What a welcome coincidence that, just as Banned Books Week was about to get underway, President Obama passionately defended freedom of expression in a speech at the United Nations General Assembly. Partly in response to recent anti-American protests in the Islamic world and the murder of a U.S. diplomat after an anti-Muslim video was posted on YouTube, Obama warned about the dangers of silencing and censoring free expression. The “strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression, it is more speech,” he said in his remarks on September 25.
The president was not talking about books specifically, but his message resonated with all of us at Politics & Prose, especially with Banned Books Week set to start September 30. Now in its 30th year, the week-long commemoration was initiated by the American Library Association as a nationwide effort to celebrate the freedom to read and to raise awareness of censorship efforts. According to the association, more than 11,000 books have been challenged since 1982, often by local school districts, parents, or outside groups.
Among the most challenged titles in 2011 were classics such as To Kill A Mockingbird and Brave New World and the recent bestseller, The Hunger Games. Also challenged or banned at various times over the years have been books cited by the Library of Congress that helped shape America: Mark Twain’sThe Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, The Autobiography of Malcolm X , Jack London’s The Call of the Wild, and Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls.
During Banned Books Week, P&P and other bookstores, as well as libraries across America, will feature displays of banned and challenged books and sponsor other activities. P&P’s staff members will take turns reading from banned books and will post our selections through social media. While censorship may often seem a problem of a different place or different era, we invite all of our P&P community to join in a collective celebration of books and the ideas contained in them, whether we agree with them or not.
As President Obama said so eloquently at the United Nations: “Americans have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all people to express their views, even views that we profoundly disagree with. We do not do so because we support hateful speech, but because our founders understood that without such protections, the capacity of each individual to express their own views and practice their own faith may be threatened. We do so because in a diverse society, efforts to restrict speech can quickly become a tool to silence critics and oppress minorities.”
- Brad and Lissa
This post is reprinted from our website.