Thursday, November 01, 2007

Will Clarke, now banned, still too cool for school

UPDATE 4:22 p.m.: It appears Will Clarke has been banned after all. According to a new article posted at, his essay "How to Kill a Boy Nobody Likes" was yanked from the classroom by the school board.

And here's another article from the Providence Journal, which presented the many points of view two days before the ban.

I just spoke with Clarke by telephone and he had this to say: "I’m a little shocked that people in this day in age are banning books."

Clarke understands how parents can find material objectionable for religious or personal reasons. His essay was labeled pornographic for "references to bestiality," in this instance.

"It's totally legitimate for them to go to the school and ask for alternate readings," Clarke said. He's dismayed by the ban, though.

The humor essay, which he wrote last year, revisits a moment in his high school life when he was very unpopular and desperately trying to get elected to the school council. He read a book on subliminal advertising, drew the word "sex" into campaign sign pictured here (look at the watchband), and won the election.

"As a writer, I feel humor is redemptive," Clarke said. "If you can look at your own miserable experience with a sense of humor, you can transform it." And as Clarke told the Providence Journal, he believes the essay is totally appropriate for high school kids.

The controversy has had a predictable consequence: sales of the essay collection are up.


ORIGINAL POST: An essay written by former Shreveporter Will Clarke recently caused a controversy in a Cumberland, R.I., school.

Clarke's "How to Kill a Boy that Nobody Likes" is based on his 1987 campaign for student council treasurer at Captain Shreve High School. The essay appears in the collection, "When I was a Loser: True Stories of (Barely) Surviving High School."

The story was assigned to an English class. Parents of one daughter apparently objected to its content because it was "pornographic." They went to a TV station with their objection. The superintendent proposed an alternate reading assignment.

Here's an excerpt from a recent article at "School Superintendent Donna Morelle acknowledged that parents of one student had met with her to discuss their objections to a story their daughter had brought home and indicated had been assigned to her by one of her teachers. According to Morelle, an agreement was reached with the parents last week that she believed had satisfied the parents, whom she said thanked her following their meeting.

"'The parents asked that their child not be required to read the assignment,' Morelle said. 'We agreed that we would propose and alternate reading (assignments).'"

As Clarke responded on his blog, "To be completely honest, the essay does explore sex in a very round about way (i.e. being a teenage male = being tormented by sex). And admittedly, I do drop some dirty words, but it's hardly Big Nasty Butts magazine or the like. Anyway, this seems to have created quite a fracas in the little towns of Pawtucket, Cumberland and Woonsocket."

In the article, the superintendent said the essay was not banned. The article reads: "Morelle said she wanted to clarify that the story is not being banned from the school or eliminated from the curriculum. The remaining students in the class will continue reading it.

"'We're not banning books or anything like that,' Morelle said. 'There's a whole set of connotations about banning books. That's not a boundary that I'm ever willing to cross.'"

Banned? No. (See update and link above.) Censored? Share your thoughts.

Two of Clarke's books, "The Worthy" and "Lord Vishnu's Love Handles," are in development for big-screen adaptations.

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