Celebrating Banned Books Week

“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” . . .
“Harry Potter” . . .
“Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” . . .
“Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl” . . .
“American Heritage Dictionary” . . .

What’s your favorite book? Chances are good that someone has tried to ban it from libraries, schools, or stores. Lucky for us, there are those who believe that the right to read is precious and worth protecting.

On September 30, 2009, Marygrove College celebrated Banned Books Week with readings, refreshments, and honest dialogue. Five presenters chose one of their favorite banned or challenged books, and provided a historical and social context for its controversial issues.

Dr. Karen Davis of the Humanities department led a discussion of “Little Black Sambo,” by Helen Bannerman. Dr. Darcy Brandel of the English department read from Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple.” Librarian Jennifer Meacham explored themes in “The Lorax,” by Dr. Seuss. Dr. Don Levin of the English department read passages from Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five,” and library assistant Laura Manley led a discussion of “Annie on My Mind,” by Nancy Garden.

This event – organized by library staff members Michelle Vargo and Laura Manley – attracted more people than ever to the Beyond Words Art Gallery in the library. At its heart is a deep-rooted respect for intellectual freedom: the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular.

Books are most often banned or challenged for one of three reasons: (1) the material is considered to be “sexually explicit,” (2) the material contains “offensive language,” or (3) the materials are “unsuited to any age group.”

But to ban a book is to deny someone else access to important literature. As Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas wrote in 1953, “Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us.” And in the words of Noam Chomsky, “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.”

Thank you to those individuals at Marygrove College who organized this important event, shared one of their favorite books, brought food and drink, or simply listened with an open mind.

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