April 22, 2014
Special performance of “Fun Home” after the book costs Charleston college its funding
by Kirsten Reach
Here’s a new way to fight a book ban: bringing award-winning musical theater to your college campus.
Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir Fun Home—a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist that tells the story of her late father’s life and her own—was recommended for freshmen in Charleston this year as part of the College Reads! program. Then the College of Charleston was threatened with $52,000 in state budget cuts (this is intentionally the same cost as the reading program) because the same-sex coupling in the book was deemed “inappropriate” and “promoting the gay and lesbian lifestyle.”
You can sigh here, it’s OK. We sighed, too.
The controversy inspired the school to bring the actors from Fun Home, a musical based on the graphic novel that ran Off-Broadway last year, to reunite at the college for two special performances on April 21. The Sam and Regina Greene Fund at the Coastal Community Foundation financed last night’s events. No state funds were used in the production of either performance (in case there were any doubts).
College Reads! is an optional program that is supposed to start a community discussion around a single title. Bechdel traveled the college last October to speak about the book, and now the actors have reunited to open up conversation again. Last week the musical adaption was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
A year-long conversation that inspires the author and an award-winning cast to continue a book’s dialogue with its students! A Pulitzer-nominated show that reunites! A series of national publications that cover the budget cuts! This is starting to sound like the most successful College Reads! program in the country.
Rep. Stephen Goldfinch wrote to the vice president of the college’s Straight Gay Alliance:
“Out of your mouth you demand that we fund your school and many of your educations, yet, out of another side of your mouth, you demand we stay out of your school and your education. I have a simple solution for you: Ask your school to go private. At that point, you can require obscene pornographic mandatory reading without any intervention from the people who fund your school now.”
He later apologized, saying he received the press email at a bad time and regretted his tone. (No trouble at all, sir, I’m sure no one from the GSA will share your email with ABC News.)
In a statement published in Publishers Weekly, the Bechdel said:
“I’m very grateful to the people who taught my book at the College of Charleston. It was brave of them to do that given the conservative pressures they’re apparently under. I made a visit to the school last fall for which they also took some flak, but to their great credit they didn’t back down. It’s sad and absurd that the College of Charleston is facing a funding cut for teaching my book — a book which is after all about the toll that this sort of small-mindedness takes on people’s lives.”
The college faculty deserves some serious credit for standing up for Bechdel’s book, even in the face of these cuts. Tony-nominated actress Jody Kuhn told the New York Times, “We want to stand up for the school and for people who believed that this book is worth reading.”
Kirsten Reach is an editor at Melville House.