Opinion : Leon Lazarus
Writers and the reading public can expect a tumultuous year ahead
As 2022 slips into a chaotic political season, more authors are liable to be affected by book bans. These are most often the result of bad-faith politics and religious zealotry. Of course, none of this is new but the clamor appears to be growing louder.
Perhaps this happening because there is evidence that the approach works. In 2021, Glen Youngkin (1) successfully campaigned for governor of Virginia against Toni Morrison's Beloved. Also in Virginia, congressional candidate Tommy Altman is suing to ban Maia Kobabe’s graphic memoir Gender Queer and Sarah J. Maas' A Court of Mist and Fury (2) in time for the 2022 elections.
The history of book banning and burning is still being written
Reported in February, Tennessee based Baptist pastor Greg Locke held a book burning which split his community but raised his political profile. Similarly, a Catholic church in North Carolina threw published works deemed “heretical” into the flames (3).
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, banned and then unbanned in Alaska schools along with four other books in 2020, was previously targeted in South Carolina, Georgia, and Montana as well. A school board member in Summerville, SC called for a banning because it "is a filthy, filthy book." (4)
The Color Purple by Alice Walker has been challenged in cities across America, from Hayward, California to Morganton, North Carolina. (4)
The Oklahoma State Senate is seeking to outlaw books on sexual activity, sexual identity or gender identity from public school libraries. (5)
Earlier this year, the McMinn County Board of Education in Tennessee banned Art Spiegelman's Maus, a Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel. (6)
Right now, Wyoming prosecutors are considering charges against librarians for keeping Sex Is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg and This Book Is Gay by Juno Dawson on the shelves. (7)
In January of this year, a Mississippi mayor moved to withhold funding from the library system until all L.G.B.T.Q. themed books were removed. (8)
In Texas, many communities have tried to ban books across a range of subjects, from books on racial inequality to popular books on sexual identity. (9)
Children's books are a key target
Shockingly, many of the children's books most of us see as largely anodyne and part of a rich literary history have been challenged or banned across the country. These books include Hop On Pop by Dr. Seuss, Harriet The Spy by Louise Fitzhugh, Where The Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein, and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. The hit list also includes American classics like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, both of which have come under fire for racially insensitive language and themes. (10)
Whatever the merits of the individual books and authors being targeted, this new reality requires that the writing community stand together in defense of the written word. If we cannot speak up for our fellow writers, who will?
It is worth remembering the words of Heinrich Heine who said, “Where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people also.”
What Can Be done?
We are not helpless in this situation. Writers can visit the Freedom To Read Foundation and the National Coalition Against Censorship to join the fight against book banning. The American Library Association is also actively working to shine a light on the issue and have provided some great ideas for getting involved.
Sources, Resources, and Additional Reading:
1) Glenn Youngkin Assures Virginia Voters He’ll Protect Them From Toni Morrison Books - Vanity Fair
2) Freedom to Read Advocates Sound Alarm as Obscenity Lawsuit Advances in Virginia - Publishers Weekly
3) Pastor holds bonfire to burn to 'witchcraft' books like 'Twilight' - NBC News
Censorship Escalates to Burning Books - American Library Association
4) Alaska School Board Votes To Remove Five Books - ABC7
CMLIT 130: Banned Books - PSU
Book Ban Efforts Spread Across the U.S. - The New York Times
Banned and Challenged Classics - American Library Association
5) Oklahoma State Senate wants to outlaw books on sexual activity - The Oklahoman
6) Banned by Tennessee School Board, ‘Maus’ Soars to the Top of Bestseller Charts - Smithsonian Magazine
7) Prosecutors in Wyoming Weigh Charging Librarians Over Books - US News
8) Mississippi mayor withholds library funds over LGBTQ books - PBS
9) Texas librarians face harassment as they navigate book bans - The Texas Tribune
10) 28 Banned Books That Every Kid Needs to Read - TinyBeans
13 banned children’s books that will surprise you - Bright Kids Books
Book bans and the threat of censorship rev up political activism in the suburbs - NPR
Membership - Freedom To Read Foundation
Get Involved - American Library Association
Free Expression Network - National Coalition Against Censorship