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‘Censorship and the Author’: NMSU library hosts Sept. 22 event with award-winning author


Censorship and the Author: In Conversation with poet, author Benjamin Alire Sáenz

The New Mexico State University Library will host a free event with poet and author Benjamin Alire Sáenz, 4 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 22 at Branson Library, 1305 Frenger Mall on the NMSU campus, to celebrate Banned Books Week, the library said in a news release.

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 young adult (YA) novels, the news release said.

Editor and NMSU visiting professor Jessica Powers will serve as the event 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 appeared on the New York Times’ bestseller list, the NMSU Library said. Set in 1987 in 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 earned 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 surge in attempts to ban books in public schools has included challenges to Aristotle and Dante, the news release said.

In November 2021, the Indian River, Florida, chapter of Moms for Liberty, requested 156 books that the group deemed “sexually explicit” or “based on critical race theory” be removed from the Indian River County schools. 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, 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 was ultimately returned to the school library, the threat remains, as some in the community continue to push the school board to remove books deemed “explicit and not age-appropriate,” the library said

Banned Books Week, Sept. 18-24, 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 wish to maintain the public’s right to seek out and express ideas, even those deemed unpopular.

Sáenz was born at Old Picacho, New Mexico, the fourth of seven children, and was raised on a small farm near Mesilla. He graduated from Las Cruces High School in 1972 and earned a master of arts degree from the University of Texas at El Paso, where he later taught, and a Ph.D. from Stanford University. Sáenz lives in El Paso.

This event is co-sponsored by the DACC Library, the NMSU LGBT+ Programs and La Sociedad para las Artes.