Back to the calendar
Censorship & Democracy: From Whitman to the 21st Century
6:00pm - 8:00pm (EDT)
UPenn's Van Pelt Library - 6th floor pavilion
October 29
6:00pm - 8:00pm (EDT)
UPenn's Van Pelt Library - 6th floor pavilion at 3420 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Censorship is defined as the suppression or prohibition of speech or writing deemed subversive to the common good.  According to Oxford Reference, the official grounds for such control at a national level are variously political (e.g. national security), moral (e.g. likelihood of causing offence or moral harm, especially in relation to issues of obscenity), social (e.g. whether violent content might have harmful effects on behavior), or religious (e.g. blasphemy, heresy). Some censorship may be imposed merely to avoid embarrassment (especially to governments).

Self-censorship is self-regulation by an individual author or publisher, or by ‘the industry’. Media industries frequently remind their members that if they do not regulate themselves they will be regulated by the state. Self-censorship on the individual level includes the internal regulation of what one decides to express publically, often attributable to conformism. The panel will explore issues around censorship and self-censorship, looking at recent examples, including the case of Anders Carlson-Wee, who published a poem in The Nation written in Black English (Carlson-Wee is white) and the 22-year-old college student and activist José Bello, who was arrested by ICE for reciting a poem critical of the nation’s immigration tactics.


The panel includes:

·       -Poet and educator Alicia Askenase, who has worked with national and regional poets over many years in New York, South Jersey, and Philadelphia

·       -Herman Beavers, Professor of English and Africana Studies at Penn

·       -Poet Leonard Gontarek, who coordinates Peace/Works, Poetry In Common, and Philly Poetry Day and hosts The Green Line Reading & Interview Series

·       -John Timpane, former Opinion Editor, Books Editor, and Theater Critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer

-Lynne Farrington, Senior Curator in the Kislak Center at the Penn Libaries and Project Director for Whitman at 200: Art and Democracy, will serve as the moderator.


Among the questions to be considered by the panel are:

·       How do we recognize censorship?

·       Is all censorship bad?

·       Should “freedom of speech” be absolute or limited, and who decides?

·       Is political correctness a form of censorship?

·       Do we have a right not to be offended

·       Have you experienced censorship, and how did you respond?

The audience will be invited to participate in the conversation. Event is free and open to the public. 


[Image: Walt Whitman, “22 specifications,” Manuscript, [1882], Mrs. Frank Julian Sprague Collection, University of Pennsylvania Libraries List of the passages to be “expunged” from James Osgood’s 1881 Boston edition (6th ed.) of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Two thousand copies were already in print when the Boston District Attorney advised Osgood to withdraw and suppress the book following complaints from the New England Society for the Suppression of Vice. Osgood was willing to print a new edition removing the twenty-two offending passages. Thirteen had already been published in the first edition. Whitman originally agreed, but when he saw the passages to be excised, he withdrew his consent.]


Special thanks to the Waterman II Fund of the Philadelphia Foundation who, following a recommendation of David Haas, has provided support for Whitman at 200 poetry events, including this one.