New York Times Book Review editor to speak at WestConn
Banned Books Week event to examine tensions over free speech

DANBURY, CONN. — Sam Tanenhaus, the editor of The New York Times Book Review, will highlight Banned Books Week with a talk at Western Connecticut State University at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 28, in Ives Concert Hall in White Hall on WestConn’s Midtown campus, 181 White St. in Danbury.

Tanenhaus said his talk, “Books and Free Speech: How Far is Too Far?” will examine “tension today between the ever-present threat of censorship and the growing literature of abuse, particularly in the area of political writing (much of it influenced by the Web and cable), which seems to have claimed center stage in the past several years.” Tanenhaus’ presentation is cosponsored by Banned Books Week, the American Democracy Project and The New York Times.

Since his appointment in March 2004, Tanenhaus has been the subject of intense interest by fans of the Book Review who have examined his history, the redesign of the weekly section and the decisions Tanenhaus has made about what to review and how.

Tanenhaus has been called a “smart conservative” who has aimed the Book Review at a “middlebrow” audience. As journalism commentator Ellen Hetzel said, “In a culture that worships money and celebrity, when newspapers are struggling to survive, AND when reading is an increasingly exclusive sport, the consumer class is the one that everybody's after.”

Tanenhaus has said that he has tried to show the breadth of literary culture by reviewing mass-market books as well as serious literature, along with new writers who might not have found a place in the Book Review in previous years.

Tanenhaus worked for The Times from 1997 until 1999 as the assistant editor to the Op-Ed pages. He also has written for the Book Review and the Op-Ed page, as well as Arts & Ideas and the Week in Review.

Between his two positions at The Times, he was a contributing editor for Vanity Fair from May 1999 until March 2004, and also has been published in that magazine.

Tanenhaus, who is 50 and lives in Tarrytown, N.Y., with his wife and one child, is the author of “Whittaker Chambers: A Biography” (Random House, 1997; Modern Library paperback, 1998), which won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Biography in 1997, and was a finalist for both the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 1997 and the Pulitzer Prize for biography in 1998.

During the reception for Tanenhaus’ talk, which is free and open to the public, there will be a raffle to win books from the campus bookstore as well as other prizes.

Banned Books Week highlights the issues of First Amendment rights, censorship, and the intellectual freedom to express ideas, no matter how controversial or unpopular they may be.

Several other events are planned on campus for the week. All are free and open to the public.

From 1 – 2 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 25, Professor of English Dr. Ed Hagan will lead the discussion “News Story or Sports Story? The Hypnosis of Ersatz Triumph and Defeat,” a talk about “subtle censorship” by the media, which, Hagan says, tend to report all events in a familiar form with beginning, middle and end, much as a sporting contest that always has a winner and a loser. The talk will be in Warner Hall on WestConn’s Midtown campus.

Tuesday and Wednesday, Sept. 26-27, will feature 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. readathons in front of the Student Center on the Midtown campus, during which WestConn students and faculty will read excerpts from banned or challenged books in a public forum.

Also on Sept. 26, the Roger Sherman Debate Society, a WestConn student organization, will present a debate about “To Ban or Not to Ban: That is the Question.” The audience will be able to fully participate in the debate, which will be from 12:30 to 2 p.m. Warner Hall on the Midtown campus.

From 1 – 2 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 28, Assistant Professor of History Dr. Michael Nolan will discuss “Henri Alleg and the Question of Torture in France’s Algerian War” in Warner Hall on WestConn’s Midtown campus. Alleg was a member of the French Communist party in Algeria. Arrested by French soldiers, he was subjected to torture for having published articles critical of the war. Alleg’s book “The Question” is based on his experiences in prison. The book caused a sensation in France when it was published in 1958, and was quickly banned. This act of censorship only succeeded in provoking intense interest in the book and it was widely circulated clandestinely.

Parking will be available in WestConn’s White Street parking garage and in the lot adjacent to White Hall.

For more information, call the Office of University Relations at (203) 837-8486.

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