Read Out sheds light on censorship in literature during Banned Books Week

English Ph.D Candidate Suchismita Dutta reads a passage from Lady Chatterly's Lover during Richter Library's Banned Books Week Read Out Wednesday afternoon. Josh White // Contributing Photographer
English Ph.D Candidate Suchismita Dutta reads a passage from Lady Chatterly’s Lover during Richter Library’s Banned Books Week Read Out Wednesday afternoon. Josh White // Contributing Photographer

The Richter Library hosted a “Read Out” event on Wednesday in honor of Banned Books Week, an annual week created by the American Library Association (ALA) to shed light on the absurd act of banning and challenging books.

The Read Out was a moving experience that allowed an audience comprised of students and faculty members to listen to six speakers read their favorite passage from a previously banned or challenged book.

“I really liked how the speakers put their choices into the context of their lives,” said Cheryl Gowing, associate dean of library systems and access. “It underscores the unknown connections that books make to people. Authors start out with one intent but it just spirals on and on, and exposing these works to other people continues these connections which is really meaningful.”

While all the excerpts differed in content, ranging from tackling racial issues in “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison to highlighting the LGBT community in “Annie on My Mind” by Nancy Garden, they were all similar due to their underlying theme of diversity.

This year, the ALA made diversity an integral part of Banned Books Week, because in recent years there has been a blatant shift from the common categories in which people ban or challenge books for.

The most common reasons books were challenged in the 90s, according to the ALA, were because they contain offensive language or were sexually explicit. However, in 2015, the top 10 most challenged books were either written by people of diverse cultures or representative of minority groups.

“There’s been a shift toward seeking to ban books focused on issues of diversity. The shift seems to be linked to demographic changes in the country and the political fear-mongering that can accompany those changes,” said James LaRue, the director of the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom in an article for TIME magazine.

By reading books that fell into this category, the speakers at the Read Out encouraged discussions on topics like the LGBT community or religious and cultural minorities, which are topics that some people try to censor or deem inappropriate.

“I chose the book ‘The Bluest Eye’ by Toni Morrison because it is a very difficult book. It’s not a fun read, but it’s an important read. It is so truthful and so brutal in that Toni Morrison captures the life of a community so stigmatized,” said cfrancis blackchild, one of the speakers at the event and a professor in the theatre department.

The Read Out embodied the mission of Banned Books Week by not only raising awareness of banned and challenged books but by celebrating intellectual freedom.

“It is through art, in its myriads of forms, that you get to experience people different from you. Through art, you can at times see through others’ eyes,” blackchild said.

Featured image courtesy Stewart Butterfield via Flickr.