Pacing the Cage

Jane Hilberry uninvited to speak at CSS

by John Knight, editor 

In a recent flurry of letters, emails and phone calls, Jane Hilberry, the award-winning poet and Colorado College English professor, was first invited to speak at the Colorado Springs School’s (CSS) literary conference, and then abruptly uninvited. CSS, a private school for grades K-12, rescinded its invitation after concerns arose about the mature content of some of Hilberry’s work and the cover of her book Body Paint, which features a picture of a nude woman covered in paint. The move has infuriated members of the literary community in the Springs who believe CSS is being hypocritical by censoring without a thorough understanding of Hilberry’s work.

David Mason, a CC English professor who has given the keynote address at the same conference in years past, said that the school was using a double standard. “The three previous keynote speakers, all male, have written things at least as controversial as anything in Hilberry’s book, but no one questioned our ability to tailor our remarks to an audience of young people. Why the head of the school assumed Jane would be inappropriate as a speaker to young people is impossible to fathom. She knows very well how to tailor her remarks to different audiences because she is a professional.”

Despite allegations that Kevin Reel, CSS headmaster, has never actually read Hilberry’s work, his decision to disinvite the poet has been widely supported by some members of the Springs community. In response to an article posted on the Colorado Springs Gazette’s website, many citizens have applauded CSS, claiming that children must be protected from mature material like nudity. But, as Regula Evitt, CC English Department Chair, points out, “If CSS wants to ‘protect’ its students from artists who write erotic or sensual creative work, they should probably take Dante, Petrarch, Chaucer, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Donne, Milton, Blake, the Romantic poets, Yeats, Pound, Frost, T.S. Eliot, the current poet-laureate Kay Ryan (and many, many more) off of their reading list of acceptable artists.”

The underlying sentiment for most is that CSS’s decision to dismiss a versatile poet like Hilberry misses the artistic mark. “[Hilberry] has a body of work that includes such a vast and imaginative span of subjects,” says Evitt. “Why would they reduce her to a single aspect of her work?”

Jane and her father are scheduled to give a reading this Thursday, December 10, in the Gates Common Room at CC as part of the Visiting Writers Series from their new collaborative work, This Awkward Art. 

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