “The move, however, worked out wonderfully. They have a rich life, with opportunities for interesting work, travel, and cultural activities. We see each other several times a year, and in the summer we spend a month together in our island cabin in Minnesota.” Betty and her London grandchildren keep in touch by email and low-cost phone plans (see sidebar), and enjoy the visits going both ways “across the pond.”

Joan Riegel’s daughter met her husband-to be when both were in Buenos Aires on Fulbright grants. Joan knew her daughter had already been stricken with wanderlust, but when she told Joan that she and her husband would be moving to Germany to live, “My heart sank,” Joan told me, “even though I told myself, ‘this is not unexpected.’” Joan visits about four times a year, usually when her son-in-law is on a business trip so that she can be company for her daughter – and also let her go out while Joan stays with her granddaughter.

The reasons for many moves revolve around work. As did Claire Berman’s son’s. He had earned his master’s degree in international relations and had become an international foreign affairs specialist, so Claire was not surprised when he and his wife, a human rights specialist with a doctorate in political science, moved to Switzerland. “I respect the choices my kids have made and the lives they lead,” Claire said. “But even though we stay in close touch through email, telephone, and a few visits throughout the year, I wish that I could have been as involved with the grandchildren as I would have liked to be.”

But work isn’t all. “Rebecca” (not her real name), a Zionist, encouraged her six children to spend a year in Israel after high school to experience the country and study Hebrew texts. Three of the six settled there. She has gone to Israel soon after the births of all eleven of her grandchildren who were born there, staying there up to two months at a time. She has continued visiting three or four times a year for the last twelve years, and welcomes her children and their families here when they visit.

And Gerry Raker, whose daughter lives in France, told me, “Since I married I never lived near my own parents, and living far away in the same country is virtually the same as living overseas.” I have found this also: it took longer to visit Jenny when she lived in Oregon and I had to take two flights and drive two hours than it does now, with a nonstop flight to Frankfurt and a short drive from the airport. But somehow, living in another country feels farther away.
We have all found some plusses: when I visit Jenny I usually stay a couple of weeks, and we spend more concentrated time together than I do with my two other daughters, who live in New York and New Jersey. Since my U.S. daughters know we can see each other more often, we do, but rarely for the same kind of extended period. We tend to fit our time together into hours or days between everyone’s busy schedules and we don’t pack so much into each get-together. As “Rebecca” said, “When I’m in Israel, I have taken time off from work and so I’m more relaxed.”

Other parents found other advantages. One mom said, “You’re exposed to different parts of the world through your children and your grandchildren, and that’s a plus.” I have piggybacked vacations in France, Italy, and Holland onto visits to Jenny, so my flight to Europe does double duty.

Advice? I join the chorus:  “Accept the situation with grace. Do all you can to stay close, plan your visits at their convenience, and welcome them when they visit you.  Make an interesting life for yourself. Don’t depend on your children to give you a reason for living. Get together for major events when you can – and understand when this won’t work out.”

As Gerry says, “You raised your children to give them roots and wings -- so you can’t complain about the wings!”

Each of the following is a little different, so go to the websites to find the one that works best for you.

Spaxtel: Through this phone service (, which I use, you draw from an initial payment of $5, and then add amounts of either $5, $15 or more at a time, depending on your usage. My calls to Germany cost 2 cents per minute to a landline and 13 cents to a mobile phone. You can call from a landline or a smartphone.

Viber ( free phone service on smartphone.

WhatsApp ( : I also use this smartphone app, which lets you phone, text, and share photos free.

Skype ( : a godsend especially for grandparents of small children, letting you see each other on your computers, lets them get to know you, and lets you see them. Free between computers, inexpensive between phones.

FaceTime ( ): Like Skype, letting you see each other across the miles, which can be used on Macs, iPhones, iPad, and other products. Free between Apple devices.

PennyTalk  ( calls to Europe cost 2 cents a minute, landline to landline, and 17 cents to or from a mobile phone.

Saturday, June 18, 2016


Catching up with this much-neglected blog, I am going to post a few of my articles that have been published over the past few months. This one, commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of a fair housing effort that I was deeply involved with back in 1965, in the height of the civil rights movement, was published December 2015 by The Pennsylvania Gazette, the alumni magazine of the University of Pennsylvania.

