While change has been the theme of 2020, the same has applied to our community’s annual challenge to censorship. For 2020, Banned Books Week went virtual like many others. Banned Books Week celebrates the United States’ First Amendment freedom, to read, by embracing the ruling of Island Trees Sch. Dist. v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853 (1982). In that case, the Supreme Court firmly stated that schools could not remove reading contents that were not in agreement with the school’s authorities. The case originated from a complaint by a community parent group to the New York school board that stated books such as Langston Hughes’s Best Short Stories by Negro Writers were foul and against communal values. Once the books were removed, Steven Pico, the defendant in the above-mentioned matter, gathered with other students to challenge this decision and argue that the bans pertained to moral beliefs rather than education. Now, with the support of the Supreme Court, American’s are encouraged to read freely using their First Amendment rights.
Banned Books Week promotes open-mindedness, acceptance, and curiosity among many other values. Some of the most challenged books in the last 100 years are also considered staples of young American English classes. Catcher in The Rye (1951), Of Mice and Men (1937), and To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) are among the most notoriously banned titles in the United States. These books have been challenged for their highlights on racism, pre-marital sex, anti-capitalist attitudes, and more. The American Library Association (“ALA”) is part of a national coalition responsible for promoting the awareness of censorship. Book stores and conventions around the country have participated in ways such as placing banned books in display cases wrapped in chains, window displays decorated as graveyards, selling brown bags of banned books and more.
Banned Books Week typically takes place during the last week of September. This year, things went virtual. The ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom shared ways in which individuals can participate remotely. People were encouraged to share what banned books they read on social media. Additionally, readers were further led to write about their rights and what censorship means to them regarding what they read. One of the most notable promotions this year was to write via Twitter to the author of the book one had read over the week. The Dear Banned Author campaign supports authors who suffer from having their works banned. The direct support from readers over social media is a worthwhile replacement for the face-to-face communications at bookstore events and conventions authors are used to. Recently, many bans have pertained to LGBTQIA works which has raised concern in the literary community. LGBTQIA characters have been labeled as controversial by institutions attempting to restrict access to such works and the Dear Banned Author campaign has worked to support LGBTQIA writers facing these oppressions.
Virtual life has not removed the community’s ability to exercise their opposition to censorship. Virtual Banned Books Week was successful and potentially an extension of what it already was. Authors deserve to have their work protected by the First Amendment as much as readers deserve to have their reading selection protected. As we continue going virtual for the foreseeable future, one may report censorship online at the ALA’s website or call them directly at 800-545-2433, ext. 4226.