High school librarian, theater director receive PEN/Newman’s Own Awards
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
New York, NY, March 26, 2001—PEN American Center today named Deloris Wilson and Alberto Sarraín as co-recipients of this year’s PEN/Newman’s Own First Amendment Award. This year, the $25,000 prize will be shared by Wilson, a librarian who stood up to attempts to remove books from circulation at a high school in northern Louisiana, and Sarraín, a Cuban émigré theater producer and director who risked his theater company to challenge Miami-Dade County’s ban on arts funding for cultural organizations that produce work by artists currently living in Cuba. The cash award will be presented to the recipients, along with limited-edition artworks, at PEN’s Annual Gala on April 23, 2001 at the New York State Theater in Lincoln Center.
On May 2, 1996, the principal of West Monroe High School ordered librarian Deloris Wilson to remove four books from library shelves: Heartbreak and Roses: Real Life Stories of Troubled Love; Gays In or Out of the Military; Everything You Need to Know About Incest; and Everything You Need to Know About Abstinence. When Wilson protested the principal’s order, she was told to remove all books with sexual content from the library. She responded by pulling over 200 books, including several Bibles, before the principal rescinded that order. Wilson filed a formal grievance and a complaint with the ACLU of Louisiana protesting the removal of the four titles, eventually becoming a named plaintiff in a suit the ACLU filed on October 3, 1996 against the Ouachita Parish School Board. Enduring personal hostility and professional isolation, she documented numerous instances of censorship and protested the establishment of a materials review committee appointed by the principal. Finally, on August 17, 1999, a settlement was reached that returned all four banned books to the library. Ms. Wilson continues to serve as a librarian at West Monroe High School.
Imprisoned for three years in a Cuban jail for counterrevolutionary minors when he was a teenager in the 1960s, Alberto Sarraín emigrated from Cuba in 1978 and eventually settled in Miami, where his theatrical productions have been a fixture in the Little Havana cultural scene for two decades. With his La Má Teodora theater company, Sarraín routinely staged cutting-edge, critically-acclaimed plays by Cuban playwrights living both inside Cuba and in exile. In 1996, Miami-Dade County commissioners passed an ordinance barring any company that does business with Cuba from obtaining county funds, including arts organizations. Sarraín refused to sign the affidavit and instead became one of six representatives to join a lawsuit that would challenge the “Cuba Ordinance” in April 2000. A month after the lawsuit was filed, a federal judge ruled the ordinance was unconstitutional. However, Sarraín faced hostility within the Cuban émigré community and was left theatrically homeless when the theater that donated performance space to La Má Teodora chose not to risk losing its own county arts funding. Despite these losses, Sarraín continues to stage plays by contemporary Cuban playwrights in Little Havana.
“This year’s co-recipients of the PEN/Newman’s Own First Amendment Award are two ordinary heroes who defended freedom of expression not in an abstract arena but in their own communities and despite pressure from colleagues, community members, and neighbors to retreat or remain silent,” PEN American Center Executive Director Michael Roberts stated in announcing the awards today in New York. “Readers, writers, and lovers of the written word everywhere owe a great debt to Ms. Wilson, Mr. Sarraín, and all those like them who stand up every day for the freedoms to read and write in America.”
This is the ninth consecutive year that PEN American Center and the Newman’s Own Foundation present the award to a U.S. resident who has fought courageously, despite adversity, to safeguard the First Amendment right to freedom of expression as it applies to the written word. The judges for the 2001 Award were Joan Bertin, Executive Director of the National Coalition Against Censorship; Martin Garbus, First Amendment attorney; Gara LaMarche, Director of US Programs at the Open Society Institute; and Scott Spencer and Vera Williams, writers.
Larry Siems, (212) 334-1660, ext. 105, [email protected]