Carmen Maria Machado, the celebrated author known for her memoir “In the Dream House” and of an award-winning short story collection called “Her Body and Other Parties,” will speak Friday at Colby College. Photo courtesy of Art Streiber

WATERVILLE — Acclaimed author Carmen Maria Machado speaks from personal experience when responding to the rising effort to remove books from school libraries. 

“It’s just less (students) know and understand about the world they’re about to go into,” Machado said Tuesday.

The award-winning writer, who first gained widespread attention for her 2017 short story collection, “Her Body and Other Parties,” is scheduled to speak Friday at Colby College as part of the first Maine Lit Fest.

Her talk will be the first of a series of conversations, panel discussions and workshops held in Waterville through Tuesday, before the festival transitions down to Portland through the rest of next week. Fifty authors (many of them Mainers) will take part.

Readers can expect to hear from Machado about “breaking literary molds, writing queer relationships, embracing the weird, and her writing process,” as well as some new projects she’s working on, according to the festival’s website. Machado shared that she’s writing two books, one sold to a publisher and one not-yet-sold, both hotly anticipated by fans because the 36-year-old Machado hasn’t published a book since 2019, the celebrated “In the Dream House.”

Just as quickly as that memoir hit the shelves, calls began to remove it.


The book is a haunted account of Machado’s experience in an abusive relationship, and continues to be subject to backlash in some conservative circles. “In the Dream House” takes a unique structural approach, each chapter (page, sometimes) assumes a different genre or literary trope to grapple with intimate partner abuse. The memoir captured not only high-profile literary prizes, but also the attention of school districts that pulled the novel from libraries and reading lists for what was seen as inappropriate discussions of gender, sex and sexuality. 

Similar controversy has erupted in Maine over one book in particular, “Gender Queer: A Memoir.”

In June, “Gender Queer,” a graphic memoir following nonbinary author Maia Kobabe’s journey with gender identity, was banned by Dixfield-based Regional School Unit 56. No other book in the country is targeted more for removal from school shelves, according to the American Library Association. Buxton-based School Administrative District 6 now is considering removing the memoir from its libraries, with several parents labeling it “pornographic” at a recent school board meeting. RSU 40, which covers Knox County, is due to make a decision next month whether to pull Kobabe’s book from its high school library.

The situation is all too familiar for Machado. “It’s such a nakedly obvious political ploy that has such devastating ramifications,” she said.

“There’s a lot of talk about ‘grooming,’ like, that the presence of these books in libraries and schools is grooming,” she said. “That’s just a homophobic dog whistle … When you legislate kids’ identities in front of them, it’s really harmful for them.”

Machado said books like hers and Kobabe’s can often be a “lifeline” for queer youth, holding up a mirror to their experiences.


But some like Maine Republican gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage take a counter view. LePage has introduced a “Parents Bill of Rights” in which he decries “woke” discussions of gender and sexuality in public schools, declaring them inappropriate. 

Machado said an important function of her writing is “relationship education.” Through her work, Machado said, students might learn about subtler iterations of intimate partner abuse — like extreme jealousy — just as they’re starting to think about sex and relationships. Stamping out those discussions does not prevent those experiences, it can just lead to teenagers who stumble into them blindly.

“Your kid is at risk. All teenagers are at risk,” Machado said of the sexual violence she writes about. To deny that reality only delays it, and means young people get that information outside school — either online or from their peers, she said. Indeed, since the advent of the internet, banning books is a pointless exercise as parents and schools can no longer hope to exercise total control over what young people read and learn, she said.

As it happens, all 28 copies of “Gender Queer” available across the Minerva library catalog system (which serves more than 60 public libraries across Maine) are currently either checked out or in the process of being checked out.

“This information is accessible in other ways,” Machado said. “Adults can enact these policies, but you are your own person, and you can get the information you want. If that’s what you want.”

Machado will speak with Colby assistant professor of creative writing and novelist Sarah Braunstein at Colby’s Given Auditorium at 7 p.m. on Friday. It will be livestreamed at The event is free but organizers suggest RSVPing and arriving early to guarantee a seat in the auditorium, otherwise people may be directed to watch the talk from an overflow room. Masks are required.

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