Banned Books Week: Celebrating, not censoring, creativity

What if you were no longer allowed to purchase your favorite book? Monday night, various College of Charleston students and faculty joined Charleston residents at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art to hear poets, actors, writers and professors read excerpts from popular books in what was known as the Charleston Read Out. Books that were in the spotlight were not just ordinary books, but books that in some places, cannot be read at all. This event was part of Banned Books Week  a series of events intended to bring awareness to books that have been banned in public and private schools as well as colleges and universities.

Speaker at the first event of Banned Books Week at the Halsley (Photo by Jessica Wilkinson)

Speaker at Charleston Read Out, the first event of Banned Books Week at the Halsey (Photo by Jessica Wilkinson)

Marcus Amaker, the host of the event and a well-known Charleston poet, started the night by reading an excerpt from the book Fun Home, which sparked a controversy at the College of Charleston last year. After reading, he stated, “I love the idea of books being dangerous.” Following Amaker, Herb Frazier, Sharon Graci, Bret Lott, Theodore Rosengarten, Joy Vandervort-Cobb, Marjory Wentworth and Katherine Williams each read brief excerpts from books that have been banned. The list of banned books was surprising and included titles such as Harry Potter, the Catcher in the Rye, the Color Purple, Grapes of Wrath, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and To Kill a Mockingbird. All of these popular novels and more were censored at various institutions due to the inclusion of controversial topics such as death, suicide, divorce, sex, homosexuality, murder, religion and racism.

Imagine not being able to read your favorite book or being “banned” from reading about a topic you are interested in. Created in 1982, Banned Books Week brings awareness to the issue and promotes the idea that publications should not be censored. The Read Out was organized by the Charleston Friends of the Library, the American Civil Liberties Union, Jazz Artists of Charleston and the College of Charleston Avery Research Center. Charleston Friends of the Library representative Emily Everett said that the Charleston Read Out “celebrates the freedom to read and raises awareness for the books that have been banned.”

A rack of banned books displayed at Addlestone Library (Photo by Jessica Wilkinson)

A rack of banned books displayed at Addlestone Library (Photo by Jessica Wilkinson)

It seemed as though the most moving and heart-rending parts of the night was when Charleston actress Sharon Graci read an excerpt from the book Sophie’s Choice, in which a mother was forced to choose which of her two daughters she would be allowed to keep with her in a Jewish concentration camp. A silence filled the room and a few tears were shed by observers who may have been wondering why a topic like this  which is so important and truthful, could be banned and censored.

Banned Books Week at the College of Charleston this week encouraged students to branch out and read about contentious topics. The Addlestone Library set up an exhibit dedicated to the matter and has made various banned books available for check-out. Stop by the Addlestone Library to learn more about Banned Books week and visit for more information.

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Jessica Wilkinson is a feature writer at CisternYard News. She is a sophomore majoring in Secondary Education and History with a minor in Political Science. In her free time, she can be found binge-watching Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars on Netflix, doing Muay Thai Kickboxing and spending as much time as possible on Pinterest. She aspires to be the best history teacher your kids will ever have while spending her summers writing and traveling the world.

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