Happy Friday, faithful readers! We hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s Banned Books series featuring highlights from our collection. Today’s selection is Zora Neale Hurston‘s 1937 novel Their eyes were watching God:
“Fair and long-legged, independent and articulate, Janie Crawford sets out to be her own person — no mean feat for a black woman in the ’30s. Janie’s quest for identity takes her through three marriages and into a journey back to her roots.” (Source: Syndetic Solutions)
“Challenged for sexual explicitness, but retained on the Stonewall Jackson High School’s academically advanced reading list in Brentsville, VA (1997). A parent objected to the novel’s language and sexual explicitness.” (Source: ALA website)
Interested in learning more about African American literature? Curious to know more about Zora Neale Hurston? Don’t forget to make use of our Guide to the Web‘s Literature section, which features online resources on the Harlem Renaissance and Literature. Websites listed include the Zora Neale Hurston Digital Archive, the Zora Neale Hurston Plays, and Drop Me Off in Harlem, a multimedia collection on the culture and history of the era.
And of course, today’s SCL Pick, like the rest of our Banned Books selections, is available here at the Library. Come by and check it out!
So many banned books, so little time… Today’s SCL Picks are:
“‘Mountain,’ Baldwin said, ‘is the book I had to write if I was ever going to write anything else.’ Go Tell It On The Mountain, first published in 1953, is Baldwin’s first major work, a novel that has established itself as an American classic. With lyrical precision, psychological directness, resonating symbolic power, and a rage that is at once unrelenting and compassionate, Baldwin chronicles a fourteen-year-old boy’s discovery of the terms of his identity as the stepson of the minister of a storefront Pentecostal church in Harlem one Saturday in March of 1935. Baldwin’s rendering of his protagonist’s spiritual, sexual, and moral struggle of self-invention opened new possibilities in the American language and in the way Americans understand themselves.” (Summary by Syndetic Solutions)
“Challenged as required reading in the Hudson Falls, NY schools (1994) because the book has recurring themes of rape, masturbation, violence, and degrading treatment of women. Challenged as a ninth-grade summer reading option in Prince William County, VA (1988) because the book is ‘rife with profanity and explicit sex.’” (Source: ALA website)
“Invisible Man is a milestone in American literature, a book that has continued to engage readers since its appearance in 1952. A first novel by an unknown writer, it remained on the bestseller list for sixteen weeks, won the National Book Award for fiction, and established Ralph Ellison as one of the key writers of the century. The nameless narrator of the novel describes growing up in a black community in the South, attending a Negro college from which he is expelled, moving to New York and becoming the chief spokesman of the Harlem branch of ‘the Brotherhood,’ and retreating amid violence and confusion to the basement lair of the Invisible Man he imagines himself to be. The book is a passionate and witty tour de force of style, strongly influenced by T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land , Joyce, and Dostoevsky.” (Summary by Syndetic Solutions)
“Excerpts banned in Butler, PA (1975). Removed from the high school English reading list in St. Francis, WI (1975). Retained in the Yakima, WA schools (1994) after a five-month dispute over what advanced high school students should read in the classroom. Two parents raised concerns about profanity and images of violence and sexuality in the book and requested that it be removed from the reading list.” (Source: ALA website)
Curious to see what else has been banned over the years? Check out ALA‘s comprehensive lists of banned and frequently challenged books, which includes documentation of both how and why these works have drawn the ire of vocal individuals and groups.
Did any of your favorites make the list? Have you been taking part in any activities for Banned Books Week? Let us know – we’d love to hear from you!
“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
Happy First Amendment Day! In honor of Banned Books Week, this week we’ll be highlighting items in the SCL collection that have been at one time or another banned, challenged, or otherwise contested.
Today’s pick is Toni Morrison’s 1987 classic, Beloved:
“Proud and beautiful, Sethe escaped from slavery but is haunted by its heritage–from the fires of the flesh to the heartbreaking challenges to the spirit. Set in rural Ohio several years after the Civil War, this profoundly affecting chronicle of slavery and its aftermath is Toni Morrison’s greatest work.” (Source: Syndetic Solutions)
The American Library Association website lists the following points of contention over the years:
“Challenged at the St. Johns County Schools in St. Augustine, FL (1995). Retained on the Round Rock, TX Independent High School reading list (1996) after a challenge that the book was too violent. Challenged by a member of the Madawaska, ME School Committee (1997) because of the book’s language. The 1987 Pulitzer Prize winning novel has been required reading for the advanced placement English class for six years. Challenged in the Sarasota County, FL schools (1998) because of sexual material. Retained on the Northwest Suburban High School District 214 reading listing in Arlington Heights, IL (2006), along with eight other challenged titles. A board member, elected amid promises to bring her Christian beliefs into all board decision-making, raised the controversy based on excerpts from the books she’d found on the Internet. Challenged in the Coeur d’Alene School District, ID (2007). Some parents say the book, along with five others, should require parental permission for students to read them. Pulled from the senior Advanced Placement (AP) English class at Eastern High School in Louisville, KY (2007) because two parents complained that the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about antebellum slavery depicted the inappropriate topics of bestiality, racism, and sex. The principal ordered teachers to start over with The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne in preparation for upcoming AP exams.”
Curious to see what all the fuss is about? Come by the Stone Center Library and read it for yourself!
Did you know? Saturday marked the start of the 2011 Banned Books Week, which this year takes place September 24th-October 1st. Established in 1982, this annual event “highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States.”
Interested in learning more or getting involved? Check out the ALA’s lists of banned and frequently challenged books. Did any of your favorites make the list?
You can also take part in this year’s Virtual Read-Out, by submitting a short video of yourself reading from a banned or challenged book. Criteria and instructions are available here, and you can browse submissions to the dedicated Youtube channel here.
Looking for a banned book to read in observation of Banned Books Week? Stay tuned to the SCL blog for highlights from our holdings!