Ever since I was a young I had the habit of reading obituaries. Maybe it started because I grew up in a small town and the weekly paper offered special, full stories of the lives of those who had passed. More often than not I had some connection to the deceased.
As I moved on, I continued to keep an I on the death notices from my hometown and surrounding area. It wasn’t out of any sense of moroseness or morbid curiosity. It wasn’t because of social consciousness that made me send cards to bereaved friends and family. Each obituary told a story. I understood the setting, perhaps knew some of the players. And there never failed to be a kernel of wisdom or wonder held in those brief paragraphs.
Today I went, as I habitually do, to the obituaries in the New York Times. I was stunned to see the name Judith Krug there. She fought against banning books in libraries and took on the new challenge of fighting for free speech rights for the internet.
People who want to ban books tend to be reactionary, righteous and hateful. When I worked at HarperCollinsChildren’s Books, many calls and letters came to my desk demanding that we stop publishing the poems of Shel Silverstein or the SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK series or, my personal favorite book banning demand, LULU AND THE WITCH BABY by Jane O’Connor. A woman insisted that this book taught children witchcraft because it included a spell Lulu used to make her sister disappear (or so she thought).
I listened or read these rants with very little patience. If it was a serious threat I sent it to our in-house attorneys. I was young and couldn’t possibly have dealt with censorship issues with any sense of decorum or diplomacy. Put in the same situation today, I still couldn’t. But Judy Krug respected every individual’s opinion and perspective. She believed in free speech for everyone – even those who wanted to censor others.
Reading Krug’s obituary made me recall a different time in my life. Without ever meeting her in person, she had a tremendous influence in my life. Today I am reading books that might not be available to me without her impact on the scope of the First Amendment.
Stories like Judy Krug’s are the reason I read the obituaries. The stories are personal to me and I read them with reverence. Today I am honored by all that Krug did to protect me from the censors. I’m grateful for her being.
The internet makes obituary browsing easy. So many life stories are at my fingertips. Obituaries.com offers a listing of newspaper obituary columns organized by state. Obituaries.com is run by Legacy.com which offers extensive services including on-line tributes, bereavement support and research access.