By Kat Riddler, Editor-In-Chief
Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” published in 1884, did not take long to become a banned book in Concord, Massachusetts in 1885. It has remained a controversial volume, as have works like: “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” by Malcolm X and Alex Haley, 1965; “Catcher in the Rye,” by J.D. Salinger, 1951, or “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee,” by Dee Brown, 1970. According to the American Library Association, more than 11,300 books have been challenged in the United States since 1982.
In response to this rise in censorship, The Banned Books Week Coalition was formed and for the past 36 years has been educating the public that banning books is, well, un-American. In 1953, science fiction and fantasy writer Ray Bradbury published “Fahrenheit 451,” his famous work about the consequences of a society that burned books. One middle-school in Irvine, California stopped short of banning a book about banning books, but they did studiously go through and black out words they found offensive like “hell” or “damn.”
We have all seen the images of Nazis burning books in the run up to World War II. But there are no iconic images of people who have been jailed or killed in some countries for having a banned religious text. Nor are there any pictures of the editors of newspapers who have been kidnapped or killed for being on the outs with a particular regime, nor of those who have felt the invisible hand of an oppressive culture or government and simply knew not to rock the ship of state.
This year the International English Honor Society (Sigma Tau Delta), the English Department, Gender Studies Department, The College of Arts & Sciences, and The Current student newspaper are working together to shine more light on the issue of banning books and state censorship. Banned Books Week, Sept. 25 through Oct. 1, is a celebration of your freedom to read what you want to read and the freedom of authors to write works that challenge society or accepted notions.
Following the easy path, the safe road, does not take us anywhere as a people, as a society, or as a nation. The “go along to get along” path leads to a dead end of political and social stagnation. There is a famous line from the musical “1776,” uttered by the character portraying John Adams, who, fed up with the constant suggestions to tone down the words of the Declaration of Independence so as to not offend others, exasperatingly declares, “This is a revolution, damn it! We’re going to have to offend somebody!”
Several events are being hosted during Banned Books Week on campus, including a discussion open to all faculty and students hosted by the University of Missouri-St. Louis professor Dr. Kathleen Butterly Nigro, in the Office of Sexuality and Gender Diversity, Lucas Room 494, on September 28 at 12:30 p.m. T-shirts, bookmarks, buttons and flyers being will be distributed. The red T-shirt has a quote from Ray Bradbury, who passed away in 2012. Commenting on “Fahrenheit 451,” Bradbury observed, “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”
Banned Books Week is a good time to remember his words and challenge ourselves to read the books others would ban.