Banned books find support at annual event

By Lauren Kelly

In an effort to bring awareness to censorship issues and First Amendment rights, the American Library Association presented the Banned Books Week Readout, held on Sept. 27 at Pioneer Plaza, 435 N. Michigan Ave., next to Tribune Tower.

The event, which featured author readings and book signings, kicked off the 27th year of Banned Books Week, an annual nation-wide event celebrating the freedom to read.

The American Library Association jointly presented the event with the McCormick Freedom Museum, which is the first museum dedicated to freedom and First Amendment rights.

“The idea is to call attention to the fact that we have a First Amendment and that there are people who try to limit it,” said Dave Anderson, who has been working with the museum since its inception. “The First Amendment is fundamental. It’s vital. Without it people don’t have an opportunity to utilize or expand all the rest of their freedoms.”

The readout featured many banned or challenged authors such as Lois Lowry, Judy Blume, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor and Stephen Chbosky, among others.

Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, co-authors of the most challenged book of 2006 and 2007, also read their book, And Tango Makes Three, a children’s book about the true story of two male penguins that raise an adopted chick as their own. It was banned for reasons of sexism, homosexuality, anti-family values and religious viewpoints, according to the American Library Association website.

The ALA received a total of 420 challenges in 2007, according to the Office for Intellectual Freedom.

“There’s a difference between personally objecting to something and trying to restrict the access of other people,” said Angela Maycock, the ALA assistant director at the Office for Intellectual Freedom.

Maycock said she remembers being astounded as a child that The Wizard of Oz and The Diary of Anne Frank were on the list of banned books.

“By highlighting books that have been banned or challenged over time, our intention is to get people thinking,” Maycock said. “To think about this wonderful freedom that we have, and that it’s fragile. We have to use it if we want to keep it strong.”

Author Judy Blume also commented on censorship issues. “You have to remind people, even those who are on your side, that you have to speak out,” she said. “We have to work like hell to make sure nobody takes this away from us. It’s in danger all the time.”

All books used for author signings were donated by publishers, and were given away to attendees. Also among the crowd was Gabe Levinson, founder of Something To Read, a mobile literary initiative. Levinson, a Columbia graduate who was also giving away free books, rides his “Book Bike” around to various parks in Chicago every weekend and gives away reading material to anyone who wants it.

Levinson said he wanted to get people excited about books and reading by engaging them on a personal level.

Because of the awareness created by campaigns like Banned Books Week, more challenged books are remaining on the shelves of libraries across the nation, said various speakers at the event.

Court cases dealing with censorship have made it to the Supreme Court, the highest level of the legal system. Mentioned in the annual American Library Association publication documenting all challenged or banned books, was the majority opinion of U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, in the landmark case Texas v. Johnson (1989). “If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable,” Brennan said.

According to the First Amendment, U.S. citizens have the right to say anything, as long as it does not impede the rights of others. This idea is a cornerstone of American democracy.

“Banned Books Week is an affirmation that the people of this country still have a voice and still want to be heard,” Gabe Levinson said. “Why would you ever ban a book? Why would you stop an idea? Why would you limit someone’s potential to learn something new?”

For more information on Banned Books Week, visit the American Library Association website,