Maybe they should call it Toni Morrison week. In 2016, Banned Books Week will spotlight works by authors of color. And Morrison, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, is one of the authors of color whose works are now most banned and challenged.
Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” was in the top 10 most challenged books in 2014 (the most recent year for which data are available) and 2013. In 2012, it was her novel “Beloved.” In 2006, both “The Bluest Eye” and “Beloved” made the top 10. During the decade prior, a tally of the 100 most banned and challenged books has three Morrison titles: “The Bluest Eye” at No. 32, “Beloved” at No. 45 and “Song of Solomon” at No. 84.
In a news release, the American Library Association said that estimates indicate that more than half of challenged or banned books are from non-white writers. The group says this year’s Banned Books Week “will celebrate literature written by diverse writers that have been banned or challenged, as well as explore why diverse books are being disproportionately singled out in the first place.”
Other books by writers of color that are perennial targets are Sherman Alexie’s “The Absolutely True Diary of A Part-Time Indian,” Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple,” Khaled Hosseini’s “The Kite Runner,” Rudolfo Anaya’s “Bless Me Ultima” and Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”
In a release, Banned Books Week chair Charles Brownstein said it’s “alarming” that books by writers of color are banned so frequently. “By shining a light on how these ideas are censored, we hope to encourage opportunities to create engagement and understanding within our communities, and to emphasize the fundamental importance of the freedom to read,” he said.
The ALA’s decision to focus on diversity comes at a time when increasing numbers of people are calling for more representation of non-white artists in the publishing and film industries.
In the literary world, a large number of readers have joined the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, named after a Twitter hashtag first used by novelist Aisha Saeed in 2014. That campaign will partner with the ALA for this year’s Banned Books Week.
Diversity also has become an issue in the movie industry. The Academy Awards were heavily criticized this year for failing to nominate any actors of color for a second year, leading some critics to use the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite in protest.
Last year’s Banned Books Week focused on young adult fiction. The ALA released a list of the 10 most frequently banned or challenged books from 2014 to 2015, which included authors of color such as Alexie, Toni and Sandra Cisneros.
Banned Books Week 2016 will run from Sept. 25 through Oct. 1.
Schaub is based in Austin, Texas. Follow him on Twitter.