This week may be Banned Books Week, but last week was all about banning books, from the ban of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man in North Carolina, to a challenge against Eleanor & Park that led to the cancellation of a talk by author Rainbow Rowell, to the cancellation of a talk by author Meg Medina over the title of her anti-bullying novel, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass. CBLDF has signed letters of support in each of these cases, joining CBLDF-sponsored Kids’ Right to Read Project to decry censorship around the nation.
Invisible Man: Peculiar Parental Complaint Leads to Ban
Last week, the Randolph County Board of Education banned Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man from shelves throughout the district despite two review committees’ recommendation that the book be retained. The book was on a summer reading list, but was not required reading and alternate selections were available.
The ban was instituted after parent Kimiyutta Parson submitted a detailed 12-page complaint (you can read the entire complaint here) that excerpted passages depicting rape, sex, and profanity. But in focusing on minutiae that she found offensive, Parson missed the point of the novel and disregarded the work as a whole. Parson described the novel as “…not so innocent; instead, this book is filthier, too much for teenagers,” and called for its immediate removal from the library. Sadly, the school board complied.
CBLDF immediately joined the defense of Invisible Man, a National Book Award winner and acclaimed novel that is considered among the greatest American novels. It deals with issues that are as relevant today as they were in the 1950s, when the book was published: race relations, identity, sexuality, coming of age, and more. In the letter, KRRP writes:
There is no legitimate basis to remove or restrict this book. The book unquestionably has literary and educational value; its removal is sought solely because some parents are offended by its content. While one may sympathize with the parents’ concerns, the school has a duty to base its decisions on sound educational grounds and constitutional considerations. The students deserve no less.
The school board will be reconsidering the ban during a special session on Wednesday, September 25. With the KRRP letter and protest from throughout the nation, they will hopefully make the right decision to restore the book to library shelves.
Minnesota School Cancels Author Visit Over Parental Complaints About Profanity
Rainbow Rowell’s critically acclaimed and best-selling young adult novel Eleanor & Park was selected for the Anoka Country Library’s summer reading program, and Rowell was invited to speak in area libraries. However, the system rescinded the invitation over complaints from a small number of parents about profanity in the book.
The book tells the story of two bullied teens who meet and find hope and salvation in their shared love. It is a book with which many teens identify, offering frank depictions of the obstacles teens face at school and at home. In the letter, KRRP defends Rowell’s visit and decries the negative impact the disinvitation has on intellectual freedom:
No legitimate rationale can be advanced for disinviting Ms. Rowell, who was asked to speak about her career as a writer, not to read from the book. Making matters worse, the invitation was withdrawn peremptorily, with no opportunity for consultation, discussion, or input from others in the community who disagree with critics of the book or who simply relied on the knowledge and judgment of the teachers and librarians who organized the event. The board’s action thus undermines its own professional staff and sends the message that it will engage in censorship to appease a vocal minority, rather than defend the mission and integrity of the public library as a space that respects and supports intellectual freedom.
Virginia School System Cancels Author Talk Over Title of Book
Profanity led to another speaker cancellation, this time for Meg Medina, author of Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, who was set to speak at Cumberland Middle School in Cumberland, Virginia. This time, it seems some parents in the community didn’t make it past the cover of the book to determine that it wasn’t worth having the author speak — some raised a protest over the word “ass” in the title. In response, the school canceled her visit.
Because of the book’s strong anti-bullying themes, Medina was invited to speak in Cumberland. Medina wrote about the controversy in her blog:
Sure, the title has raised eyebrows – as I knew it would. But the title of my book wasn’t an issue several months ago when I was contracted to be part of the school’s anti-bullying event. YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS is the story of girl’s unraveling as she navigates being in the crosshairs of a physical and emotional abuser. I had planned to talk about my own experience at the hands of a bully long ago – and all that the experience robbed from me. Then, as now, there were no easy answers, no clear path out of the torment that I couldn’t trust the adults around me to stop. I had also planned to talk about how that ugly sliver of life became fiction and about how writing and books help us make sense of our life experiences, good and bad.
The school principal asked for assurances she would not use any of the “course langauge” present in the book’s title and content, and Medina stood her ground, refusing to make such concessions and suggesting that a letter be sent home to parents. Instead, the principal cancelled the event.
In their letter, KRRP reminded administrators of the following:
…Censoring frank discussion about the language of bullying and the powerful effect of certain words sends a message to students that these subjects and, by extension, their experiences,are not to be discussed; that though they may face cruel language and abuse in their daily lives, they are not mature enough to participate in a realistic conversation on this subject.
CBLDF is a sponsor of Banned Books Week. Please help support CBLDF’s important First Amendment work by making a donation or becoming a member of the CBLDF!