Banned Books Week is observing its thirtieth anniversary at the end of the month, and we at the UCWbL will be hosting some great events during this annual weeklong celebration highlighting the freedom to read and intellectual freedom advocacy. To briefly relate how Banned Books Week began, in 1982, Judith Krug, resident of nearby Evanston and the Director of the American Library Associations Office of Intellectual Freedom, founded Banned Books Week after years spent advising librarians on challenges to their materials. Before that, in 1969, she had taken part in founding the Freedom to Read Foundation. In 1982, I was a thirteen-year-old living in a suburb of Milwaukee. I knew nothing about Banned Books Week, but my mother had been bringing me to the local library since I was three-months old (not quite old enough to read), and it was my favorite place. At thirteen, I was taking books out of the upstairs adult room at the library, but I hadn’t yet given up on the downstairs children’s room and spent a lot of time running up and down the flight of stairs between the two. In the children’s room, I had so many old friends—friends that I never knew had faced challenges and censorship. As I’ve learned more and read through lists of books that have faced bannings and challenges, I’ve realized how different my life would have been if I hadn’t had the opportunity to sorrow over Boxer’s death in Animal Farm, look up to Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, and stand on the edge of adulthood with Anne Frank. And as an older reader, I’ve become aware that it isn’t only print books that are targeted. At comic book conventions, I have visited booths staffed by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF) and learned how they also work to provide education about First Amendment rights to their constituents. As a member of the UCWbL’s Outreach Team, the events that we have organized during past Banned Books Week are as important to me as any other work that I’ve done in that role. Two years ago, I took part in the continuous reading of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl in the Sac Pit, and last year, I participated in an open reading of many banned books, this time in the atrium of the Student Center. There, I listened to selections from 1984 and the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and read from Animal Farm and The Great Gatsby myself. It can be easy, when books are accessible, to take our First Amendment Rights for granted—but we mustn’t do that. In the introduction to 120 Banned Books: Censorship Histories of World Literature, Dawn B. Sova writes that “the success or failure of efforts to ban, suppress or censor books depends more upon how vocal the challengers are rather than upon the merits of the book” (x). In that case, we can see that equal importance must rest on how vocal and motivated we are in our support of the continued accessibility of our reading material in whatever modality it appears.
This year, Banned Books Week takes place from September 30 until October 6. Keep an eye on UCWbLing to learn more about this year’s events! There will certainly be an open reading, so please, everyone, come and read out loud from your favorite banned or challenged book!
If you want to learn more, here are several websites that you might like to look at. You can also follow Banned Books Week, the ALA, and the CBLDF on Facebook.
Please respond to this post, UCWbLers and other readers! What are your favorite books that have been banned and/or challenged? Take a look at the ALA’s list: you might be surprised at what you see.