Nobel laureate Toni Morrison was the featured guest at last night’s inauguration of the Free Speech Leadership Council, a new initiative organized by the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC). As part of the event, Morrison spoke with author Fran Lebowitz at the home of council chair and former HarperCollins CEO Jane Friedman in New York City.
The NCAC, a nonprofit founded in 1974, recently announced on its Web site that the Free Speech Leadership Council is to comprise “a group of intellectual, cultural, legal and business leaders committed to the defense of free expression.” Approximately fifty writers, publishers, and other First Amendment advocates attended the group’s first event, which focused on the launch of Morrison’s latest work, Burn This Book (HarperStudio). The collection, edited by Morrison and produced in collaboration with the PEN American Center, includes essays on writing and free expression by Morrison, Nadine Gordimer, Salman Rushdie, John Updike, and others.
According to the Associated Press, Morrison said her support for freedom of speech had been underscored by her long experience with censorship. The seventy-eight-year-old writer’s novels Beloved (Knopf, 1987), Song of Solomon (Knopf, 1977), and The Bluest Eye (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970) are still frequently targeted for removal from library shelves. In May, a school board in Shelby, Michigan, banned—then narrowly reinstated—Morrison’s Song of Solomon from advanced placement English classes. At Wednesday’s event, the AP reported, Morrison cited fear as the primary motivation behind censorship, recalling that slaves once risked their lives to read. “To know stuff is a bad thing,” she told Lebowitz. “It has consequences, and the consequences are death.”