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In accepting a lifetime achievement award from the National Book Foundation at a black-tie gala in Manhattan last month, Judy Blume, the doyenne of young-adult fiction, delivered herself of the following admonition: "Your favorite teacher -- the one who made literature come alive for you, the one who helped you find exactly the book you needed when you were curious, or hurting, the one who was there to listen to you when you felt alone -- could become the next target."A target, that is, of censorship.Blume's books, which address sexuality and religion with a frankness that has made many a grown-up squeamish, have been among the books most frequently banned from public school libraries over the years, and so the author certainly knows whereof she speaks."I think libraries will be more attentive because they will have to be.
"That's the Iranian way of doing things." He says Arcade is going full speed ahead with "Strange Times, My Dear: The PEN Anthology of Contemporary Iranian Literature," which is due out in April.
He acknowledges that the lawsuit might help draw attention to the book.
She says the department encourages publishers to approach them with queries.
So why don't the publishers simply apply for a license? "I'm not going to ask permission," Seaver says.
Likewise, no publisher could market a book and no literary agent could sign an author from an embargoed country without a license. In September, Arcade, an independent publisher; the international writers' organization PEN; the Association of American University Presses; and a division of the Association of American Publishers filed suit against the foreign assets office. The danger is greater today than in the past 30 years."A month later, Ebadi -- the Iranian human rights lawyer (and Iran's first Nobelist), who under the rules can't sell her memoir to an American publisher -- filed her own suit, along with the Strothman Agency of Boston, which can't officially represent her.
"I think that censorship is the biggest danger that could confront this country, aside from physical attack," Richard Seaver, the editor in chief of Arcade Publishing, said in a recent interview in his comfortably cluttered Manhattan office. Ebadi raised the censorship question in an Op-Ed article in The Times last month (which she could publish because newspapers are exempt from some of the regulations).But the current fuss dates back to this spring, when the Office of Foreign Assets Control issued a particularly stiff response to a query from the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, which wanted to publish papers by scientists from countries under embargo.The Treasury office ruled that the institute could edit a manuscript from a country under embargo, and engage in peer review, but that making any "substantive or artistic alterations or enhancements of the manuscript" would be illegal without a license."If even people like me -- those who advocate peace and dialogue -- are denied the right to publish their books in the United States with the assistance of Americans, then people will seriously question the view of the United States as a country that advocates democracy and freedom everywhere," she wrote."What is the difference between the censorship in Iran and this censorship in the United States?The very mention of the Patriot Act is enough to drive many publishers, writers, librarians, bookstore owners, readers and concerned citizens into a near-paranoid frenzy at the idea that the government is intruding into their personal business, although few can cite specific instances in which that is the case.Indeed, the marketing department of any given publishing house probably has far more power over free expression in America than any government office; if it decides a smart book won't sell, the publisher may not sign it.Blume's speech perfectly captured the mood in certain literary circles these days, where air once thick with now banned cigarette smoke instead hangs heavy with talk of the C-word.But the kind of censorship Blume has faced concerns individual libraries choosing not to lend her books, or placing restrictions on who can borrow them.Yet there was something slightly alarmist in Blume's remarks.In somber, insistent tones, she spoke as if the authorities were lurking behind the doors of the Marriott Marquis ballroom ready to burst in at any moment and break up the party.