Pulitzer Prize Nominated Winner of the 1993 PEN/Newman’s Own First Amendment Award for Claudia Johnson’s extraordinary efforts to restore banned literary classics from Florida classrooms. Part memoir, part courtroom drama, and part primer for advocates fighting assaults on free speech, Stifled Laughter is the story of one woman's efforts to restore literary classics to the classrooms of rural north Florida. Updated with a new introduction, Johnson's honest, often hilarious, first-person account of censorship in its modern form provides valuable insight into why the books children read at school remains a controversial issue, and why free speech in America remains a precarious right. Johnson fights tirelessly to keep texts like Lysistrata and “The Millers Tale” in Florida school textbooks regardless of a preacher’s efforts to take them out. Readers are given a glimpse into the courtroom and all the drama, passion, and hard work that follows. Johnson’s writing is witty, emotional, and humorous, and it makes you want to jump in and fight censorship and book banning right alongside her. For anyone who has ever wondered just how far those who seek to ban books will go in limiting free expression, this book proves once again that the personal is political. At a time when book banning has reached new heights, parents and teachers, writers, and readers will all benefit from Johnson's experience and be touched by her spirit and courage.
About the Author
Claudia Johnson is a nationally recognized advocate for free speech and social justice. In 1993, she was honored with the inaugural PEN/Newman’s Own First Amendment Award, presented by Paul Newman, for her “extraordinary efforts to restore banned literary classics to Florida classrooms”—and again in the 2022 “PEN America at 100: A Century of Defending the Written Word” exhibition at the New York Historical Society. She also received the Giraffe Heroes Commendation awarded to people who stick their neck out for the common good. And she continues to fight book banning, recently helping reinstate banned books to Virginia Beach classrooms and libraries. Her second memoir, Hurtling Toward Happiness: A Mother and Teenage Son’s Road Trip from Blues to Bonding in a Really Small Car, was praised by the New York Times for its “quick pace and energetic dialogue that shows genuine warmth between mother and son.” Her screenwriting text, Crafting Short Screenplays That Connect—now in its fifth/Twentieth Anniversary edition—introduced the narrative theory that human connection is as essential as conflict in the stories we tell. Her civil rights documentary, The Other Side of Silence: The Untold Story of Ruby McCollum, was awarded the Gold Jury Prize at Seattle’s Social Justice Film Festival and Best Florida Documentary at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival. She is a member of the founding faculty of the FSU Film School and also taught screenwriting at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. She has co-authored two books with her longtime writing partner, Matt Stevens—A Christmas Belle, a sequel to Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, and Script Partners: How to Succeed at Co-Writing for Film & TV, now in its second edition. And their co-written screenplays have been optioned and named finalists in multiple competitions, including Final Draft’s Big Break Screenwriting Contest and the Sundance Screenwriters Lab.
"As the battle over censorship and book banning rages on, Claudia Johnson helps us understand why it’s more important than ever to keep books on the shelves. Told with passion, humor, and an enduring love of literature, this is a must read for all book lovers.” – Judy Blume
Witty, funny, and light on its feet as it is important. Distinguish your day and buy this book. – Charles Gaines, finalist for National Book Award and New York Times bestselling author of more than 20 books
“The republication of Claudia Johnson's beautifully written memoir of her fight against book banning in two Florida towns in the 1980s and 1990s couldn't be more timely. It occurred during a period of intense censorship activity in schools and libraries across the country. There are differences between that struggle and the serious challenge to the freedom to read we face today. But one thing remains the same—the critical importance of the brave individuals like Johnson who stand up to the censors.” –Chris Finan, Executive Director of National Coalition Against Censorship
“Claudia Johnson demonstrates in lively fashion how censorship is deeply undemocratic and dangerous. That banning books is a threat not only to freedom of choice when it comes to what we read, but how we live, and can be used as a political weapon to marginalize various groups of Americans. Perhaps most important, Johnson makes clear that one simply cannot ban ideas.” – Laura Pedersen, bestselling author and James Thurber Award finalist
“Painfully relevant in light of recent assaults on young people’s right to read, Stifled Laughter brings wisdom, intelligence, and humor to the fight against censorship in schools and beyond.” – Ashley Hope Pérez,Author of the award-winning and widely banned novel Out of Darkness (#4 on ALA’s most challenged list for 2021, and #3 on the PEN America most-banned list)
“Funny, inspiring, and timely, Stifled Laughter is an emotional roller-coaster ride through the classrooms, community meetings, and courthouses that serve as the battleground for censorship. Hooray for Claudia Johnson, she’s an American hero!” – Jonathan Evison, author of Lawn Boy
“Her memoir, Stifled Laughter, takes you with her, moment by tense moment, on a wild ride through contentious public meetings, nerve-wracking courtroom sessions, and seeing her house burned to the ground. – Ann Medlock, Founder of the Giraffe Heroes Project, Honoring people who stick their necks out for the common good
"Claudia Johnson captures it all: the hilarity and horror of public comments about classic literature, the tedium and terror of court processes, the alternating beauty and belligerence of Florida, and the personal toll that too often attends standing up for the right to read." – James LaRue, former head of the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom