Banned Books Week draws attention to the ills of restricting books for young adults in libraries and schools. This year, the event focuses on the right to access books about diversity.
Running from September 25 to October 1, Banned Books Week is an annual event in the US celebrating the freedom to read — and the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books week is run by the Banned Books Week Coalition, a national alliance committed to increasing awareness of the event and its values. For the first time, a UK Banned Books Week is running in conjunction with the American version.
Olusina Adebayo, project manager for the Association of American Publishers, delved into ‘Why Diverse Books are Commonly Banned,’ and stated: “Ideally, parents would want their children to be inquisitive and become independent thinkers. The banning and censorship of books stifles constructive dialogue and promotes division over understanding. Unfortunately, our society has characterized that which is different as being bad or off-putting.”
Parental protest is often activated over offensive language, violence, and sexual content. Under the guise of age-inappropriate material, certain young adult books are threatened with restrictions or outright removal from public forums like schools or libraries.
Banned Books Week is an annual event in the US celebrating the freedom to read. (Banned Books Week)
The majority of banned books are disproportionally from diverse authors, or stories that do not perpetuate ‘normative’ situations. The American Library Association (ALA) defines diversity as being “those who may experience language or literacy-related barriers; economic distress; cultural or social isolation; physical or attitudinal barriers; racism; discrimination on the basis of appearance, ethnicity, immigrant status, religious background, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression; or barriers to equal education, employment, and housing.”
ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom has determined that 52% of the books challenged or banned over the past decade are from titles that are considered ‘diverse’ using the above definition. Troublingly, this threatens an already small pool: statistics gathered between 1994-2012 revealed that while 37% of the American population are people of colour, only 10% of books published focus on multicultural narratives.
Among the most commonly banned diverse books are works by Ernest J Gaines (The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman), Sherman Alexie (The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian), Toni Morrison (Beloved, The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon) and many others.
Publishers such as Penguin Random House, Hachette Book Group, Bloomsbury, Scholastic, and Sourcebooks are supporting Banned Books Week by way of social media pushes and book giveaways; bookstores in cities throughout the country will host awareness events.
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