The RBMSCL Celebrates Banned Books Week

In honor of Banned Books Week, we’ve asked the staff of the RBMSCL to reflect upon their favorite banned or challenged book:

“To me, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is the quintessential banned book. Hilarious, heartfelt, and packed with classic scenes, it has also been seriously offensive in very many ways to very many people in the 125 years since its publication. And yet there has never been any consensus on what, exactly, makes it worth burning—its immorality, poor spelling and grammar, racism, homoeroticism, and encouragement of juvenile delinquency have all come under fire. The book itself remains as tricksy as its narrator, and as its native time and place.”

—Will Hansen, Assistant Curator of Collections

“One challenged book that I enjoyed reading and discussing in school was Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. Not only does this book break away from many literary norms, but I think it also succeeds in charging its readers to think about aspects of community, identity, and survival.”

—Jennifer Thompson, Research Services and Collection Development Librarian for the Franklin Research Center

“Widespread celebrations have marked the 50th anniversary of the publication of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, one of the American Library Association’s Top 100 banned or challenged novels of the 20th century. As a girl in 1960s Alabama, I was deeply troubled by the pervasive racial inequity that was so much a part of the social fabric. I felt a powerful identification with Scout and her father, Atticus, gave me hope that, eventually, individuals might change that fabric.”

—Elizabeth B. Dunn, Research Services Librarian

“While not a banned book (banned broadside), Martin Luther’s 95 Theses which he nailed on the Wittenberg Church door on Oct. 31, 1517 greatly influenced me. As an undergraduate at Duke just after the period of social protests in the 1960s, the idea that a provocative list of concerns by an early 16th century monk could transform the establishment inspired me. I went on study Luther and wrote my senior theses on the use of hymnody for protest. Perhaps those protest songs of the 1960s were not so novel after all!”

—Tim Pyatt, Duke University Archivist

“Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man, a rejoinder to Edmund Burke’s 1790 denunciation, Reflections on the Revolution in France, was so popular that it was published multiple times in 1791 and caused a furor in England. Paine argued that human rights are natural (not given) rights and that government’s are a product of and always accountable to the people. Not unexpectedly, Rights of Man was banned by the British crown for supporting the French Revolution and led to the prosecution of Paine who wisely had left England prior to his conviction. In a time when our nation’s human rights record is questionable to say the least, I am heartened, encouraged, and inspired by Paine’s courage and conviction in arguing that human rights are the foundation of a just society and the publication of Rights of Man reminds me that human rights have been with us since the birth of this country.”

—Patrick Stawski, Human Rights Archivist

Take a look at the lists of Frequently Challenged Books available at the American Library Association’s website and tell us about your own favorite banned or challenged books!

2 thoughts on “The RBMSCL Celebrates Banned Books Week”

  1. Both the Merriam Webster and the American Heritage dictionaries have been challenged and/or banned at one point. I've read those for sure. Oddly, I've read very few of the most challenged books. I tend to read non-fiction, and in high school I chose journalism over English literature classes so I didn't read Catcher or Finn, I was writing stories for the school paper.

  2. My absolutely favorite banned book is "And Tango Makes Three," by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell. This is a delightful picture book and an absolutely true story about two male, zoo penguins who take it upon themselves to not only care for each other but to adopt an "orphaned" egg and raise the chick as their own. It amazes me that this simple story has raised so much controversy. I suppose even truth is unacceptable for some people when it stands in the face of what they want to believe. As for the rest of the frequently challenged books list, it reads like a "Best of World Literature" list to me. So many of my favorites are on it!

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