This past July, I flew to Chicago to attend Justice Day 2015, the fiftieth anniversary of the North Shore Summer Project, a 1965 fair housing effort to challenge the practices that perpetuated housing segregation, practices that had been taken for granted for so many years. It led me to look back even further in time.

In the mid-1940s, at the Charles C. Lea elementary school in the Philadelphia neighborhood now known as University City, there were a few “colored” children (“African-American” wouldn’t come into use for some forty years), and I never wondered why none of them lived on my street. A few years later at the Philadelphia High School for Girls I became friendly with a few “Negro” girls, but none of them lived in my neighborhood, and aside from a couple of evenings when my mother invited some of them to dinner at our apartment, I didn’t see any of them outside of school. At Penn in the 1950s I can’t remember any students of color. No wonder: our 1955 yearbook shows only one black woman in our entire graduating class. It’s a snapshot of the times.

I never considered myself prejudiced, but I’m mortified to admit I was blind to the barriers that separated people by skin color. It wasn’t until the rise of the civil rights movement in the 1960s that my consciousness was raised. I was horrified by the violence down South. But as a Manhattan mother of three children under six, I didn't feel I could go to Mississippi to fight for justice. When I heard about the New York-based National Committee against Discrimination in Housing, I realized that I could work for change in my own backyard. I joined the staff of the NCDH.

New York City had a fair housing law – but if people didn't apply for housing, the law meant nothing. I wrote "Neighborhood Profiles," describing areas of the five boroughs where few minorities lived – and which many nonwhite home seekers knew little or nothing about. We distributed these profiles and followed up with home-seeking families. Whenever minority applicant were refused, my anger helped me get through the process of lying to make my profile sound like theirs and to overcome my nervousness about testifying in court. I became more and more incensed that people should be treated this way.

Late in 1964, my family moved from Manhattan to Glencoe, a northern lakeside suburb of Chicago, and I met Philadelphian Bill Moyer, who was working with the American Friends Service Committee. Bill, a mild-mannered social worker, was a genius at organizing. “There’s just as much racism in Chicago as there is in Mississippi,” he told me. “But white people – even liberals – don’t realize it. We want to make them see it.” His idea was to launch an Open Housing movement in the thirteen almost-all-white suburbs along the shores of Lake Michigan by emulating the Freedom Marches in the south. He named this1965 effort the North Shore Summer Project, after the Mississippi Summer Project.

“Down South,” Bill told me in his soft-spoken way, “the movement is focused on voting rights. But these North Shore suburbs don't have to deny black people the right to vote – they just deny them the right to live here. Only two of these suburbs – Evanston and Glencoe – have real black populations. They also have real ghettoes to keep them in.”
The Quakers, Bill explained, wanted to expand white people’s knowledge of racism: “Black people don't have to learn about prejudice: they’re living it.” Bill’s sense of mission was contagious, and I enthusiastically agreed to serve as volunteer public relations director.

It was a heady time. I was working with representatives from the worlds of religion, civic involvement, and social activism. Because these suburbs were almost totally white, we had black committee members from only two towns, the Reverend Emory Davis from Evanston and Gerry Washington, a Glencoe mother whose daughters went to school with and played with mine. We met with realtors, conducted vigils outside their offices, and distributed literature about their discriminatory practices. We marched and we sang. We recruited college students to interview North Shore residents, who declared overwhelmingly that they would welcome nonwhite neighbors, despite the realtors’ contention that they were following homeowners’ wishes by refusing to show houses to nonwhite home-seekers. Our major coup was bringing the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to Winnetka, the whitest of these suburbs, to speak to a crowd of 10,000 on the Village Green.

I issued weekly news releases, was quoted in the local press – and received hate mail. Instead of intimidating me, it let me know that our efforts were being noticed and inspired me to become even more committed. (Of course hate mail in Glencoe was not as scary as hate mail in Biloxi.) Our final event was the August 29 six-mile march from our NSSP Freedom Center in Winnetka to the Evanston-North Shore Board of Realtors, where we presented a summary of the project’s findings at a rally, followed by an all-night vigil. Then the NSSP, which from its conception had been time-limited, disbanded. Our students went back to school, our AFSC sponsorship ended, and most of the volunteers moved on to other forms of activism.

