Banned Books Week, in its 40th year, is the American Library Association’s annual rally in opposition to censorship. It was launched in 1982 when a flood Attempts to remove books from libraries had the ALA vocally attracting public attention.
Now we are witnessing another, even larger wave of attempted book bans across the country. And Steve DelVecchio, Seattle Public Library’s regional manager and intellectual freedom expert, points out that a striking majority of these would-be restrictions exist target the work of Black and LGBTQ writers.
Nestled within Seattle’s liberal bubble, it’s tempting to dismiss these issues as secondary, or even assume that a ban in a more conservative venue might actually give the titles a bit of free press. As said literary works make headlines, librarians and booksellers across the country rush to their defense.
But DelVecchio insists that leaving any attempts to ban titles unchallenged is “ultimately still very dangerous” and that people with the least economic and educational resources are at “the greatest risk” of not having access to these books should try this suppression prove successful. We are not relieved of concern just because some of SPL’s most popular title are ones that have also been questioned in libraries elsewhere.
DelVecchio emphasizes that this is not a partisan matter. He points to a opinion poll Conducted this year on behalf of the ALA, which finds that the majority of Americans oppose book bans – across the political spectrum. While high-profile attacks on books are overwhelmingly motivated by content that is offensive to conservatives, such as open discussions about race or the LGBTQ experience (see: Big wig), 70 percent of Republicans surveyed said they oppose efforts to have books removed from their local libraries.
In January of this year, the Mukilteo school board pulled a national audit over its decision to remove Harper Lee’s Killing a mockingbird from the required bibliography. School Board President Michael Simmons has expressed frustration at the media narrative in certain cases lumped this decision together along with the worrying proliferation of book bans. “It almost felt like people were being personally attacked for thinking about our move,” says Simmons. While the novel has faced many challenges since its publication in 1960, this was not exactly that.
The school board, after that a lot of thoughtno longer elected require that teachers include the book in their curriculum, in part to make room for more contemporary works by authors of color. Removing the book from the library was never an option, Simmons emphasizes.
The school board’s reassessment of the title’s place in the curriculum, despite its status as a hallowed classic, and the resulting backlash is a lesson in nuance. This is not an issue that lies neatly on either side of political lines, and just because a title has been contested does not mean it should be embraced uncritically indefinitely. It is up to us to read and decide for ourselves and to defend our right to do so.
Banned and Challenged Books recommended by the SPL
Bless me Ultima by Rudolph Anaya
Fry Bread: A Native American Family History by Kevin Noble Maillard
The absolutely true diary of a part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie
A History of the Indigenous Peoples of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
The house on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
Always going: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in LA by Luis J Rodriguez
house of spirits by Isabel Allende
Our pick of authors from the Pacific Northwest
The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K Le Guin
ghost boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Big wig through Jonathan Hillman and Levi Hastings