In her new book, a Chicago writer who spoke at Authors! Authors! four years ago says she was asked in advance by the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library to rein in her political remarks on the night the United States invaded Iraq.
Library officials vehemently deny the charge, which seems now to boil down to a difference in what each party recalls.
"If the managers of the library are upset, I'm really sorry to hear about it," said Sara Paretsky, author of the V.I. Warshawski mysteries. "And our memories of what happened during that week do differ."
She had given her talk, "Writing in an Age of Silence: Truth, Lies, and Duct Tape," many times before the Toledo event on March 19, 2003. It focused on the U.S. Patriot Act, signed into law in the emotional weeks after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The daughter of a librarian, she voiced concern that civil liberties were eroding and noted that libraries had become a front line under the act that gives broad powers to authorities looking for potential terrorists, including obtaining library records to see what books an individual has borrowed.
Ms. Paretsky also wrote in an April 1 essay in the Perspective section of the Chicago Tribune that the library had asked her to avoid controversy. She wrote: "The day before [the Toledo engagement] my speakers bureau told me that the library wanted me to change my proposed remarks; my talk on how the Patriot Act was affecting writers, readers, and libraries was too political. The library wanted instead the kind of humorous anecdotes that other writers used. With war imminent, the library felt that a criticism of the Bush administration was an insult to local families who had relatives in the service."
Ms. Paretsky made similar comments in an April 15 article in Library Journal magazine.
Toledo-Lucas County library staff said neither publication contacted them before publishing her remarks.
Clyde Scoles, library director, said the library has never censored writers who appear at Authors! Authors!
"I find the whole thing very interesting and kind of sad," said Mr. Scoles, adding that he and his staff were "totally floored" to read her essay in the Tribune.
He wondered whether Ms. Paretsky might have gotten Toledo mixed up with another city. "I just can't understand what she's trying to do."
Before her Toledo appearance, The Blade interviewed Ms. Paretsky and published an article that included the gist of what she planned to say at Authors! Authors! The Blade co-sponsors the 13-year-old speaker's series with the library.
Ms. Paretsky's agent at American Program Bureau wrote a letter to Library Journal saying he had a "fairly clear memory" of being told by another agent who had booked the talk for the library about concerns by the library. Trinity Ray, the agent, said it sparked a conversation between Ms. Paretsky and him about other political issues.
Cindy Skaff, the agent who booked the talk on behalf of the library, said she and her agency, Premier Speakers Bureau, reviewed all correspondence and notes about Ms. Paretsky's talk and found nothing to indicate any such request was made.
Ms. Paretsky told The Blade that as she has been trying to refresh her memory about events from four years ago, she reviewed her e-mails and noted she had received more responses from people who came to her Toledo talk than from any other lecture she's ever given. Many in the 350-member audience that evening rose to give her a standing ovation at the conclusion of her talk.
"I was worrying as I was coming in to Toledo [that night] that my views were so far removed from the mainstream that I shouldn't even be giving voice to them. I guess my main thought about going to Toledo, in retrospect, I think the library should feel proud of how they brought readers together that night."
Ms. Paretsky repeats her comments about attempts by the library to restrict her remarks in her new book, Writing in an Age of Silence, due for publication next month.
Mr. Scoles said the library will not try to stop publication of the book, or take any other action.
"I think we'll probably let it go," he said.
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