Soon afterwards my family moved away from Glencoe, and I lost touch with my fellow volunteers. Last spring I reconnected with Carol Kleiman, another former Philadelphian. Carol told me that when she had told Dr. King she wanted to move from Glenview to an integrated area, he told her, “No, stay where you are. Lance the boil.” The “boil” was segregation, and a few results of that “lancing” can be seen in activities we set in motion.

Although the NSSP failed with Harriette and McLouis Robinet (a physicist then teaching at the University of Illinois), who were not able to buy a house on the North Shore and suffered humiliation while looking, they were energized to continue their search and did buy in the previously all white western suburb of Oak Park, where the family still lives. Harriette wrote about her family’s experience for Redbook, launching an award-winning career writing multicultural historical fiction for children.

David and Mary James’s North Shore story is more successful. The first African American to buy in Winnetka, David, a lawyer and former Tuskegee airman, founded a program for suburban and inner-city children, now a day camp for 7- to 12-year-olds. It was – and still is – infuriating to learn how hard it was for so many good people to do a simple thing like housing their families.

Fortified by the 1968 national Fair Housing Act and moving beyond educating the white community, Winnetka’s Open Communities now works to influence housing policy and enforce the law. At the anniversary celebration it sponsored, the crowd of about 1,000  – many of whom had not been born in 1965 – gathered on the Village Green where Dr. King had addressed the largest crowd ever to assemble there and pledged to continue the work.  The bronze marker memorializing him, installed with money raised by Winnetka schoolchildren, gleamed in the sunlight, heralding a brighter future.

But the wheels of justice still grind exceedingly slow. Even though in 1968 the national Fair Housing Act became law, many brokers have simply gone underground. The North Shore suburbs are still almost entirely white. It’s disappointing, half a century later, that there’s still a need for a follow-up to the push to open closed borders. I briefly wondered whether our efforts had had any impact at all. But then I reminded myself that change had occurred. That even when an ideal is not fully realized, our efforts were not in vain. Although the numbers of nonwhite residents in these suburbs are still small, they’re larger than they had been.

The biggest change was in us mostly white volunteers, who learned from our educators, the black volunteers and home-seekers. Working in the context of the society of fifty years ago, we morphed from white liberals to white activists as we realized that a new world will be formed in new ways. Many of us went on to work for change in many facets of society, including but not limited to racial equality. So yes, we can wear the sobriquet of “do-gooder” proudly. We did do some good – largely for ourselves, but also for thirteen communities. We will never go back to who we were before – just as the North Shore is no longer what it was. I remember the words of Mahatma Gandhi: “Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.”

Sunday, May 29, 2016


Years ago, when I had just published my book about sexual turning points throughout life, THE ETERNAL GARDEN: SEASONS OF OUR SEXUALITY, I attended a conference in Philadelphia of The Society for the Scientific Study of Sex. I kept sporadically in touch with Martha Cornog, a fellow author I met there, and last week she invited me to go with her to the screening of a new documentary, called STICKY: A (SELF) LOVE STORY. The screening was held at the Museum of Sex in Manhattan – and I am really glad that I saw it.

The documentary, which took producers Nicholas Tana, Denise Acosta, and Eric Wolfson eleven years to make, offers a funny yet serious look at an important topic about an activity that practically everyone engages in at one time or another, but virtually no one talks about. The funny parts of the movie include clips from other films, many in the mainstream, some cult classics, including scenes like the one I once saw with Woody Allen saying that he’s in favor of masturbation – because that way he can have sex with someone he loves.

Some of the film’s more serious moments feature former U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, who was forced to resign her post because she said that sex education classes should say something about “the M-word.” Ironically, it was President Bill Clinton who forced her resignation. (He would have done much better in terms of his legacy and his wife’s to have indulged in this form of self-love himself instead of having led an apparently busy sex life involving other people.) Other interviews in the film featured religious leaders from the Muslim, Catholic, and Jewish communities, as well as a popular porn star, and my friend, Martha Cornog.

I wrote about masturbation in THE ETERNAL GARDEN as an activity that has an important role in sexuality from early childhood through late adulthood. It helps to soothe children, keeps the juices flowing for older people without a sex partner, facilitates artificial insemination, and provides a number of other benefits. It does not make hair grow on a person’s palms or strike them blind, despite warnings to the contrary! (And the young boy's plaintive question to his father,"It feels so good -- can I just keep doing it until I need glasses?")

You can get information about STICKY, including how to watch it (before it’s shown commercially) at And you can watch the trailer at So far there are only limited screenings, but I'm sure more will come. (No pun intended.)

