“Censorship is the strongest drive in human nature; sex is a weak second.” remarked former Los Angeles Times editor Phil Kerby. Censorship, and the need to eradicate it, is the driving force for the national event, Banned Books Week, which took place at the College this past week from September 21 through the 27th. The American Library Association (ALA), who promotes Banned Books Week, said the idea behind the event is to “bring together the entire book community… in shared support of the freedom to seek and express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.” The weeks influence spans far beyond books, however, as it draws attention to censorship and how it can affect everyone.
In the past year the College of Charleston has had its own taste of censorship with the College Reads program and its 2013 book selection Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. The controversy gained national coverage, with the Washington post reporting, “The South Carolina House of Representatives recently voted to cut $52,000 in funding for the College of Charleston as punishment for assigning students to read Fun Home.” Students were not, in fact, required to read the book unless assigned in an individual class outside the College Reads program.
This issue was highlighted when the College kicked off Banned Books Week with a “Charleston Read Out” in the Halsey Center. Faculty and staff, along with community members gathered to read excerpts from their favorite banned books ranging from classics like The Catcher and the Rye and Howl to more contemporary pieces like Fun Home. The event host, Charleston poet, Marcus Amaker, began the night by reciting his favorite section from Fun Home, which was met with audience cheers and hands applauding in the air. He later said, “I personally love the idea of books and printed products being dangerous.”
What exactly makes a book banned? The ALA defines two different ways in which literature can be challenged or banned. First, books are challenged which is “an attempt to remove or restrict materials based upon the objection of a person or group.” Challenges try to “remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting access to others.” This is what was seen last year at the College with Fun Home. Banning is the actual removal of those materials.
Over the years countless books have been banned all over the world, restricting peoples freedom and choice to read. Perhaps some of the stranger bans include Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham, revoked in 1965 in China for its portrayal of early Marxism, and the Merriam-Webster Dictionary for its, as some perceived sexual, definition of the word bed. The ALA keeps lists tracking the top challenged books each year in the US. The 2013 list included 50 Shades of Grey challenged for nudity and offensive language, The Hunger Games challenged for its religious viewpoint and being unsuitable for its age group, and The Perks of Being A Wallflower challenged for being sexually explicit and for featuring homosexuality along with drugs, alcohol and smoking.
Throughout Charleston’s Banned Book Week the Addlestone Library had book carts featuring different banned books along with a DIY fair on Thursday in the libraries’ rotunda to celebrate the freedom of creativity. Throughout Banned Books Week on campus, there was a special effort to honor Fun Home and the impact it has had on the College in the past year. The book made censorship a more relatable issue to students making this years Banned Books Week especially pertinent.