ABFFE Gets on a Soap Box

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On Wednesday, July 16, six national free expression groups, led by the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE), demanded that the All-American Soap Box Derby cease efforts to censor a new history of the Derby, Champions, Cheaters, and Childhood Dreams: Memories of the All-American Soap Box Derby, by Melanie Payne (University of Akron Press). In a letter to Roy Hartz, the chairman of the Derby's board of trustees, the groups charged that at least one Derby official had attempted to pressure the publisher of the book to make changes in its title and contents. In addition, Derby officials are now refusing to permit the book to be sold at the national championship on July 26.

The controversy began in December when Derby officials learned that Ms. Payne's book would contain a discussion of cheating by a number of contestants over the years as well as other potentially unflattering information. Ms. Payne says that Robert Troyer, the Derby publicity director, told her that the Derby would no longer assist her and would not give her permission to use official photos of the event. Later in the month, officials at the University of Akron Press learned that at least one Derby official had lobbied university officials in an effort to change the book. On December 13, the Press' editorial board adopted a resolution taking note of the efforts to censor Champions, Cheaters, and Childhood Dreams and affirming its intention of publishing the manuscript without changes.

Additionally, Derby officials have reportedly told Ms. Payne's publisher that it will not be allowed to rent a booth at Derby Downs, the site of the national championship, where it had hoped to sell the book. A Derby official has reportedly attempted to prevent the sale of the book at an adjacent site as well.

In addition to ABFFE, the letter was signed by the Center for First Amendment Rights, Feminists for Free Expression, the Freedom to Read Foundation, the National Coalition Against Censorship, the Office for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association, and PEN American Center. The letter is available online at http://www.freeexpression.org/newswire/soapboxderby.htm.