It’s Banned Books Week: When Authors Fight Back

Celebrate Banned books Week, September 25 - October 1, 2016

Banned Books Week 2016 is finally here (September 25 - October 1).  Since the 1982, the national campaign celebrates the First Amendment and freedom to read every final week of September.

Attempting to ban a book often ends up being good for its success (see: Streisand effect).  It also often gives a golden chance to an author to say something memorably sarcastic. Here's a brief timeline of some witty authors responding to challenges to their books:

Mark Twain

Mark Twain

In 1902, the Ohama Public Library removed The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn off of its shelves, claiming “criticisms of the book have been made in the pulpit and the press.”

The author’s response:
“I am tearfully afraid this noise is doing much harm. It has started a number of hitherto spotless people to reading Huckleberry Finn, out of a natural curiosity to learn what it is all about – people who had not heard of him before; people whose morals will go to wreck and ruin now.”


Judy Blume

Judy BlumeIn 1970, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret was published. In following decades, it has been challenged many times, being called profane, offensive, and immoral.

The author’s response:
“I remember the night a woman phoned, asking if I had written Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. When I replied that I had, she called me a communist and slammed down the phone. I never did figure out if she equated communism with menstruation or religion, the two major concerns in 12-year-old Margaret’s life.”

JK Rowling

JK RowlingSince Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was first published in the 1990s, the entire Harry Potter series has been challenged many times, particularly in the United States. The most common concerns are that it will lead children to witchcraft and the occult. In 2007, a pastor at St. Joseph’s School in Massachusetts removed the series from the school library, explaining that “What I did is start a spiritual peanut butter ban on Harry Potter."

The author’s response:
“I have yet to meet a single child who's told me that they want to be, you know, a satanist, or are particularly interested in the occult because of this book.”

Sherman Alexie

Sherman AlexieFirst published in 2007, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian is one of the most frequently challenged books of the past 10 years.

The author’s response:
"This woman in Queens – you know, Queens, you know, walking to school in Queens you experience far more crazy, scary things than you do in my book – she called it ’50 Shades of Grey for teens.’ Number 1, she hasn’t read the book, and number 2, I want to put that on the jacket.”

John Green

John Green
In 2014, a review committee voted to pull all copies of The Fault in Our Stars from a middle school library in Riverside. One committee member commented “The thing that kept hitting me like a tidal wave was these kids dealing with their own mortality, and how difficult that might be for an 11-year-old or 12-year-old reading this book.”

The author’s response:
“I guess I am both happy and sad. I am happy because apparently young people in Riverside, California will never witness or experience mortality since they won’t be reading my book, which is great for them. But I am also sad because I was really hoping I would be able to introduce the idea that human beings die to the children of Riverside, California and thereby crush their dreams of immortality.”

Banned Books Week Online Activities

For each day during Banned Books Week, San Jose Public Library’s Facebook page will feature a book that has been challenged in the past few years.

Virtual ReadOut
Participate in this national project by submitting a three-minute video celebrating the reading of a banned or challenged book. You can actually do this any time of the year.

Lookup the social media hashtag #BannedBooksWeek to discover much more.

At Your Library

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