An alarming number of efforts are being made to limit access to books in libraries and bookstores at the same time that changes to school curriculums are being mandated by politicians. Most of the materials and topics under scrutiny deal with race, gender, and sexuality. American Library Association’s President, Emily Drabinski, Penguin Random House VP and Executive Editor, Erroll McDonald, Romanian author Liliana Corobca, documentary filmmaker Kim Snyder, and author, activist, and teacher Jennifer Baker joined us to explore the real targets of these campaigns and reflected on the human and institutional harms they cause.
Presented in partnership with the Romanian Cultural Institute. Photos by Isabelle Cachia-Riedl.
The Censor's Notebook
By Liliana Corobca
Published by Seven Stories Press
Translated by Monica Cure
A fascinating narrative of life in communist Romania, and a thought-provoking meditation on the nature of literature and censorship.
A Censor’s Notebook is a window into the intimate workings of censorship under communism, steeped in mystery and secrets and lies, confirming the power of literature to capture personal and political truths.
The novel begins with a seemingly non-fiction frame story—an exchange of letters between the author and Emilia Codrescu, the female chief of the Secret Documents Office in Romania’s feared State Directorate of Media and Printing, the government branch responsible for censorship. Codrescu had been responsible for the burning and shredding of the censors’ notebooks and the state secrets in them, but prior to fleeing the country in 1974 she had stolen one of these notebooks.
Now, forty years later, she makes the notebook available to Liliana, the character of the author, for the newly instituted Museum of Communism. The work of a censor—a job about which it is forbidden to talk—is revealed in this notebook, which discloses the structures of this mysterious institution and describes how these professional readers and ideological error hunters are burdened with hundreds of manuscripts, strict deadlines, and threatening penalties. The censors lose their identity, and are often frazzled by neuroses and other illnesses.
Jennifer Baker was named the 2019 Publishers Weekly Star Watch “SuperStar” because her “varied work championing diversity in publishing has made her an indispensable fixture in the book business.” She is the recipient of a 2017 NYSCA/NYFA Artist Fellowship and a 2017 Queens Council on the Arts New Work Grant (as well as the QCA Jr. Board Artistic Excellence Award) in Nonfiction. Her essay “What We Aren’t” was also listed as a Notable Essay in The Best American Essays 2018. Her short story “The Pursuit of Happiness” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize for 2017 by Newtown Literary Journal and is featured in the anthology What God Is Honored Here? Jennifer is the editor of Everyday People: The Color of Life—A Short Story Anthology with Atria Books (an imprint of Simon & Schuster). Her YA novel Forgive Me Not was published in August 2023 with Nancy Paulsen Books (an imprint of Penguin Random House).
Jennifer is a publishing professional with over 20 years experience in a range of roles (editorial, production, media) and is an instructor for Bay Path University’s Creative Nonfiction MFA, as well as the creator/host of the podcast Minorities in Publishing (a 2018, 2019, 2020 finalist for the Digital Book World Best Use of Podcasting in Book Marketing). She previously served as a contributing editor to Electric Literature. She freelances as a proofreader, copyeditor, and/or development editor across genres and has written for various publications in print and online.
From 2014-2017, Jennifer was panel organizer and social media manager for We Need Diverse Books, a non-profit organization that sprang to life from the #WeNeedDiverseBooks media campaign to increase minority representation in literature. She was the social media director and a writing instructor for Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop. Previously she volunteered with I, Too Arts Collective.
Photo Credit: Gaby Deimeke
Liliana Corobca is a writer and researcher of communist censorship in Romania. She was born in the Republic of Moldova and is the author of the novel Negrissimo (2003), winner of the ‘Prometheus’ Prize for debut fiction. She is also the author of the novels The Censor’s Notebook (Seven Stories Press, 2022), which won the 2023 Oxford Weidenfeld Translation Prize, A Year in Paradise (2005), Kinderland (2013), and The Old Maids’ Empire (2015). She has received grants and artists’ residencies in Germany, Austria, France, and Poland.
Emily Drabinski is Associate Professor at the Queens College School of Library and Information Studies. She edits Gender and Sexuality in Information Studies, a book series from Library Juice Press/Litwin Books and is a contributing writer for Truthout. Drabinski currently serves as President of the American Library Association.
Erroll McDonald is a Vice President, Executive Editor in the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group of Penguin Random House. Among the authors he has edited and published are: James Baldwin, Romare Bearden, Italo Calvino, Sandra Cisneros, Stanley Crouch, Friedrich Durenmatt, Marjorie Garber, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Michael R. Gordon, Alan Hollinghurst, Simon Johnson, Kazuo Ishiguro, Margo Jefferson, Randall Kennedy, Klaus Kinski, Laila Lalami, Fran Lebowitz, Arthur Levitt, Daniel E. Lieberman, David Malouf, Wangari Matthai, Timothy Mo, Toni Morrison, Kary Mullis, Albert Murray, Bao Nihn, Ngugi wa Thiongo, Juan Carlos Onetti, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Richard Posner, V.S. Pritchett, Manuel Puig, Salman Rushdie, Luc Sante, President Nicolas Sarkozy, Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, Wole Soyinka, Colm Toibin, Robert Farris Thompson, and John Edgar Wideman.
McDonald was born in Limon, Costa Rica. He graduated from Yale College summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English with Distinction, and membership in Phi Beta Kappa. He was for two years a Fellow in the Department of Comparative Literature of the Yale Graduate School. He holds an MBA from the Columbia University Graduate School of Business. He has been a lecturer at Yale and is an adjunct professor at Columbia. A former trustee of PEN America, he lives in New York City and Goshen, Connecticut.
Photo Credit: Beowulf Sheehan
Kim A. Snyder
Kim A. Snyder
Kim A. Snyder’s most recent feature documentary, Us Kids premiered in the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2020 Sundance competition. Prior, she directed the Peabody award-winning documentary Newtown, which premiered in the U.S. Competition at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. Newtown screened at premiere festivals worldwide and was theatrically released followed by a national broadcast on PBS’s Independent Lens and Netflix. Her most recent short, Lessons from a School Shooting: Notes from Dunblane, a Netflix Original, premiered at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival and was awarded Best Documentary Short followed by the DocDispatch Award at the 2018 Sheffield DocFest and a Grierson Award nomination. Snyder’s prior works include the feature documentary, Welcome to Shelbyville, nationally broadcast on PBS’s Independent Lens in 2011, and over a dozen short documentaries. Kim’s award-winning directorial debut feature documentary, I Remember Me was theatrically distributed by Zeitgeist Films. In 1994, she associate-produced the Academy Award-winning short film Trevor which spawned The Trevor Project, a national organization addressing LGBTQ suicide. Kim graduated with a Masters in International Affairs from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and resides in New York City. She is currently developing a number of new projects including The Librarians, a feature length documentary about the unprecedented wave of book banning in the US, produced with PBS slated for release in 2024.