Happy Banned Books Week! This week (September 24-30) we celebrate our right to read. The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) reports a 17% increase in book censorship complaints in 2016 — an alarming trend, especially paired with a dramatic increase in the number of times that the most-challenged books were successfully banned.
Banned Books Week Coalition Chair Charles Brownstein says, “Our free society depends on the right to access, evaluate, and voice a wide range of ideas. Book bans chill that right, and increase division in the communities where they occur. This Banned Books Week, we’re asking people of all political persuasions to come together and celebrate Our Right to Read.”
Our research turned up 6 banned titles by Smithie authors — get your First Amendment rights on with these scandalous titles!
THE BELL JAR, Sylvia Plath ’55 Amazon | Indiebound
Banned by the Warsaw Indiana school board in 1977, THE BELL JAR “was suppressed for not only its profanity and sexuality but for its overt rejection of the woman’s role as wife and mother” according to a UVA library exhibit. The book was removed from the syllabus of the high school’s Women in Literature class, and the teacher was not rehired the following year.
DAVID AND JONATHAN, Cynthia Voigt ’63 Amazon
In this 1992 novel from the acclaimed author of HOMECOMING (which itself has been challenged), teenage Jonathan struggles to help his cousin David through the trauma of surviving the holocaust, while trying to maintain his relationship with his best friend Hank. This is a very heavy novel, touching on difficult themes such as suicide, antisemitism, abortion and alcoholism — but that’s not why it was banned. Nope. Instead, censors focused on the novel’s discussion of homosexuality.
GONE WITH THE WIND, Margaret Mitchell ’22 Amazon | Indiebound
This 1936 novel won a Pulitzer, but that didn’t stop officials from banning it later on in the 20th century. The Civil War epic was reportedly banned by a California school board for its depiction of slavery and the use of racial slurs.
THE DEVIL’S STORYBOOK, Natalie Babbitt ’54 Amazon | Indiebound
Not technically banned, this book from the author of the beloved novel TUCK EVERLASTING was challenged in 2004. The would-be censors wanted the school district in Washington Township, PA to seek parental approval before elementary and middle school students could take out books “related to the occult.”
A WRINKLE IN TIME, Madeleine L’Engle ’41 Amazon | Indiebound
Madeleine L’Engle’s Newbery Medal winning science fantasy classic has consistently been one of the most challenged books in America — it ranked at #22 on the American Library Association’s list of most challenged books for 1990-’99. The book has been banned for promoting witchcraft and for undermining religious beliefs, which is ironic given that L’Engle was a devoted and philosophical Christian.
BRIAR ROSE, Jane Yolen ’63 Amazon | Indiebound
A retelling of Sleeping Beauty set against the Holocaust, Jane Yolen’s 1992 YA novel has been banned for “vocabulary considerations” as well as “implicit homosexuality.” Beyond just being banned, a copy of BRIAR ROSE was actually burned on the steps of the Board of Education in Kansas City. About the burning, Yolen said “one part of me was hurt, and one part of me was horrified, and one part of me wanted to fight back.” Read more of the prolific author’s response to the book burning here.
Do you have a favorite banned book? Let us know in the comments!