It’s the 34th annual Banned Books Week, a celebration of writing that has been challenged by would-be censors.
This year, the emphasis is on diversity, a nod to the fact that more than half of the books challenged or banned in American libraries and schools are by writers of color.
The Banned Books Week website features a list of frequently banned books dealing with characters with diverse backgrounds. It includes perennially challenged authors such as Sherman Alexie, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou and Khaled Hosseini.
It’s not just authors of color who are being targeted. The most recent American Library Assn.’s list of challenged or banned books includes several titles dealing with LGBT issues, including David Levithan’s “Two Boys Kissing,” Alison Bechdel’s “Fun Home” and “I Am Jazz,” a children’s book co-authored by Jazz Jennings, a teenage transgender girl.
Libraries and bookstores across the nation are observing Banned Books Week by promoting literature by frequently challenged authors, often in innovative ways.
In Washington, D.C., the public library system organized a scavenger hunt leaving books across the city with black-and-white covers featuring no information other than the words would-be censors used to describe their contents. (“The Catcher in the Rye” is “anti-white,” and under the cover boasting “filthy trashy sex novel” is John Knowles’ “A Separate Peace.”)
Skylight Books in Los Angeles will observe this year’s Banned Books Week with an open mic featuring authors Steph Cha, Natashia Deón and Chris L. Terry on Tuesday night, and they’ll be running a “blind date with a banned book sale.”
In February, Banned Books Week chair Charles Brownstein noted the “alarming” trend of nonwhite authors being challenged, writing, “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.”
A report released Monday by PEN America echoed these concerns with “Missing from the Shelf: Book Challenges and Lack of Diversity in Children’s Literature,” addressing the issue of LGBT authors and authors of color being disproportionately targeted by those seeking to ban books.
“While book bans and challenges may seem like a thing of the past, they are alive and well in schools and libraries around the country,” PEN America Executive Director Suzanne Nossel said in a statement. And they “disturbingly, tend to disproportionately target books that speak to the experiences of LGBT people and people of color.”
The events are sponsored by a number of groups, including the American Library Assn. and the American Booksellers Assn. (AAP).
On AAP’s website, project manager Olusina Adebayo explained why books with minority themes are so frequently challenged.
“Because the definition of diversity stems from what is considered to be outside the norm it has frightened parents who want to protect their children from overexposure,” Adebayo writes. “The banning and censorship of books stifles constructive dialogue and promotes division over understanding. Unfortunately, our society has characterized that which is different as being bad or off-putting.”
Schaub is based in Austin, Texas. Follow him on Twitter.
The top 10 most-challenged books of 2015
1. “Looking for Alaska” by John Green. Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit and unsuited for age group.
2. “Fifty Shades of Grey” by E. L. James. Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited to age group and other (“poorly written,” “concerns that a group of teenagers will want to try it”).
3. “I Am Jazz” by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings. Reasons: Inaccurate, homosexuality, sex education, religious viewpoint and unsuited for age group.
4. “Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out” by Susan Kuklin. Reasons: Anti-family, offensive language, homosexuality, sex education, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group and other (“wants to remove from collection to ward off complaints”).
5. “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” by Mark Haddon. Reasons: Offensive language, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group and other (“profanity and atheism”).
6. The Holy Bible. Reasons: Religious viewpoint.
7. “Fun Home” by Alison Bechdel. Reasons: Violence and other (“graphic images”).
8. “Habibi” by Craig Thompson. Reasons: Nudity, sexually explicit and unsuited for age group.
9. “Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan” by Jeanette Winter. Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group and violence.
10. “Two Boys Kissing” by David Levithan. Reasons: Homosexuality and other (“condones public displays of affection”).