This past week, we’ve been celebrating Banned Books Week, which is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. The theme for this year was “Books That Shaped America.” The event takes place during the last week of September and brings together the entire book community –- librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types –- in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.
Thank you to those of you who participated and helped to spread the word about the freedom to read and censorship. Although we make light of these situations, censorship is not a thing of the past; it is very real in the world today. Just this past month, the ACLU reported that a mother here in the U.S. – ONE mother – complained because her child’s school wanted to use a rap song to help with learning a math equation, and the mother did not like the rapper’s name. Because of this one mother’s complaint, the school pulled the song. Another example comes from the BBC, who just recently censored the words “Free Palestine” out of a rap song. As much as I don’t like the book myself, Fifty Shades of Grey continues to be banned from public libraries. Even classics like Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare, Beloved by Toni Morrisson, Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, The Awakening by Kate Chopin, Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, and religious books like The Koran and The Bible have been banned as recently as last year.
Censorship of all types of art is alive and well. And only we can raise our voices in support of our freedom of expression and of our freedom to read.
Some of my favorite reasons books were banned:
- The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein and The Lorax by Dr. Seuss were both banned for “criminalizing the foresting industry.” Another reason cited for banning The Giving Tree: It’s “sexist.”
- Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne, Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, and Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White were all banned because talking animals are considered “an insult to God.”
- Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl was banned as recently as 2010 due to its “sexual content and homosexual themes.” It was also considered “too depressing.” In May of THIS YEAR, a Michigan mom tried to get the book banned because of its “pornographic tendencies.”
- Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss was banned in California on accounts of “homosexual seduction.”
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl was banned because it embraced “a poor philosophy of life.”
- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum was banned by public libraries in Chicago because of its “ungodly” influence “for depicting women in strong leadership roles.”
- The 10th edition of The Merriam-Webster Dictionary (yes, I said the DICTIONARY) was banned from classrooms in California in 2010 (yes, I said 2010) because it included the definition of “oral sex.”
- A Streetcar Named Desire (the movie) was self-censored, leaving a number of scenes on the cutting room floor to get an adequate rating and protect against complaints of the play’s immorality.
There are so many other examples of books, music, movies, and other types of art that have been, and still are, banned, censored, or otherwise challenged. Now more than ever, it’s important that we continue to raise awareness and fight for our fREADom.
We Read Banned Books
Banned Books Event at La Nuit Theater on 9/29/13
The event featured readings by Mark Folse (Howl), Tom Piazza (Finnegan’s Wake), and Denise McConduit (Their Eyes Were Watching God), banned jazz music from Seva Venet’s Freedom of Jazz Trio, banned book trivia, and a screening of Within Our Gates, a film made by Oscar Micheaux in 1920. Micheaux is the first known African-American filmmaker, and the silent film was banned from Shreveport because it portrayed African-American life “too realistically” and featured a lynching. The film never made it to New Orleans, and a rare few copies of it exist today.
This event, sponsored by the ACLU, happens annually. I had a really great time! The highlight for me was Tom Piazza’s reading, which was just incredible. He also mentioned that there is a recording of James Joyce reading that same passage that he’s listened to numerous times since college floating around on You Tube. I took the liberty of locating it for you if you’re interested in watching:
The other highlight for me was the jazz band. They played three songs, and they were some of the most talented jazz musicians I’ve seen. Overall, the jazz music and readings from banned books in a run down comedy theater with no air conditioning on a day with gorgeous weather makes for a complete New Orleans Sunday afternoon!
Here are some photos from the event:
Banned Books Week is sponsored by the American Booksellers Association; American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression; the American Library Association; American Society of Journalists and Authors; Association of American Publishers; Comic Book Legal Defense Fund; the Freedom to Read Foundation; National Coalition Against Censorship; National Council of Teachers of English; National Association of College Stores; PEN American Center and Project Censored. It is endorsed by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.