Banned Books Week begins today. This annual celebration of literary freedom began in 1982 as a collaboration between the Association of American Publishers and library activist Judith Krug. In the last few years in the United States, while often heavily localized to individual school districts and libraries, book bans have increased, coinciding with a growing boldness to censor young readers’ access to books that have the power to expand language for and understanding of their own identity.
The last year alone has seen two frightening trends: State laws have made it easier for a fewer number of people to challenge or ban books, and a handful of individuals have taken those changes as an opportunity to manipulate public education and educational services, notably libraries.
This is not a problem that can be solved with Banned Books Week alone. This is, instead, a fight over public education and the third space that libraries provide between work and home, and it is there that the fight against frivolous and petty and censorship has to take place.
Instead, our staff would like to join in Banned Books Week as a celebration of literary freedom, and would like to share some recommended books that have been subject to censorship.
Amber Shockley, Assistant Poetry Editor
To Kill A Mockinbird, by Harper Lee – Not only because the character Boo Radley remains a blueprint for my life as a pale hermit, but because the list of offenses includes its use of the phrase “whore lady.”
Jan Stinchcomb, Associate Fiction Editor
Forever, Judy Blume: 1975: A teenage girl falls in love, has sex, falls out of love, moves on to the next guy, does not get pregnant, does not get sick, does not die. She owns her sexuality and takes responsibility for her life and happiness. This character still threatens certain Americans, too many of whom are lawmakers.
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, Alison Bechdel: 2006: A beautiful graphic novel exploring darkness, queerness and family secrets.
Bad Kitty, Nick Bruel: a children’s book series that started in 2005: We still have nine of the Bad Kitty books in our family library. Our dear departed cat was a feral rescue kitten, and it seemed that this series was written just for her. When I found out BK has been banned (for featuring a lesbian couple and for using symbols that can be interpreted as profanity), I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I can hear Bad Kitty spitting and hissing in the distance.
Ricardo Jose Gonzalez Rothi, Creative Nonfiction Reader
One of my favorite novels, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison is banned for some time at a school in Florida. Wonderful lyrical language, some scenes difficult to deal with because in the back of our collective minds we know these events happened.
Keene Short, Editor-in-Chief
Last year, a Tennessee school board banned the teaching of Maus, by Art Spiegelman. It’s a graphic memoir that is challenging and uncomfortable and complicated, but it’s about the Holocaust, as well as memory and generational trauma. It’s a useful way to teach not just the horrifying story of the Holocaust, but how we might go about processing it. While the reasons for its ban were about its language and imagery more than its subject, it’s part of a chilling trend of public education responding to censorship bills by whitewashing historic violence.
I want to end on a positive note, too. Some years ago, in my home state, a judge struck down a bill that led to the wholesale banning of Mexican-American studies curricula, calling the bill unconstitutional. The law led to schools banning masterpieces like Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya and Borderlands/ La Frontera by Gloria E. Anzaldúa. Book bans won’t cease without a tough fight, but there’s no end to the benefits of winning that fight.