Friday, September 23, 2011

Banned Book Week

It all began with The Meritorious Pride of Our Redemption by William Pynchon in 1650 in Springfield, Massachusetts. Not only was the religious treatise banned, but it was burned in the market and a day of “fasting and humiliation” was proclaimed.[1] Ironically, Pynchon fled to England where he wrote and published his religious tracts until his death in 1662.

Following in this puritanical stride, “Banned in Boston” became the catch-phrase for censorship of literary works because the “Watch and Ward Society” compelled Boston’s city officials to ban anything they found offensive. It was not until the Warren Court (1953-1969), Supreme Court Justices under Chief Justice Earl Warren, upheld civil liberties that censorship was reduced in Boston. The last major literary battle was over Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs. It was banned in Boston in 1962 for obscenity, but the decision was overturned in 1966 by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

Judith Krug, (1940-2009) was the Director of the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom and, later, the Executive Director of the Freedom to Read Foundation. In 1982 she founded Banned Book Week. She was often criticized for her views on libraries and children, to which she responded: “We know that there are children out there whose parents do not take the kind of interest in their upbringing and in their existence that we would wish, but I don't think censorship is ever the solution to any problem, be it societal or be it the kind of information or ideas that you have access to."[2]

Today, Banned Book Week is supported by the American Library Association (ALA), the American Booksellers Association, American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE), American Society of Journalists and Authors, Association of American Publishers, National Association of College Stores, and endorsed by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. The ALA actively “advocates in defense of the rights of library users to read, seek information, and speak freely as guaranteed by the First Amendment. A publicly supported library provides free and equal access to information for all people of that community. We enjoy this basic right in our democratic society. It is a core value of the library profession.”[3]

The ALA website has much history and lots of lists of banned books. Their motto is: “Intellectual freedom—the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular—provides the foundation for Banned Books Week. BBW stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints for all who wish to read and access them.”[4]

Stop by the library and read a banned book today. A brochure of Banned Books is also available.


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