SCL Picks, Banned Books Edition: The Color Purple

Banned Books Week continues, and today’s SCL Pick is Alice Walker‘s Pulitzer Prize-winning classic, The Color Purple. First published in 1982, this epistolary novel has been adapted into both a feature film and a Broadway musical:


“Celie is a poor black woman whose letters tell the story of 20 years of her life, beginning at age 14 when she is being abused and raped by her father and attempting to protect her sister from the same fate, and continuing over the course of her marriage to ‘Mister,’ a brutal man who terrorizes her. Celie eventually learns that her abusive husband has been keeping her sister’s letters from her and the rage she feels, combined with an example of love and independence provided by her close friend Shug, pushes her finally toward an awakening of her creative and loving self.”  (Summary by Syndetic Solutions)


Unsurprisingly, this powerful and heart-wrenching work has been an oft-contested item on reading lists nationwide. The American Library Association(ALA) maintains lists of banned and frequently challenged books, including a lengthy list of reasons why these books have drawn the attention of censors. Here are but a few examples of some of the challenges brought against this book:
  • “Challenged as appropriate reading for Oakland, CA High School honors class (1984) due to the work’s ‘sexual and social explicitness’ and its ‘troubling ideas about race relations, man’s relationship to God, African history, and human sexuality.'”
  • “Removed from the open shelves of the Newport News, VA school library (1986) because of its ‘profanity and sexual references’ and placed in a special section accessible only to students over the age of 18 or who have written permission from a parent.” 
  • “Retained as an English course reading assignment in the Junction City, OR high school (1995) after a challenge to Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel caused months of controversy. Although an alternative assignment was available, the book was challenged due to ‘inappropriate language, graphic sexual scenes, and book’s negative image of black men.'” 
  • “Challenged, but retained as part of a supplemental reading list at the Shawnee School in Lima, OH (1999). Several parents described its content as vulgar and ‘X-rated.’ “
  • “Removed from the Ferguson High School library in Newport News, VA (1999). Students may request and borrow the book with parental approval.” 
  • “Challenged, along with seventeen other titles in the Fairfax County, VA elementary and secondary libraries (2002), by a group called Parents Against Bad Books in Schools. The group contends the books ‘contain profanity and descriptions of drug abuse, sexually explicit conduct, and torture.'”
The full list is available here.


What do YOU think? Leave us a comment and let us know! Need to refresh your memory? Come by the Library and check it out for yourself!

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