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Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Banning Books

There has been a lot of press recently about books that have been banned throughout the years. I thought you might enjoy this letter from a fairly well known Southerner, Harper Lee. When she learned in 1966, six years after the book was published, that Virginia’s Hanover County School Board had removed her book To Kill a Mockingbird from its school libraries and labeled the book immoral, she did what any self-respecting author would do.

She wrote a letter. Her letter went to the editor of the Richmond News Leader and politely included a donation (rumored to be $10) to their Beadle Bumble Fund. The newspaper’s fund had been in place for seven years to highlight and compensate "official stupidities."

In response to Lee’s letter and contribution, the newspaper gave free copies of To Kill a Mockingbird to every child who requested one. It would seem she made her point.

Monroeville, Alabama
January, 1966

Editor, The News Leader:

Recently I have received echoes down this way of the Hanover County School Board's activities, and what I've heard makes me wonder if any of its members can read.

Surely it is plain to the simplest intelligence that "To Kill a Mockingbird" spells out in words of seldom more than two syllables a code of honor and conduct, Christian in its ethic, that is the heritage of all Southerners. To hear that the novel is "immoral" has made me count the years between now and 1984, for I have yet to come across a better example of doublethink.

I feel, however, that the problem is one of illiteracy, not Marxism. Therefore I enclose a small contribution to the Beadle Bumble Fund that I hope will be used to enroll the Hanover County School Board in any first grade of its choice.

Harper Lee

The action of the Hanover County School Board is not particularly unique. Since publication, To Kill a Mockingbird has been removed from other school libraries and challenged by many more. Complaints center around the book’s racial and sexual themes. When I read about these banning incidents, I try to see them as a parent and a grandparent. When I read the book for the first time,  I was an adult. I saw a white Southern lawyer of integrity choosing to defend a black Southern man of equal integrity spread across the pages. I was shocked, stunned, and sickened by the events in the book, scenes that forced me to see the South I loved differently. One reason the book remains on the best selling list is the prejudices people of all races and ethnicities see in its pages, the shock of seeing themselves on the page. The Help recently caused a similar sensation.

The American Library Association reports that To Kill a Mockingbird has remained in the top 100 most challenged books since its publication. It continues to remain in the top ten books that get complaints - 50 years after first seeing the light of day! Least you think this is an American issue, Canada and some European countries have worried about their children being exposed to the “vile” language in the book.

In the United States today, school violence continues to escalate by students on students, bleak issues involving politics rear their nasty heads weekly, including gun control and claims of police brutality, a sexual assault occurs every 2 minutes (44% on children under the age of 17). Is it logical to ignore biographical information that might spur change? Can we preempt violence with knowledge? Have we learned anything by ignoring and glossing over attitudes and actions of bygone eras? Are we so ashamed of our past that we cannot discuss it and learn from it?

Literature is a vital resource from which to teach our children and ourselves about a world infested with both problems and solutions in the hopes that they never experience them personally. Hiding behind platitudes does not diminish the truth, it extols it, feeding the flames of misunderstanding and hatred.

Teens in my writing classes are sophisticated, enmeshed in a world at their fingertips, yet still
vulnerable. Reading and discussing fiction is an important way for them to learn the truth about history, not a varnished textbook diatribe of data, but an insight into the people who lived the history, made mistakes and made strides. It gives them an outlet to discuss their own fears and the violence in their world.

Well-read teens and adults are more open to new ideas, open to opportunities for change and growth, and open to meaningful dialogue: the agility to find our similarities and appreciate our differences.

Authors have a sacred responsibility to share the universe and all its many facets.

Long  Live Books!                                                                  Write like you mean it!



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