A celebration of banned books

“Censorship leaves us in the dark. Keep the light on.”

More stories from Taylor Hagmann


Photo by Taylor Wilkinson

During open mic, community members share their experiences, and read excerpts from books that have been banned.

Books can be banned for any number of reasons: lewd words, allusions to satanic worship and everything else in between. Anyone can challenge a book for any reason.

Karen Loeb, the City of Eau Claire’s Writer in Residence and a Professor Emerita from UW – Eau Claire, hosted a Writers Read Thursday evening at L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library featuring books that had been or are banned.

Loeb told listeners about how early editions of “Where’s Waldo?” by Martin Hanford had been banned, because on page four a woman’s breast was partially exposed (Subsequent editions have since been changed).

Loeb finished by reading an excerpt from Lewis Carrol’s “Alice in Wonderland,” which was banned in China in the 1930’s, since people were insulted that animals spoke using human language. Then, Dianne Lueder, who worked in libraries for 37 years in various roles, got up.

Lueder talked about how Shel Silverstein, author of popular children’s books such as “A Light in the Attic” and “The Giving Tree,” had several of his poems and collections either challenged or banned.

Lueder read five of Silverstein’s poems. All of the poems she read had been banned at some point for encouraging disobedience, violence and even cannibalism, Lueder said.

Once Lueder finished reading the Silverstein poems, Doug Pearson took the microphone. Pearson, also a Professor Emeritus of the University, wrote an essay for “Censored Books,” published in 1993.

Pearson talked about how “A Clockwork Orange,” written by Anthony Burgess in 1962, was not banned until after Stanley Kubrick directed a movie based on the book, which came out nine years later. Both movie and book were then banned due to graphic images.

Pearson also mentioned “The Chocolate War” by Robert Cormier, which he said was banned in many schools due to sexual content, language and violence.

Once Pearson was done with his speech, Loeb again got up and made closing remarks. She said some people feel as though they need to ban books because they can be reflective of their own self or behaviors, and that can be scary.

“Sometimes we’re afraid to confront who we are,” Loeb said. “Sometimes books make us uncomfortable because of how we relate to them.”

Most of the time, books are banned in school libraries, where the audience is younger and potentially harmed by thematic elements. Lueder said that’s why she preferred to work in a public library, where materials are less often restricted.

According to the American Library Association’s website, “A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group.  A banning is the removal of those materials.”

“If just one person complains, a book can be banned,” Loeb said. However, according to the ALA, most challenges are unsuccessful.

In a list of the ALA’s Top Ten Most Challenged Books by year, books such as “Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain and “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee were challenged and sometimes banned in school libraries due to their use of the “N” word, although for other books, the reasons varied significantly.

“Banning books is different than a parent regulating books for a home,” Loeb said. “It only affects one household, not an entire group of people. You want to have some books that will challenge people and their mindset.”

There is also controversy over the idea of banning books in light of the First Amendment, Lueder said.

“I don’t think the people that want to ban the books think about (the First Amendment),” Lueder said. “Part of the job is to educate the public on the First Amendment and what it means.”

The First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States states “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” However, the institutions banning books are not Congress. Loeb said they are school and public libraries, school curricula and required reading lists.

Although L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library gave a tribute to banned books already, Banned Books Week is Sept. 22 through 28. There will be several other events celebrating literature taking place at the public library this fall.

At 6 p.m. on Sept. 19 at the library, there will be a conversation entitled “Overcoming Rejection and Learning to Thrive in the Literary World.” At 7 p.m., Max Garland, former Wisconsin Poet Laureate and professor at UW – Eau Claire will speak.

There is a writing workshop presented by Loeb starting at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 8. The workshop will focus on fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.

Finally, Writers Read is hosting another event on Thursday, Oct. 10 at 6 p.m. where the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets will do their calendar poetry reading.

Hagmann can be reached at [email protected].