Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Three who helped books survive are lost.

With all due respect to the previous entry about Obama reading Where the Wild Things Are (which is adorable), I felt I had to remark on a terrible confluence of deaths which I happened upon in the Obituary page of the New York Times today. We have lost three individuals who have helped books survive and I couldn't let this moment pass without a short comment. In the last three days we have lost Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, John Maddox, and Judith Krug.

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick was a pioneering scholar in LBGT studies and was recruited by Stanley Fish to help form Duke University's high-powered English department during the 80's when Duke was an epicenter of cultural theory and criticism. She changed how a great many of us read novels with an new eye toward psycho-sexual dynamics within the text. "While [at Duke], she published...her best-known work, Epistemology of the Closet (1990), which argued that Western culture could be understood only by critically dissecting the socially constructed concepts of homosexuality and heterosexuality." She will be missed.

John Maddox was the editor of the journal Nature which, under his stewardship, was transformed into "an internationally influential showcase for the most recent developments in scientific research."

Mr. Maddox, a chemist and physicist by training, drew on his experience as science correspondent for The Manchester Guardian (now The Guardian) to bring a new sense of competitiveness and timeliness to Nature in his 22 years as its editor. Rather than waiting for scientific papers to come to him, he beat the bushes in search of exciting material, a practice that, over time, guaranteed that the most interesting, provocative papers found their way to Nature first. Such was the competition to be published in its pages that one desperate physicist, after repeated rejections, threatened to set himself afire on the magazine’s doorsteps.

It was a mark of his skilled editorship that Nature could publish a paper on, say, the Loch Ness monster without sacrificing its authority."

And finally, and closest to our heart here at Survival of the Book, was the loss of Judith Krug.

It is hard to describe just how completely awesome and inspiring Judith Krug was. She led the campaign by libraries across this great nation to fight against the banning of books. That you or someone you love can still walk into a school or public library and check out a copy of Catcher in the Rye means that you owe Judith Krug a quick moment of silence today. She ardently believed that censorship is never-NEVER-the answer. As co-founder, her legacy is Banned Books Week which is coming this year at the end of September. However she wasn't just a warrior for ideas she favored. She fought for everyone.
As the American Library Association’s official proponent of the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech since the 1960s, Ms. Krug fought the banning of books, including Huckleberry Finn, Mein Kampf, Little Black Sambo, Catcher in the Rye, and sex manuals (ahem, Brian - Ed.).

She also fought for the inclusion of literature on library shelves that she herself found offensive, like The Blue Book of the ultraconservative John Birch Society. The book is a transcript of a two-day monologue by Robert Welch at the founding meeting of the society in 1958.

“My personal proclivities have nothing to do with how I react as a librarian,” Ms. Krug said in an interview with The New York Times in 1972. “Library service in this country should be based on the concept of intellectual freedom, of providing all pertinent information so a reader can make decisions for himself.”

Integrity. Either you have it or you don't and Ms. Krug had it. If you took the final two sentences of her interview as an epitaph for all of us working in the culture industry we would be a happier, healthier society going forward. I, for one, will raise a bourbon shot to Ms. Krug tonight. With her death yesterday, we have become a less free country today.


Citizen Reader said...

Thank you so much for this great and informative post. I'm ashamed to admit I didn't know who any of these people were--but I do know, and I'm sorry they're gone.

Care said...

Thank you.