Locked Up with Vonnegut

Jack and Jill Editor Corey Michael Dalton gives us the inside scoop on spending Banned Books Week locked up with Vonnegut.

Kurt Vonnegut Memorial LIbrary

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Kurt Vonnegut Memorial LIbrary

From September 30 to October 6, writer and editor Corey Michael Dalton will live 24/7 in the front window of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in downtown Indianapolis. His week-long stay, “Locked Up with Vonnegut,” is timed to coincide with Banned Books Week. To get the scoop on this unusual event, KVML Blog Editor Shannon Bahler sat down with Corey for a chat.

Shannon: So. You. Living in a window. For a week. What’s this all about?

Corey: It’s about bringing attention to Banned Books Week, which has been observed the last week of September every year since 1982. Many people are surprised to learn that books are still actively being challenged and/or banned in the U.S., but it’s true. In 2011, for example, To Kill a Mockingbird, Brave New World, and The Hunger Games trilogy were all in the list of top 10 most challenged books.

S: Why did the Vonnegut Library get involved with Banned Books Week?

C: Obviously the Vonnegut Library is opposed to censorship as a general principal, but I think the incident that really got their attention was last year’s banning of Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five in Missouri. The school board in the town of Republic voted unanimously to ban the book from their high school’s library for supposedly espousing beliefs that run contrary to the Bible. The complaint was made by just one man—a man whose kids don’t even go to the public school because he chooses to homeschool them. Thankfully, the outright banning of classic works of literature is fairly rare, so the incident was reported in the media and came to the Vonnegut Library’s attention. That’s when the organization offered to send any student from that high school a free copy of Slaughterhouse-Five at the student’s request. At last count, the library had sent out around 80 free copies of the novel.

S: Is the book still banned in Republic, Missouri?

C: The book is now locked up in a secure location, only accessible by students who bring in written permission from their parents to let them check it out.

S: Ah—so that’s why the KVML’s event is called “Locked Up With Vonnegut.”

C: Exactly. I’m going to be locked up and kept from the public, just like Slaughterhouse-Five in Republic.

S: You’re going to be in the library for an entire week. How in the world did they persuade you to do this?

C: They asked. Honestly, it wasn’t that hard to convince me! Julia Whitehead, the executive director, and I have been friends for years, so she knows I’m always game for standing up for what I think is right, even if it causes me some minor discomfort. And I figure it’s only for seven days! I can get back to my normal workday life the next week.

S: Why did she ask you, specifically?

C: Aside from the fact that she knew I’d say yes, I like to think that I have some qualifications. First, I’m a writer. I just graduated from Butler University with my Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, and I have a couple of completed book manuscripts that I’m shopping around. So, as a writer, it really burns my britches to think of small-minded individuals trying to tell other folks what is and is not appropriate for their families to read. I can’t let that go unopposed! Second, as the editor of Jack and Jill magazine for kids, encouraging young people to read is kind of a mandate of my day job! Also, before I edited Jack and Jill, I worked as the associate editor of The Saturday Evening Post, the same magazine that first published 11 of Vonnegut’s short stories, so there’s a historic connection there between Vonnegut and me as well.

S: Don’t you think you’ll get lonely?

C: Nah! We’ve got lots of programming scheduled. For one thing, the library will be open every day that week (it’s usually closed on Wednesdays) and it will have extended hours, from noon to 7:00 p.m. Every evening at 6:00 we’ll have special “Corey’s Bedtime Stories,” where folks like Michael Moore, Dan Wakefield (Going All the Way), Ben H. Winters (Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, The Last Policeman), Michael Dahlie (A Gentleman’s Guide to Graceful Living), and former first lady of Indiana Judy O’Bannon will read to me (and anyone else who wants to attend) from banned books such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Great Gatsby. There will also be a couple of movie events and a First Friday spectacular. All of these events are open to the public, of course. [See a complete schedule.]

S: Will you be doing anything while you’re in the library? Or will you just be lounging on your cot behind your wall of books?

C: I’m sure there will be plenty of lounging in my cell (although the cot isn’t that comfy), but I’ll be working as well. My employers at the nonprofit Saturday Evening Post Society have graciously agreed to let me work on Jack and Jill from the library for the week. So, I’m sure I’ll be typing on my laptop, having meetings with my staff, and making lots of phone calls in between lounging sessions. I have also agreed to blog about my experiences for this website. And Tweet. I’ll be Tweeting from @CoreyMDalton. Oh, and I’m going to write a short story, too, which we plan to post on the site at the end of the week. Whew!

S: It sounds like you’re a busy guy! I better let you go.

C: Well, before I go, I just want to let people know that they should feel free to stop in the library and say hi while I’m living there. Folks are welcome to come visit me in my cell. Or they can peep at me through a live, 24/7 webcam to make sure I’m staying true to my word. The only times I won’t be visible is if I have to run to the bathroom or take a quick shower in the library’s basement. Too much info?

S: Maybe just a bit. Thanks for talking about all this, though—and have fun!

C: I’m sure I will. Later!

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