We have a natural right to make use of our pens as of our tongue, at our peril, risk and hazard. -Voltaire, Dictionnaire Philosophique, 1764
For nearly twenty years, FAP, the First Amendment Project, has provided advice, educational materials, and legal representation to its core constituency of activists, journalists, and artists in service of the fundamental liberties enumerated in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Last week, Red Room was pleased to help FAP spread the word about its Character Name Auction, a fundraiser that helps the organization in its mission of "protecting and promoting freedom of information, expression, and petition," and to ask the entire Red Room community to blog about freedom of speech.
Red Room author and artistic-freedom activist Clinton Fein has served for many years as President of FAP's Board of Directors. In this 2005 video, he explains to a reporter how the auction works: Every author who participates simply agrees to include name of the winning bidder in a forthcoming work of fiction. Authors spanning a wide range of literary genres have participated in past years, including Stephen King, John Grisham, Nora Roberts, Peter Straub, Michael Chabon, Lemony Snicket, Neil Gaiman, Amy Tan, Dave Eggers, Ayelet Waldman, Rick Moody, Andrew Sean Greer, David Brin, John Lescroart, Elinor Lipman, Phillip Margolin, Lorrie Moore, and ZZ Packer.
"To limit the press is to insult a nation; to prohibit reading of certain books is to declare the inhabitants to be either fools or slaves." -Claude-Adrien Helvétius
We were pleased that several Red Room authors wrote in to express their interest in participating, and that both Red Room members and authors blogged about freedom of speech. Author Debbie Lee Wesselmann even wrote an op-ed for AOL News on the subject that generated many heated comments. Her follow-up post shows that freedom of speech always comes with its own costs. A few posts stood out:
- The fact that member Csilla Moffat's parents left a totalitarian country where speech was not free makes her appreciate the "Freedom of Speech" she has in America while she warns us to consider every source.
- Member Myne Whitman used the topic to throw light on the 15th anniversary of the execution of a Nigerian activist killed for speaking out against injustice and oppression of the country's ethnic minorities. We learned a lot from her post "Dying to Speak."
- Oppression in another part of the world, and a celebration of the movement that overcame it, is the subject of member Judith Baumel's erudite and moving post "Human Solidarity. Polish Solidarność."
These bloggers will receive books by Red Room authors. A Good Horse is Pulitzer Prize-winner Jane Smiley's second foray into fiction for younger readers. It tells the story of a girl in 1960s California and her journey with two special horses. 13 Words, is a meditation for children on just what the title says, written by Lemony Snicket and illustrated by Maira Kalman. Ayelet Waldman's newest novel, Red Hook Road , began when she read a newspaper story about a terrible car crash en route to a wedding reception. Both Jane and Ayelet have already committed to particpating in FAP's character name auction this year.
You can see all the freedom of speech entries here. I hope you'll find a few favorites and leave a comment on each one letting the writer know you enjoyed it. All of Red Room's past blog topics are here...please feel free to leave suggestions in the comments for future topics. We welcome your ideas!
–Huntington W. Sharp, Senior Editor, Red Room