By Marty Dubecky, Digital Communications Manager
Banned Books Week — kicking off last Sunday and wrapping up this Saturday, Sept. 24 — seeks to celebrate diversity and inclusion in literature.
Book bannings have become increasingly prevalent due to a rise in parents trying to keep books with topics about race, diversity and gender expression out of schools and libraries.
But book bannings have an even longer history. Historians say Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the first banned book in America due to its pro-abolition agenda and discussions about slavery in the years before the Civil War.
By 1982, anywhere from 500 to 800 books were challenged by libraries and schools. This surge in censorship attempts led the American Library Association (ALA) to create Banned Books Week. Since then, multiple other organizations have joined the ranks of the Banned Books Week Coalition, which is an international alliance committed to the communication and action against censorship of books.
Among the 13 organizations sponsoring Banned Books Week and the Coalition are the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, the National Coalition Against Censorship and the Association of University Presses.
Each year, Banned Books Week has a theme. This year the Coalition put forth the theme “Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us.”
Along with this focus, they release a list of the 10 most challenged books of the previous year, which are individually celebrated during the week. 2021’s most challenged books were:
1. Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe
2. Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison
3. All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson
4. Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez
5. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
6. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
7. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
8. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
9. This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson
10. Beyond Magenta by Susan Kuklin
“I don’t really think banning books is a good idea in general,” sophomore psychology major Christian Cullen said. “Any government that ever banned books has never been considered the good guys when looking back in history. People should be allowed to read what they want and form their own opinions.”
Cullen mentioned his favorite banned book is Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, which does not appear on this list but has often been banned in the past.
Among the many events happening this week is a #BannedBooksChat on Twitter, hosted by Banned Books Honorary Chair George M. Johnson, author of All Boys Aren’t Blue, number three on the 2021 “Most Challenged Books” list.
Along with this Twitter thread, several organizations are hosting Facebook Live events this week. Banned Books Week events aim to spread awareness about censorship of books.
Johnson was nominated as the Honorary Chair because of their legacy as a writer pushing the boundaries on what topics can be written about today.
“I think people who fear ‘dangerous’ books also overlook how circuitous the line is from reading to belief to action,” Xavier English Professor Lisa Ottum commented.
“As an English professor, I’d love to believe that reading instills empathy that then translates reliably into prosocial attitudes,” she said.
The Banned Books Week website provides additional information about any and all events pertaining to the celebration. The top 10 most challenged books of 2022 will be published in April 2023.