Saturday, April 09, 2005

Thought Police

I mentioned this a while back but never followed up.

According to Robert Silverberg in "Fantasies about Fiction," Jan Richman, a writing instructor teaching at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco asked her class to read a story with a strongly unsympathetic character to get a better handle on how to develop unlikeable but compelling characters of their own.

One of the students wrote a violent story involving child molesters and murder which wasn't exactly a masterpiece but some readers said showed promise. Richman brought the story to her supervisor who suggested that the student read The Lovely Bones to get a better idea of how to present such material.

Even after UC's "no genre fiction/sensitive relationship stories only" approach to writing, it bothers me that this couldn't have been worked out between student and teacher. However it didn't end.

The university brought Richman before an "administrative committee" and asked to provide character references. Then they sent the story to the SFPD who bounced it around before sending Homicide Inspector Holly Pera to check up on the student. She later stated that "We have no evidence that it was anything other than a story," but the school expelled the writer anyway.

After the semester, Richman, apparently an adjunct without a contract, was out of work. More on the story.

From a Cincinnati POV, it's nice to see San Francisco as the censor champ but you have to wonder about the effect this could have on college creative writing classes. There's no need to encouragement them to crank out stuff even more bland.

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