An anti-censorship group in America has reported a flurry of attempted book bannings in the last quarter of the year and has said there are increasing numbers of books being taken off school shelves that deal with race or sexuality or are written by “minority” authors.
The Kids’ Right to Read Project (KRRP) is part of the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) and says in November alone they dealt with three times the average number of incidents. To date in 2013, KRRP investigated 49 book bannings or removals from shelves in 29 states, a 53% increase in activity from last year. In the last half of the year the project challenged 31 incidents compared to 14 in the same period last year.
Acacia O’Connor of the KRRP said, “Whether or not patterns like this are the result of co-ordination between would-be censors across the country is impossible to say. But there are moments, when a half-dozen or so challenges regarding race or LGBT content hit within a couple weeks, where you just have to ask ‘what is going on out there?’”
Among the books which have been complained about were Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Alice Walker's The Color Purple, Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Isabel Allende's The House of the Spirits and Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima.
Most of the challengers were parents of district students or library patrons, though a handful were local or state government officials. Of the more than two dozen incidents KRRP faced from September to December, the majority involved materials used in classroom instruction.
"It has been a sprint since the beginning of the school year," said O’Connor. "We would settle one issue and wake up the next morning to find out another book was on the chopping block."
However, the KRRP says it has also seen an increase in “challenged” books being returned to the shelves following the body’s involvement. This month saw two major victories: Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima was returned to English classrooms in Driggs, Idaho, and a ban on Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits was lifted at Watauga County Schools in Boone, North Carolina.
Among the other successes the KRRP counts was the situation involving the urban fantasy novel Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, which was removed from the shelves at schools in Alamogordo, New Mexico, following a single complaint by a parent. The school board later reinstated the book.
Neil Gaiman said today: “I’m just glad that organisations like the Kids’ Right to Read Project exist, and that so many of these challenges have successful outcomes – it’s obvious that without them, the people who do not want their children, or other people’s, exposed to ideas, would be much more successful at making books vanish from the shelves.”
KRRP, co-founded by the NCAC and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression and supported by the Association of American Publishers and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, says it is difficult to estimate exactly how many books are challenged or removed as many incidents go unreported.
The KRRP also successfully tackled the proposed banning of The Diary of Anne Frank from schools in Northville, Michigan, where one parent complained that passages detailing Anne’s descriptions of her own body were “pornographic”, and Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which was branded “anti-Christian”. The KRRP and NCAC “went to bat for [this book] more than any other work in 2013, facing challenges in Montana, New York, and two new cases in New Jersey and West Virginia.”
Sherman Alexie said censors are “punishing the imagination. That’s why we’re fighting them.”
A reminder to people just how hostile the current social environment is to learning anything about marginalized voices.