BANNED BOOKS; LET’S TALK CENSORSHIP

By Allison Nick

Article by Allison Nick

As you may know, last week was Banned Books Week. An entire week at the end of September dedicated to raising awareness of censorship and promoting the freedom to read. My social media feeds lit up with articles and campaigns, listicles of the best banned books, Instagram photos proclaiming to the world that I, indeed, “Read Banned Books”, even #bandbooks, a twitter challenge from the literary journal, The Scofield, to come up with our most clever band/book title mash-ups, my favorite of which remains, “Fleetwood MacBeth”.

It’s all in good fun and for an important cause, one that, as a former librarian, I know is in need of reminding. According to the American Library Association — who with the help of other organizations such as the Association of American Publishers, the National Coalition Against Censorship, PEN America, and the Center for the Book at the Library of Congress, started Banned Books week in 1987 — there have been more than 11,300 books challenged for censorship. In 2014 alone, 311 challenges were made to the Office of Intellectual Freedom and those are just the ones that have been reported[1].

Censorship is still an issue that needs to be addressed, and yet now that Banned Books Week is over I’m feeling lost at how to do so. Ours is a world of hashtag maelstroms, media blitzes, and trending items. Activism has become the new fashion industry, full of fads and trends and fleeting moments of awareness. The new challenge is how to sustain ideas, to put in the daily work of fighting something as big as censorship. I am not berating Banned Books Week, itself. I think it’s a great tool, especially for libraries and bookstores to engage their customers in thinking about this issue. But I am wondering if Banned Books Week should be reminding us of something bigger than just the books that are banned, a larger responsibility that we, as readers and particularly as writers, must be ever careful to bear.

For me, I am reminded of my own favorite banned book: Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Specifically, the pivotal moment on Boo Radley’s front porch. After all the action of the night has come to a close, Scout is tasked with walking Mr. Arthur, no longer the mysterious Boo Radley, back home. As she is leaving, she pauses for a second on the Radley’s front porch: “I turned to go home. Streetlights winked down the street all the way to town. I had never seen our neighborhood from this angle. There was Miss Maudie’s, Miss Stephanie’s — there was our house, I could see the porch swing…In daylight, I thought, you could see the post office corner.”[2] Scout, then, gets lost in reverie, imagining the view from the Radley’s porch during daylight while the neighborhood is bustling.

That moment says it all. I had never seen our neighborhood from this angle. Perspective. That is the essence of empathy, the essence of writing, and the reason that books get challenged or censored at all — they dare to stand on the Radley front porch and show a different point of view in the glory of daylight. Later, Lee writes: “Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough.” [3]

Just standing on the Radley porch; that is our responsibility as readers and writers. In remembering the history of censorship, the privilege of our freedom to read, we must also remember why books are censored, and the power in adding a different perspective to the world. The root of censorship, of banning a book, is fear, fear of the unknown, fear of what is different from us.

And so when we talk about banned books and censorship we are really talking about diversity. To combat censorship we should be fighting for diversity, for reading outside our comfort zone, for writing to a diverse and global perspective. This is where the real work begins because it is hard.

​ There are so many right ways to embrace diversity in writing, but there also many wrong ways. The important thing is that we try, constantly, to embrace the power there is in writing and in reading, to step out on someone’s front porch and write new perspectives, give voices to those that are hidden and mysterious and othered behind their front doors.

Allison Nick is an intern and aspiring editor with Unsolicited Press.

[1] “About,” Banned Books Week, accessed October 6, 2015. http://www.bannedbooksweek.org/about

[2] Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird (New York, NY: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1960), 293.

[3] Harper Lee, 294.


Originally published at www.unsolicitedpress.com.