In case you missed it, last week (September 27-October 3) was Banned Books Week. Put on by the American Library Association, Banned Books Week highlights books frequently challenged and banned by schools, libraries, and the media. This exhibition serves as a great opportunity to analyze the books in question, encourage discussion, and question the harm of censorship. What makes a book banned? A book can be challenged or banned for something as simple as vulgar language, being deemed unsuitable for the intended age group, reinforcing stereotypes, depictions of homosexuality, and a multitude of other reasons.
Jacqueline Woodson, author of Brown Girl Dreaming, recently made the banned books list. In the Washington Post article “It’s Banned Books Week again. Can we stop yelling at each other about it?” Woodson speaks out about using the week as an opportunity to promote “greater dialogue, less shouting.” The Young People’s Poet Laureate questions what good comes from sheltering children from what is deemed inappropriate content. Admittedly, she has pulled books from her own children’s shelves, but acknowledges that many times the child is of age to handle the material and yet, out of fear, the parent is the one who isn’t ready.
Making the list of banned and challenged classics are staples of black literature such as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Morrison’s Song of Solomon, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain, and Richard Wright’s Native Son. Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye also made the list of the top ten most frequently challenged books of 2014 for its sexually explicit nature, unsuitability for the intended age group, and unnamed “controversial issues.”
After browsing through the list of banned and challenged classics and the most frequently challenged books of 2014, I realized that I have some reading to do! I’ve read one challenged classic already this semester (Faulkner’s As I lay Dying), and will be reading Toni Morrison’s Beloved soon. Revisiting these texts will allow me to address the controversial elements and, as Jacqueline Woodson so wonderfully put it, foster “greater dialogue, less shouting.”
[by Matthew Broussard]