One of the comic industry’s most debated books, Fun Home, has been selected by Duke University as its Class of 2019 Common Experience summer reading book.
An autobiographical memoir, writer and artist Alison Bechdel tells her story of her distant relationship with her closeted father and a subsequent revelation that he too is gay when she comes out as a lesbian — a revelation that Bechel is left to ponder with the death of her father a few short weeks later. A beautiful and poignant graphic narrative, Fun Home not only depicts Bechdel’s own personal issues, but also brings to light many issues that young adults themselves encounter and have to face today.
Like many creators who use their medium to express themselves and tell their story, Bechdel has had to overcome overt attempts to censor her work. Despite its accolades, Fun Home has become one of the most challenged graphic novels in our day and age — specifically in the state of South Carolina, where punitive budget reallocations were implemented against two universities over the incorporation of the book and other LGBTQ-themed materials in reading programs similar to Duke’s, to another South Carolina group’s accusation over the “pornographic” nature of the book.
Whether it be the way that the book handles topics of sexuality or personal relationships, it is exactly this narrative complexity which makes Fun Home a perfect candidate as Duke University’s Common Experience core title — a title that will be mailed to all incoming freshman and stand as the central text for the summer program. As Ibanca Anand, a student member of the Duke Common Experience selection committee noted:
The book is a quick read but not an easy one; it made me uncomfortable at times, which I think is one of the most telling reasons why it’s so important for students to read… It has the potential to start many arguments and conversations, which, in my opinion, is an integral component of a liberal arts education.
Tackling many issues like sexuality, interpersonal relationships, and even mental health are all things that young adults face, especially as they enter college, and by including the book as the summer reading choice Duke University is providing the opportunity for incoming students to discuss not only how they feel about the book, but also about experiences they themselves have also had.
“I think it will be a great vehicle for conversations among the incoming class about art and storytelling; about personal and sexual identities; about truth and lies, and the harm both can cause; and about judgment and forgiveness,” said Simon Partner, a professor of history and director of the Asian/Pacific Studies Institute at Duke and selection committee member.
“Because of its treatment of sexual identity, the book is likely to be controversial among students, parents and alumni. I think this, in turn, will stimulate interesting and useful discussion about what it means, as a young adult, to take a position on a controversial topic.”
Most importantly, too, the inclusion of the book at such a high profile school represents a major step forward in the acceptance of literature with LGBTQ themes and freedom expression.
Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!