September 25th through October 2nd is the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week, showcasing those dangerous tomes that might warp the minds of young and old alike! Perhaps they touch on–lower your voice–sex. Or sexism. Or racism. Or on progressive politics. Perhaps they’re anti-war! In any case, someone or some group has either challenged these books in an attempt to remove them from library shelves, or the books have actually been removed. Fortunately, the association explains:
Due to the commitment of librarians, teachers, parents, students and other concerned citizens, most challenges are unsuccessful and most materials are retained in the school curriculum or library collection.
To celebrate Banned Book week, you can attend a banned book event near you. Or, we dare you to read a banned/challenged feminist book! In no particular order, here are ten Ms. favorites:
- Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale: In Atwood’s dystopian nightmare, women are controlled and used essentially as baby factories. In 2006 [PDF], the novel was banned from AP English curriculum in Maryland after a parent complained that it “was sexually explicit and offensive to Christians.” The school board ended up overriding the ban.
- Annie Proulx, Brokeback Mountain: Proulx’s heartwrenching short story about two ranch hands who fall in love and carry on a long affair was asked by a donor to be removed from an optional 12th-grade reading list in an Austin, Tx., private school. [PDF] The school returned $3 million to the donor instead of removing the book.
- Toni Morrison, Beloved and The Bluest Eye: Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novels are never an easy read but always rewarding. Beloved is about ex-slaves and the murder of a child; The Bluest Eye tells the story of an 11-year-old African American girl who longs to have blue eyes and undergoes a terrible life experience. Beloved has been challenged many times, most recently in 2007 by parents in Kentucky and Idaho who felt uncomfortable about its depiction of racism and sex. It was removed from the AP English class in Kentucky. The Bluest Eye [PDF] was challenged in 2009 at an Indiana high school for graphic sexual content and language, but was retained.
- Kate Chopin, The Awakening: Iconic feminist character Edna Pontellier chooses self-discovery over convention in this fantastic novella. It was challenged in 2006 [PDF] but not banned, even though an Illinois school board member raised concerns over excerpts read on the Internet.
- Judy Blume, Forever, Deenie, Blubber, Tiger Eyes, Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret: Blume’s novels look at sex, masturbation, bullying, body image, loss of a parent, religion–in other words, lots of topics interesting to growing girls. But her titles have been challenged frequently, enough for her books to make it on the Top 100 Banned/Challenged Book lists of the last two decades. Forever was Number 7 on the list between 1990-1999.
- Anne Frank, Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl: Frank’s diary her dreams, fears and teen angst while hiding from the Nazis is an important Holocaust document and is widely read in schools. Nonetheless, when a new edition of the diary was assigned in a Virginia public school this past year, a parent complained about sexual and homosexual passages and it was removed from the reading list. A huge backlash ensued, which led to the book being kept at the school but taught at another grade level [PDF].
- Amy Tan, The Joy Luck Club: In 2004, Tan’s novel–about a group of Chinese American immigrant women who learn about the lives of their mothers, was challenged in Wisconsin as an elective reading assignment for being sexually graphic and unsuitable [PDF]. The outcome of the challenge is unknown.
- Alison Bechdel, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic: Bechdel, of the remarkable Dykes to Watch Out For, wrote an autobiographical graphic novel about her closeted father and her own coming of age as a lesbian. The heartbreaking story was deemed “pornographic” by community members in Missouri, but was still retained by the local library. [PDF]
- Alice Walker, The Color Purple: Walker’s classic text, which won the Pulitzer, explores the life of Celie, a black woman in 1930s Georgia. Often brutally violent, sexually explicit and unflinching in its depiction of racism, the book has been frequently banned/challenged. It currently stands at number 17 on the Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books list for 2000-2009.
- Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird: Lee’s only published novel, which British librarians ranked before The Bible as a book every adult should read before they die, looks at racism, class, and gender through the eyes of 8-year-old budding feminist Scout Finch as her father defends an innocent black man accused of rape. Banned/challenged many times, in 2009 Mockingbird was removed from a secondary school in Ontario, Canada, after a parent had complained about its language.
Do you have any favorite banned feminist books that we’ve left out?