Banned Books Week invites students, faculty to challenge censorship

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Peyton Weeks, a sophomore at Kansas State studying Life Science, checks out the Banned Books display in Hale Library on Sept. 28, 2017. (Photo by Olivia Bergmeier | Collegian Media Group)

Words and ideas banned from libraries and schools across the United States are being read and celebrated as part of Banned Books Week, an annual tradition to commemorate controversial literature.

The Department of English, Sigma Tau Delta International English Honor Society, K-State Libraries and the KSDB student radio station are co-sponsoring a series of events to celebrate the week.

Faculty, staff and students read excerpts from banned and/or challenged books on KSDB radio. KSDB also hosted a drawing for a gift certificate to Claflin Books and Copies.

“Growing up in Kansas suburbia, I felt like I was only exposed to great literature when ‘great’ was synonymous with vanilla, straight, white literature usually written by men,” Lynsey Akin, sophomore in English literature, said. “By censoring books that challenge that canon, entire communities, ideals, dialects and identities are being denied their opportunity to be recognized as a valid part of society.”

According to the American Library Association’s website, Banned Books Week “highlights the value of free and open access to information” by bringing together librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers and readers in shared support of “the freedom to seek and express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.”

“Often times I think people look at the list [of banned books] and question why books were banned,” Naomi Wood, professor of English, said. “It helps people recognize that casually accepting censorship means being liable to ignoring that important ideas are being quieted.”

Wood said banned books usually reflect the larger cultural wars and disagreements that rile society up in different ways, with most being children’s or young adult books that depict a character outside of what is considered socially normal, or a situation that people want to reject.

In the last decade, the issue has largely manifested in a protest of sexually explicit scenes, Wood said.

“What typically shows up on banned book lists are any texts that assume that children might have a sexual orientation that is not conventional or that they might even have a sexual orientation at all,” Wood said. “Out of the top ten challenged books, five portray LGBT characters.”

323 challenges were reported to the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom in 2016, according to the ALA’s 2017 State of America’s Libraries Report.

The top ten most-challenged books of 2016 are “This One Summer” by Mariko Tamaki; “Drama” by Raina Telgemeier; “George” by Alex Gino; “I Am Jazz” by Jazz Jennings and Jessica Herthel; “Two Boys Kissing” by David Levithan; “Looking for Alaska” by John Green; “Big Hard Sex Criminals” by Matt Fraction; “Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread” by Chuck Palahniuk; the “Little Bill” series by Bill Cosby and “Eleanor & Park” by Rainbow Rowell.

“I think [Banned Books Week] is a great opportunity to recognize censored materials, and I think it encourages people to read books they otherwise wouldn’t get the exposure to,” Allyssa Bruce, graduate student in English, said.

The main floor of Hale Library is hosting a display of books this week that have faced controversy over the years, including the top ten challenges of 2016.

“Librarians are very militant about the freedom to act against limitation,” Wood said. “People are free to read what they want to read and investigate what they want to investigate, even if they are children.”

A sign on the library’s banned books display prompts viewers to check out one of the selections if they see something they like by bringing the book and a K-State ID card to the help desk or a self-checkout station.

“The more exposure people have to lives unlike their own, the more empathy they will have,” Akin said. “That includes what information they’re allowed access to in a library.”

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