Columbia University Cancels Reading After Author Refuses Censorship

Due to concerns over maintaining the “values” of Columbia University and its radio station WKCR, a planned reading by author Laurie Stone was abruptly cancelled.

A long time contributor to the Village Voice, a theater critic for The Nation, critic-at-large for the radio show Fresh Air, and Nona Balakian prize winner, Stone has built a professional career writing fiction, contributing to anthologies, and leading writing workshops at numerous college campuses. A writer, performer, and critic, Stone’s work is humorous and honest, and it was some excerpts from her new book My Life as an Animal that led to the cancellation of her reading with Columbia University’s WKCR.

Just three hours before the show was scheduled to air on October 9, student producer Sarah Courville emailed Stone, asking her to censor her chosen excerpts for the on-air reading, citing concerns that the selection might not “reflect our station’s values and more importantly our university’s values.” Although the email notes that “freedom of speech and expression are important for all writers” Stone’s line about “women who live in secular countries and conform to religious dress code make the lives if all women less free and less safe” would need to be cut. Courville was okay with proceeding with the reading as long as the excerpt was censored.

Stone refused, and the reading was abruptly cancelled. After Stone posted the email on her Facebook page, WKCR received backlash from the community as well as free speech organizations like NCAC for its seemingly contradictory interpretation of its University’s code of conduct which guarantee’s “the freedom to express opinions on any subject whatsoever.”

Columbia University isn’t the only institution to abruptly cancel author readings due to content concerns. Earlier this year, the Round Rock Independent School District in Texas disinvited author Phil Bildner from its schools after he recommended a book featuring a transgender protagonist. Mount Horeb Area School District in Wisconsin canceled a reading of the children’s book I Am Jazz last year after a conservative Christian non-profit threatened to sue the district.

WKCR issued a public apology a few short days later, noting that Columbia University does “strongly believe in robust freedom of expression, especially about challenging ideas.” Acknowledging the misinterpretation of the school’s own policy as well as how the situation was handled, WKCR noted that they would use the situation as “an opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to free expression of our guests and programmers.”

It should be noted that the apology did not mention nor was it directed to Stone. We echo the National Coalition Against Censorship in demanding that WKCR “demonstrate its commitment to free expression by re-inviting Ms. Stone and allowing her to read uncensored excerpts from her book.”

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Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!