Banned Books Week

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Ask a group of writers how they feel about banning books and you are going to get a quick answer. Book banning is bad. It is wrong. It should be forbidden! And that’s no big surprise since book banning is censorship which writers, not surprisingly, are against.


Yes, usually.

This week is Banned Books Week. For those of you who haven’t taken part in a Banned Books Week event, it is a celebration of the Freedom to Read. It is organized by a coalition of organizations ranging from The American Library Association, The Authors Guild, and the Index on Censorship. During this week, librarians, teachers and authors work to raise awareness about the dangers of book banning as well as awareness of what types of books get banned. They range from silly books like Captain Underpants to serious fiction like To Kill a Mockingbird. You can see the video about the most banned books of 2017 here

One of the books that you’ll see there is one that I’ve written about in the past because I adored this book when I read it – Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. The book tends to get banned because the young male characters are young males. They swear. They discuss sex even though they are 99% clueless. Teachers have loved the book because it is an accurate depiction of life for modern first nation people.

But there are discussions, as seen in Shelf Awareness for Readers, about removing this book from classrooms, libraries and bookstores. Long story short, harassment allegations were made against Alexie this summer. 

On one hand, some people say that we should disassociate the art from the artist. Young readers should have access to books that speak to them. They need to see characters who are different from themselves.  Banning books is bad.  Banning any books for any reason is a slippery slope.

On the other hand, people say that continuing to print, sell and buy the book is the same as making excuses for a predator and devaluing the victim. These books should not be available.  They never use the word banning, but if you aren't going to shelve, check out, or sell a book, I'm not sure what else to call it.

Personally it seems like a no win situation, the sort of thing you'd explore in a novel.


To find out more about Sue Bradford Edwards' writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.  Sue is also the instructor for Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins November 12th, 2018.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Some friends and I had this same discussion about Sherman Alexie last week. We all love his books. We skirted around the idea that Alexie has always put himself out as a flawed person--he's never put himself up on a pedestal as a perfect role model. Bill Cosby--for example--put himself out as America's perfect dad.

One thing we decided: using his books in our classes would necessitate a discussion about the author and the current allegations and convictions of actors, news show hosts, authors, etc.

Angela Mackintosh said...

Thank you, Sue, for this post! I hadn't heard about this book or the sexual harassment "allegations" (I just read on NPR that Alexie admitted there were women telling the truth), so I don't have any preconceived notions about the author or his books. I think readers should have the option to decide for themselves. I've been thinking about the books I have in my personal library, classics from authors like Henry Miller, Charles Bukowski, Ernest Hemingway, etc.--authors who I used to love, but feminists are burning (or donating) their books because they were misogynists. However, they are part of history, and it's something I think we need to know to understand its internal logic. For current books, there's no way I would support an author who sexually assaulted women by buying his books. Still, I don't think they should be banned. Leave it up to the reader to make her own decisions. But what a letdown, right? I'm sure to women and writers of color, native writers, and other writers from marginalized backgrounds--I bet those that loved his books were truly bummed to learn this.

Angela Mackintosh said...

Sioux ~ It sounds like the author didn't put himself up on a pedestal, but others in the literary world did. Also, from what I read, he wielded his power and influence within the literary world to prey on young emerging women writers. I think people in the publishing industry need to examine why we put certain authors on a pedestal when, I'm sure, there are many other authors from marginalized backgrounds with voices and books that would help create a more diverse literary landscape.

Margo Dill said...

I didn’t know this was going on with Sherman Alexie either. I’m not sure how I feel about this. Does it take away the message of his book if he is a sexual predator? No but I can see why people don’t want to support him anymore. This is a very thin line because many authors have skeletons in their closet, including kid and YA authors. But really I don’t think books should be banned for any reason. I don’t think some books should be available to kids just like we don’t let them watch rated R movies or listen to music with explicit lyrics. But that’s different than banning them. Maybe books for kids need ratings too

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

What a lot of great points!

I think you are right. This is a great opportunity to discuss things with students. Things that no one else may think to mention to them. They need to know about the world we live in.

I do think we need to examine why some people are idolized and others are not. It was also interesting to watch with of the accused admitted guilt and which did not. Where all who didn't admit guilt guilty? It doesn't seem likely especially when the accusations against them of them have just . . . fallen . . . silent.

Like you, I don't condone banning for any reason. That said, I hadn't thought about "skeletons."


Renee Roberson said...

Wow, what an interesting discussion! I was curious and watched the video to see how many of the 2017 list of banned books I had read--and it was several. It's discouraging to hear about someone in the literary world using his celebrity to prey upon fans/writers, but it seems like it happens everywhere where there is a power/celebrity dynamic. I'm not a huge fan of the idea of banning books, either, I think it's up to each individual to make up their own minds. While I may suggest to my kids that they wait until they are a little older to read certain books, I'd never tell them not to read things at all! How are they going to learn and expand their horizons that way?

Margo, I love your comment about writers and skeletons in their closets. So true for us all!

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