22 Authors on Censorship and Banned Books

22 Authors on Censorship and Banned Books

September 21 – 27 marks the annual celebration of Banned Books Week—a time devoted to celebrating the freedom to read, battling against censorship, and advocating the knowledge that books help to spread. While readers passionately participate, none are more invested than the authors themselves. Here, quotes from 22 authors—from Mark Twain to Lois Duncan—on censorship and literary freedom.

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    1. Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers

    “Book challenges are, primarily, generated by the fear that a book will somehow damage a child by changing what is considered to be a valued norm. In my mind when a book touches upon a controversial subject it is precisely because the norm has already been significantly changed, and the author has had the courage to acknowledge this. Many of the challenges to Fallen Angels have dealt with the use of profanity in the book. The execution of war involves, on a very basic level, getting law abiding, and humane people into a mode that allows them to kill other human beings for whom they have no personal animosity. The use of profanity is part of the conversion process as is the dehumanizing effect of referring to an enemy with such terms as ‘gooks’ and ‘slants’. When I write a book that is liable to be challenged it is because I have detected a change in what is advertised as the accepted norm.” —Interview with Story Snoops, 2012

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    2. Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez

    “Books can have an astounding effect on people. It’s a power some individuals fear. And in the case of books like Rainbow Boys that find appeal among young readers, the fears of some individuals can become even more charged. These fears — often disguised as moral outrage — are often at the root of censorship, something with which gay and lesbian people are well familiar. From the time we are children we are taught to censor our feelings, keep secret our thoughts, and deny our true selves. Fortunately, we live in a country where freedom of speech and thought are cherished values. Every attempt to censor a book is an attack on our constitutional freedoms.” —Interview with Democrat and Chronicle, 2006

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    3. The Agony of Alice by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

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    4. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

    “Nobody attaches weight to the freaks of the Charlton Library…But the truth is, that when a Library expels a book of mine and leaves an unexpurgated Bible lying around where unprotected youth and age can get hold of it, the deep unconscious irony of it delights me.”—A letter from Mark Twain written in 1907, published in Telegram, 2011

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    5. The Color Purple by Alice Walker

    “Great Literature is help for humans. It is medicine of the highest order. In a more aware culture, writers would be considered priests. And, in fact, I have approached writing in a distinctly priestess frame of mind. I know what The Color Purple can mean to people, women and men, who have no voice. Who believe they have few choices in life. It can open to them, to their view, the full abundance of this amazing journey we are all on. It can lift them into a new realization of their own power, beauty, love, courage. It is a book that unites the present with the past, therefore giving people a sense of history and of timelessness they might never achieve otherwise. And even were it not ‘great’ literature, it has the best interests of all of us humans at heart. That we grow, change, challenge, encourage, love fiercely in the awareness that real love can never be incorrect.” —Interview with Guernica, 2012

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    6. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

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    7. The Giver by Lois Lowry

    “I’ve never really sorted out in my mind why [The Giver is] challenged so often. Those who object hold up two different scenes. One is, reference to ‘the stirrings,’ which seems to be, so, well, it’s something any kid that age is familiar with and has been taught about in school, but also it’s alluded to so vaguely, it’s hardly explicitly sexual. The second, and it is explicit, is when the father kills the baby, and that’s been referred to as euthanasia. Certainly the book doesn’t promote euthanasia, but that charge has been brought. And that’s often from someone who hasn’t read the book thoroughly and doesn’t see why I included this. I have a feeling that those two incidents are not the real reason, but they’re something that people grasp onto. I think it’s a book that makes some perhaps very conservative parents uncomfortable because it’s a book challenging the authority set down by the government, the parents, the older people. It’s a boy seeing the hypocrisy of the older generation and breaking the rules to combat it. No one’s come out and said it, but that’s the only thing I’ve figured out in my mind that can bring out that kind of unease.” —Interview with The Atlantic Wire, 2012

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    8. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

    “It seems to me that I have seen a couple of things over the years. The first is that certain folks need an enemy. When the Soviet Union fell, I said half-jokingly to my husband: ‘I’m happy that the Soviet people may be getting their freedom, but now they’ll come after me.’ I was not entirely wrong. There seemed to be an upsurge in book banning after the lessening of the Communist threat. Harry Potter was a great help, as each new volume came out, my books got shoved further down the list until they all but disappeared. The second observation is that the books that are most likely to be banned are the extremely popular (like Harry Potter) or books that make their way into the curricula, so that students are required to read them and parents see them when they are brought home. It’s easier to attack a classroom teacher than Hollywood or Madison Avenue and one might hope to see the results of the crusade.” —Interview with Guernica, 2012

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    9. Forever . . . by Judy Blume

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    10. Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya

    “Every time it’s banned, a fellow writer calls me up and says: Hey great! Wish I could get all that publicity you’re getting…But the problem is real, of course, that there are people who still think their way is the only way…It’s a struggle. Since the Chicano movement started and we were writing contemporary literature, there was this backlash. It may be stronger than ever because of this extreme conservative political mindset…Quite frankly, they’re bigots, and they exist everywhere. We have to be vigilant, and we always have to fight against censorship, any kind of censorship…Haven’t we always read the Southern writers? Don’t we study the early New England writers? Of course we do. So why shouldn’t we read the literature of the Southwest?…We have to live together. Isn’t knowing about each other better than not knowing? Resentment and prejudice come when we don’t know…The good people of the community will come back and say, We want our kids to read all sorts of literature because that’s the way of a democracy.” —Interview with Alibi, 2012

