Back in October the Irascible Professor offered its support to officials at Kilgore College in Kilgore, Texas, who refused to back down in the face of extreme pressure from local, right-wing religious zealots who wanted to ban the production of the controversial play Angels in America. (To read our original commentary click here.)
Kilgore College is a two-year community college located in the heart of the east Texas piney woods. Some $50,000 in funding for its summer theater festival was pulled by the county commissioners following the production of Angels in America last summer.
We are very pleased to report that Kilgore's president, Bill Holda, has been awarded the PEN/Newman's Own First Amendment Award for 2000. PEN is a fellowship of writers that has been working for more than 75 years "to advance literature, to promote a culture of reading, and to defend free expression." PEN's citation to Dr. Holda includes the following two paragraphs:Despite the building pressure and negative publicity, Dr. Holda stood firm in his decision to uphold academic freedom and First Amendment rights. He took measures to ensure the safety of the cast and audience throughout the performances, and dealt personally with the press and with his critics. The play was performed to full houses and positive reviews. When the Gregg County Commissioners followed through with their threat to rescind funding, he made certain that the Texas Shakespeare Festival would continue. In spite of fierce adversity and the dangers to his job, Dr. Holda never wavered in his support of academic liberty, the First Amendment, and artistic freedom.The $25,000 prize together with an additional $18,000 contributed by Mr. Newman and another executive of his company will help to ensure that the Texas Shakespeare Festival, which is sponsored by Kilgore College, will survive. Dr. Holda and Kilgore College richly deserve this award. Would that all college presidents had the courage that Dr. Holda exhibited.
In the words of Dr. Holda, "And why is there this tremendous fear of something so simple as a word? Why this fear and hysteria over the words of playwright Tony Kushner? Why are writers all over the world imprisoned because of their words? Because words have power - they give flesh and life to ideas which may challenge our most deeply held beliefs. They may hold up a mirror, reflecting life as it really is, in spite of our denial. And only after withstanding the crucible of a viciously powerful challenge are our ideas truly worthy of ownership."
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