Sunday, May 22, 2016


I cannot believe it has been seven months since I have written in these pages. But now that we are having true spring weather, I have resolved to turn over many leaves, and this blog is one of them.

I took my first bike ride of the season today. I was a little nervous because I had fallen about a month ago, just walking on the sidewalk, needed three stitches in my chin (Thank you, Urgent Care Doctor Anderson!), and bruised my jawbone so that eating became a work-out in which I convinced myself that the best thing for me was ice cream.

But I told myself I can't be afraid forever -- I have to get back on my horse. Which I did, enjoying the beautiful day and the view of the Hudson River, away from the Manhattan street traffic. But I was slow, and after having to get off my bike to pass a barrier because of ongoing construction work, I made my way back down to the bike path -- and stopped, wanting to wait to be sure no cyclists were behind me and I wouldn't be in anyone's way, either to slow them down or knock me down.

I was pleasantly surprised when a young man stopped his bike and asked, "Are you all right?" I assured him I was, explained why I had stopped, and thanked him profusely. It's so warming to know you're not alone in the big city, that there are people who will take the time to go out of their way to be kind. It doesn't take much but it does mean so much.

Monday, October 26, 2015


On our second date both David Mark Olds and I knew we were meant for each other. So, in November 1955, after having known each other for all of one month, David and I decided to get married, and we wanted to set the date as soon as possible. At first my mother thought I was in such a hurry because I was pregnant. But when she did the math based on how short a time I’d known David, she realized that even if I was pregnant, I wouldn’t know it yet. Our timing had more to do with David’s employer, Westinghouse Broadcasting Company, which was about to transfer him from Philadelphia (where we met) to Cleveland (where we would live for the next three years).

Mom and I rushed to go shopping, and I fell in love with a “Mr. Mort” design on the rack in Bonwit Teller’s juniors department. I was 22 years old, a junior size 7. The dress, white wool princess line, ballerina length, sweetheart neckline and three-quarter-length sleeves, was perfect for a December wedding. It fit perfectly too. I loved wearing it on the Big Day, with the crinoline petticoat underneath that made my waist look so small. Not Scarlett O’Hara small, but small enough. And I liked the fact that it didn’t broadcast “Wedding!” so I would be able to wear it to parties and other occasions. As it turned out, the only parties I ever wore it for were on our wedding anniversaries.

That first year went quickly. I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, living in my old bedroom with my parents for a couple of months while David started his new job and found an apartment for us. Soon after I joined him in Cleveland I found my first full-time job with a small advertising agency as receptionist/Girl Friday/errand girl/you name it. By the time I quit, just before our first anniversary, I had received some morsels of copywriting to do, but it never occurred to me to stay on and advance in the field. I was expecting our first child in a few weeks, and in 1956 I didn’t know any women who had children and continued to work at a paid job.

Being big with child, I couldn’t wear my treasured dress on our first anniversary, one month before the arrival of our first daughter. I did wear it out to dinner on our second anniversary, since the well-timed birth of our second daughter had allowed for that. And I wore it a couple of more times in the first few years. Life was full, our little family was happy, over the next few years I took a succession of part-time jobs and eventually embarked on a freelance writing career. Meanwhile, the doomsayers that had prophesied certain failure for marriage to a man I had hardly known and who was thirteen years older than I were proved wrong.
By the time our third daughter was born three years later, we had left Cleveland for Manhattan. David used to say that being a broadcaster was like being a professional ball player: If you wanted to move up, you had to be willing to move sideways. So we carted the dress around the country on moves to Chicago, St. Louis, and finally, back to New York.

Through the years I slipped back into the dress for several anniversaries, including a Hudson River cruise, the big party we threw for our 25th anniversary, and the more intimate black-tie dinner for our thirtieth. I was jubilant that I still fit into it, and I still liked the way I looked in it. The white wool had not yellowed over the years, and even without the crinoline petticoat (no longer the fashion), the cloth still held its body.

After almost fifty-four wonderful years together, David died. I wouldn’t be wearing the dress for any more anniversaries, and I couldn’t see wearing it for any other occasion. Yes, it was only a dress, but with all those memories it had become something more. So it moved with me to Manhattan from the Long Island house that I sold the following year.