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    11. Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson

    “Banned books are, of course, ubiquitous. There is no honor for an author in being banned, in part because it isn’t rare or special—the banned author can no longer feel that he or she is joining a select group. Besides, why take pride in the fact that someone out there finds you offensive? It isn’t something to be proud of, really. To feel pride about being banned suggests, to me, a kind of arrogance. You shouldn’t be smug about the fact that someone out there dislikes your book enough to want to keep others from reading it. What good would that do? In this case I prefer sadness to pride. Being banned, I feel misunderstood, frustrated. I want to explain myself to those who’ve banned me, but this is an impulse I strictly curtail. I don’t argue back. I don’t make a defense. I don’t mean to be above the fray, and I think the debate is enormously important, but to rail about regarding one’s own book is an empty exercise in self-justification. I’d rather argue about someone else’s book when it comes time to argue with book-banners.” —Excerpt from Banned in the U.S.A. by Herbert N. Foerstel, 2002

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    12. Gossip Girl by Cecily von Ziegesar

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    13. Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan

    “The reasons for censorship reflect the social climate of the times. The publisher of Debutante Hill asked me to revise the manuscript because I had a 19-year-old boy (the ‘bad guy’) drink a beer. When I changed the beer to a Coke, the book was published and won the ‘Seventeenth Summer Literary Award.’ In 1974, I was asked to revise Down a Dark Hall(a ghost story), to keep from offending members of the Woman’s Movement. The ghosts in that story were originally all male; when I changed the ghost of a male poet to Emily Bronte, the book was considered politically acceptable. In 1984, I wrote a book of religious verse for children titled From Spring to Spring. That sweet little book was ready to go to press when the publisher suddenly got cold feet about offending feminists by referring to God as ‘He.’ Of course, God couldn’t be called ‘She’ either, so I had to go back and reword all the rhymed verse to get rid of the pronouns, while maintaining the rhythm and naturalness of the wording. What a challenge that was!” —Interview with Absolute Write

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    14. Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene

    “For starters, it took a lot of legwork to take a book that so many people wanted to read off the library shelves and out of the classrooms. To accomplish this, an amazing amount of people made an endless amount of trips to schools and to libraries protesting that Bette Greene is a bad writer. Bette Greene is bad for children. Bette Greene’s books ought to be burned or, at least, thrown out of all schools and libraries. Even so, I’m grateful for some of the things that they haven’t yet accused me of: Being cruel and abusive to parakeets, breaking and entering the former Chicago home of President Obama or killing the goose who laid the golden egg.” — Goodreads Blogpost, 2012

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    15. Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher

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    16. Always Running by Luis J. Rodríguez

    “This issue of banned books should be year-round. Don’t let a small number of narrow-minded, mostly right-wing parents and/or school officials decide what should or should not be read by young people. Work with your school and your children about the books they read—even a controversial book can be a teaching opportunity.” — Blogpost, 2009

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    17. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

    “I take the side of young people, but I am also a realist; it is especially offensive to me when an uptight adult suggests that my stories are ‘inappropriate’ for young readers. I imagine, when I write, that I am writing for young readers—not for uptight adults…(Real readers finish books, and then judge them; most people who propose banning a book haven’t finished it. In fact, no one who actually banned Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses even read it.)” —Letter to Pam Harland, 2008

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    18. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

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    19. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

    Ray Bradbury

    “There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches. Every minority, be it Baptist/Unitarian, Irish/Italian/Octogenarian/Zen Buddhist, Zionist/Seventh-day Adventist, Women’s Lib/Republican, Mattachine/FourSquareGospel feels it has the will, the right, the duty to douse the kerosene, light the fuse. Every dimwit editor who sees himself as the source of all dreary blanc-mange plain porridge unleavened literature, licks his guillotine and eyes the neck of any author who dares to speak above a whisper or write above a nursery rhyme.” —Fahrenheit 451, Coda

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    20. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

    “We have always liked banning. And Hitler and his cohorts started banning books and then to killing people. You have got to be very careful of banning. What you ban is not going to hurt anybody, usually. But the act of banning is.” —Interview with PBS, 2000

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    21. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

    “It’s not fair censorship. Censorship is supposed to be imposed on the condition that vital secrets are being compromised…Writing is a vent or an outlet for human emotion and human experience, human understanding of the world, it’s always been that way. Human beings are able to speak and to write. It’s a way of transmitting information to other people, getting it out of you and to other people. ‘This happened today, I’m going to tell you about it. You may not want to listen to it but I’m going to tell you anyway.’ People have the option of listening or not listening but if the government is saying you can’t do it no one has the option of listening or not listening. It’s imposed silence.” —Interview with Knock Magazine, 2012

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    22. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

    This article originally appeared on Zola Books.


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