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.
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
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
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
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
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!