Censorship and the Author: Conversation with Benjamin Alire Sáenz

NMSU press release

NMSU Library will be hosting a free event with author Benjamin Alire Sáenz on Thursday, September 22 at 4:00 p.m. at the Branson Library (1305 Frenger Mall) to celebrate Banned Books Week. Sáenz will discuss the creation of his award-winning Aristotle and Dante book series, its critical reception, and recent efforts to ban and censor these YA novels. Jessica Powers, editor and visiting professor at NMSU, will serve as moderator. A question and answer with the audience will follow the formal presentation. Copies of Sáenz’s works will be available for purchase and signing. This event is open to the public.
Published in 2012, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe received critical acclaim and made the New York Times bestseller list. Set in 1987 El Paso, the YA novel follows the friendship of two Mexican-American teenagers, Aristotle “Ari” Mendoza and Dante Quintan, as they navigate their racial, ethnic and sexual identities. The novel has won numerous awards, including a Stonewall Book Award, the Michael L. Printz Award, and the Pura Belpré Award. The sequel to the book was released last October, while a film adaptation will premiere this month at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.
The recent wave of attempts to ban books in public schools has included challenges to Aristotle and Dante. In November 2021, the Indian River, Fla. chapter of Moms for Liberty called for 156 books that the group deemed to be “sexually explicit” or “based on critical race theory” to be removed from schools across the county. IndianRiver. After a district-wide review the following winter, school officials allowed copies of Sáenz’s work to remain on the shelves of the high school library. Similarly, in January 2022, the Granbury (Texas) Independent School District pulled 130 titles from school libraries, nearly three-quarters of which featured LGBTQ characters or themes. While Aristotle and Dante were eventually returned to the school library, the threat remains as some members of the community continue to push the school board to remove books deemed “self-explanatory and not age-appropriate”.
Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event that celebrates the freedom to read. Supported by the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, the event brings together librarians, booksellers, publishers, teachers, and readers of all types and ages who want to uphold the public’s right to seek and to express ideas, even those deemed unpopular. BBW will take place this year from September 18 to 24.
Ben Sáenz was born in Old Picacho, New Mexico, the fourth of seven children, and grew up on a small farm near Mesilla, New Mexico. He graduated from Las Cruces High School in 1972. He received a master’s degree from the University of Texas at El Paso, where he later taught, and a doctorate. from Stanford University. He is an award-winning American poet, novelist and children’s book author and resides in El Paso.
Event host JL (Jessica) Powers is the author and publisher of 9 award-winning books for children and young adults. She teaches in the MFA program at UTEP. A former editor and publicist at Cinco Puntos Press, she is founder and editor at Catalyst Press, an award-winning publishing house specializing in African literature.
This event is co-sponsored by DACC Library, NMSU LGBT+ Programs and La Sociedad para las Artes.

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