This week (September 22-28, 2013) is Banned Books Week, sponsored annually by the Office of Intellectual Freedom (OIF, a part of the American Library Association). The OIF describes Banned Books Week as an event which brings awareness to censorship issues, as well as a time to celebrate victories for our First Amendment rights when much of challenged literature is retained.
In recently compiling information for a lecture on the banning and challenging of books, I ran across a number of eye-opening facts and figures about censorship. For instance, since the OIF began keeping records in 1990, there have been roughly 11,800 challenges to literature. However, the organization states that for every reported challenge four to five go unreported. You can do the math and see that the end result is staggering. The majority of these complaints are brought forth by parents in a school setting, primarily against sexually related material, vulgarity, or because the works are not suited to the age group for which it was assigned.
After chatting with my writerly friends, I discovered that a number of them were surprised that this was such a prevalent issue. Unfortunately, it is. We all remember the furor over Harry Potter, and a few recent challenges/bans include Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye (called child pornography), Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (“Fifty Shades of Grey for kids”), Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (without “literary value”), and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughter-house Five or The Children’s Crusade (“shocking material”, anti-religion, vulgar, overly sexual). These examples don’t even begin to showcase the number of highly-regarded works that have been decried.
I’ve included at the bottom of this post several of the links I used when working on my lecture. I found the subject fascinating, and I hope you will as well. So, chime in below! How do you think censorship affects your writing process or your publication prospects? Do you think that outrage over literature is something that authors should be concerned with, or do you see this as a negligible, perhaps unavoidable, writerly bump in the road? Have you recently read books from the ALA’s banned books lists? Over the past three months I’ve read Slaughter-house Five, The Catcher in the Rye, Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, 1984, The Awakening, Speak, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, Of Mice and Men, and Grapes of Wrath.
I look forward to hearing from you!
THE MORE YOU KNOW:
American Library Association Banned Books General Link: http://www.ala.org/bbooks/
ALA Frequently Challenged Books, including links to lists and statistics: http://www.ala.org/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks
First Amendment Cases that Influence what is Retained (focus on the Island Trees, NY case and differentiation between curriculum needs and ideology): http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/censorshipfirstamendmentissues/courtcases