Plum Creek Literacy Festival is now an anti-LGBTQ "ministry" – Book and film globe | Bowluk

In September, the Plum Creek Literacy Festival abruptly canceled its event after several authors declined to attend because the festival had deleted LGBTQ-themed books.

Now the festival is back – somehow. Amid discussions on Twitter about his track record, Plum Creek’s 2022 roster first shrank and then changed dramatically.

At least eight children’s authors have left the Plum Creek cast since early April, including Vanessa Brantley-Newton, John Bemelmans Marciano, Mitali Perkins and Jon Agee. At one point, the festival only listed six authors as presenters, two of whom were earmarked for the adult portion of the festival. A new list of authors and illustrators appeared in mid-April.

“When professionals (including publishers) support events that openly discriminate, they normalize that discrimination.” tweeted Teacher Sarah Mulhern Gross. “If Plum Creek can walk, why not replicate it? How long before Florida or Texas or Mississippi hosts a similar festival?”

“The thing about the Plum Creek Festival is that given the reasons for the festival’s cancellation last year and the spate of LGBTQIA book bans in libraries across the country in 2021-22 … the decision to hold it without thinking, changes, or dialogue feels worse??? tweeted Author and school librarian Angela Burke Kunkel.

The event has become a focal point as the focus on books by and about LGBTQ people increases and intensifies. A new study by PEN America found that LGBTQ content was one of the top reasons for book challenges in a year of record-breaking censorship numbers. The three most banned books in the American Library Association’s most recent tally all have LGBTQ content. Following widespread complaints and a petition from librarians, Follett School Solutions recently abandoned a proposed change to its Destiny software that would have flagged parents when students checked out certain books and allowed parents to prevent students from reading titles with certain tags , including LGBTQ, to borrow.

The increasing attacks on LGBTQ literature and students are part of what prompted author Anne Ursu to do it tweet about the festival guidelinesshe said in a phone interview with Book and Film Globe.

Anne Urzu

“I wanted to make sure that people have the information that that’s what happened, that they censored queer books at this particular moment when queer books and queer kids are being attacked,” she said.

Author of several books for young people, including The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy, Ursu teaches at Hamline University alongside writer Eliot Schrefer. Schrefer, a two-time National Book Award finalist, was The first to withdraw from the 2021 event after noticing that the festival’s store was out of stock of several LGBTQ content presenter books, including his then new release, The Darkness Outside Us.

Festival director Dylan Teut told Book and Film Globe in September that Schrefer wrongly attributed the lack of LGBTQ books to censorship — although other authors did asked no assurances were given as to the festival’s support for such books.

“This year they are releasing a new list…there is no confirmation of what happened, the student handbook has disappeared from the college website and the festival is much more explicitly tied to that particular church,” Urzu said.

The festival’s website now describes the event as a “ministry” of Concordia University, which is affiliated with the Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church. Last year, the then-public student handbook detailed disciplinary offenses for “participating in a homosexual lifestyle.”

Concordia has served as the backdrop for Plum Creek since 1996, which has drawn up to 10,000 people to three-day events sometimes hosted by children’s fiction luminaries. In 2018, the cast included Laurie Halse Anderson; In 2019, Kate di Camillo and Jacqueline Woodson presented at the adult conference.

Several of the booked presenters for 2022 are not active on social media, Urzu noted, and may not have been aware of the troubles with the festival from last year. For many children’s book authors, she said, “It would be our horror to show up at a festival like this and not have a clue about the story and inadvertently attend and tacitly support it.” (In fact, Nathan Hale, author of the “Hazardous Tales ‘ series from last year tweeted: “I just got here for the Plum Creek Festival in Nebraska only to find that all the writers dropped out for a good reason. I’m on the authors’ side and of course I won’t be presenting either.”

Award-winning literacy educator and author Kelly Gallagher agreed to present at the 2022 festival in 2019, but canceled in April after learning what happened last year. He tweeted issued an open letter explaining his decision and saying that this was the first time he had withdrawn from a lecture.

“I contacted the festival organizer and asked two questions: 1) Can I do a session highlighting LGBTQ+ YA literature? and 2) Can I give assurances that the books I am reviewing will be available for sale locally?” Gallagher wrote. “The organizer replied that I was free to discuss anything during the session, but the books would not be sold.”

He concluded, “I believe that change will only happen when people speak out, and I can only hope that announcing my decision publicly can help move the needle a little closer to a more just and inclusive world.”

Echoing the changing explanations offered to festival authors in 2021, Gallagher said in a telephone interview that festival director Teut told him that the festival’s policy does not allow book sales by authors who are not presenting.

“In the email telling him I wasn’t coming, I told him it was an easy fix — he could have taken my books out and put these other books in,” Gallagher said. “Then later he said, ‘Well, you never asked me if we could switch, you just quit.’ Well, (he) already told me what the politics was. There was no point in asking again.”

Book and Film Globe asked Teut about the festival’s current policies, the number of author cancellations, and whether the event would be willing to book an author whose work contains LGBTQ themes, or whether it would sell books with those themes.

His email response: “Thank you for your interest in the Plum Creek Literacy Festival and Concordia University Nebraska. We are preparing for the fall event and look forward to serving the community. Our selection of authors, illustrators and literacy experts is always changing. We have no further comments.”

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