I wasn’t ready yet to say good-bye to the dress, though. Although none of my daughters had worn it, by now there were four granddaughters. Maybe one of them might want to take it. I went to the closet and found that even after sixty years and all that schlepping around, there were no moth-holes, the wool still had its creamy white glow, the dress looked good. Just for fun (and self-knowledge), I tried it on. A miracle: I could still zip it all the way up.

But – and it was a big but – even though I could get into the dress, it didn’t look the same. While it was aging sixty years, so was I. And yes, there were those three childbirths. Time had not stood still. My weight may have still been the same, but my body parts seemed to have rearranged themselves when I wasn’t looking. Oh well, a granddaughter would probably look beautiful in it on her wedding day and might treasure its history of more than fifty years of wedded bliss (well, bliss most of the time).

But then I noticed something. The inside of the dress now felt like sandpaper scraping my skin. Whatever Mr. Mort had used to give body to the dress had been flaking away, and I couldn’t imagine anyone inside this garment for even the briefest City Hall ceremony. A friend said, “You could find a good seamstress to reline it.” And then the granddaughters’ mothers asked “How do you know any of the girls would want to wear it?” None were even close to saying their vows. And what if the weddings would be in 90-degree heat?
And so the dress marinated in my closet a little longer, and one day last week I walked it over to Housing Works, which sells gently-used clothing to benefit its charitable mission. I hope that someone good with a needle can solve the lining problem and that some winter bride can absorb some of the happiness I knew. Maybe it would be a lucky charm.

But for me it was time to let go. To let go of the dress. To let go of the past. To treasure the memories, but not be ruled by them. The Bible’s saying, “To everything there is a season,” told me that the season for this dress and me was no more.

This essay was published October 2015 by

Sunday, October 18, 2015


On September 29 a free-wheeling conversation took place at New York City’s Housing Works Bookstore Café with four authors of challenged books. The American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) is a sponsor of Banned Books Week, an outgrowth of our first campaign against book banning in 1982.

This year’s Banned Books Week’s theme was Young Adult books, the most censored category. David Shipler, author of "Freedom of Speech: Mightier Than the Sword," moderated the discussion with David Levithan, author of "Two Boys Kissing"; Meg Medina, author of "Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass"; and Coe Booth, author of "Kinda Like Brothers." The discussion focused on each author's experience being banned or challenged, and the importance of free and open access to all books, especially for young adult readers.

Why were these books restricted, undergoing “soft banning”? For Levithan’s books it was the focus on homosexuality, although some school districts and libraries that either didn’t buy the book or kept it unavailable often came up with other reasons, not wanting to be thought of as homophobic. For Medina’s novel it was the title although it didn’t include any word that hasn’t been said on TV. And for Booth’s books, which center on the lives of African American students, a common reason for not buying the book was a statement that a school or community had only a small percentage of nonwhite students or of students on free or reduced lunch plans.

Several themes emerged from the discussion and the Q and A period that followed, including:
• Should books be mirrors of the people and communities that students know – or windows, letting them learn about other values and points of view?
• Teachers and parents should use books to help students explore their feelings about issues, instead of ignoring them. This is especially important for YA readers, who are beginning to explore who they are – and who they want to be.
Shipler reminded us that Huckleberry Finn had been banned in some places soon after its 1885 publication, often because of its poor grammar. It has also come under fire for its use of the word “nigger.” Booth’s books have also run into trouble because of this and other racial slurs – especially among white teachers uncomfortable about teaching them. (I have trouble writing some of these words myself.)

Restrictions, or “soft” banning, varied in form. Sometimes books were kept out of sight or have to be signed out instead of being on the shelf. In one school a student who wanted to read a certain book had to go to the principal’s office to get it – at which point the principal could decide whether the student was mature enough to handle it. This raises two questions: How well does the principal know all of the students? And what kind of judge is he or she about the issues in a particular book, assuming she/he has read it?
So it looks as if First Amendment defenders still have plenty of work to do in protecting the right to read – and the right to write and be published.

Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community –- librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types –- in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.

I am now serving as the Interim Chair of ASJA's First Amendment Committee, which I have been a member of for many years. In 1982 when I was serving as ASJA president, we launched our "I Read Banned Books" campaign with a read-out on the stops of the New York Public Library, and we started distributing our "I Read Banned Books" buttons, which are still available today from ASJA. Unfortunately, censorship is still an important issue.