ORGANIZER: John Sullivan
READ A POEM TO A CHILD: “The Owl and The Pussycat”
Banned Books Week in Galveston
(a 100K Poets for Change Affiliated Event)
September 17th – 22nd 2018
Celebrate Our Freedom to Read
Banned Books Week is an annual event organized by the American Library Association and the American Civil Liberties Union to celebrate the freedom to read. Typically held during the last two weeks of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community in shared support of the freedom to seek, express and explore ideas and their implications, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.
Tonight, we’ll hear selections from books that have been banned or challenged by governmental entities (United States, various state governments) or, most commonly, by local school boards, school districts and parent coalitions throughout the United States. Please welcome our “cast” of readers – all current or former citizens of Galveston. Using lists of banned books compiled by the American Library Association and the American Civil Liberties Union, each reader chose a selection from their favorite banned book to share with you tonight. We’ll also hear a couple of “banned” songs, and a short segment from a suppressed play.
This reading is dedicated to the memory of Tom Curtis, Galveston born progressive journalist, ACLU member and avid reader who organized the first Banned Books Readings in Galveston at Midsummer Books.
Our Cast & What They’ll Read or Sing
Ruth Finkelstein – The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
John Gorman – The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
Susan Bonnefond – The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Hazen Reich – Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
kat Joel – Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Sheli Rae – selections from Sappho, Ovid, Anna Ahkmatova
Lisa Windsor – Animal Farm by George Orwell
Paul Ray Heinrich – Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
John Sullivan – Blood & Guts in High School by Kathy Acker
Dan Braverman, Sheli Rae, John Sullivan , Susan Bonnefond – a short scene from The Brig
Dorman Cogburn, kat Joel & Hazen Reich – The Eve of Destruction by Barry McGuire
Facts about the Banned Books (& Play)
The ALA banned book site provides an extensive list of bans and challenges: http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/classics.
You can access the ACLU’s banned book information at: https://www.aclu.org/issues/free-speech/infographic-banned-books-week.
Blood and Guts in High School
Blood and Guts in High School is often considered Cathy Acker’s breakthrough work. Published in 1984, it is her most extreme exploration of sexuality and violence. Borrowing from, among other texts, Nathaniel Hawthorne‘s The Scarlet Letter, Blood and Guts details the experiences of Janey Smith, a sex addicted and pelvic inflammatory disease-ridden urbanite who is in love with a father who sells her into slavery. Many critics criticized it for being demeaning toward women, and Germany (+ South Africa) banned it completely. Acker published the German court judgment against Blood and Guts in High School in Hannibal Lecter, My Father.
The Catcher in the Rye
The Catcher in the Rye has been listed as one of the best novels of the twentieth century. Shortly after its publication, writing for The New York Times, Nash K. Burger called it “an unusually brilliant novel,” while James Stern wrote an admiring review of the book in a voice imitating Holden’s. George H. W. Bush called it a “marvelous book,” listing it among the books that have inspired him. In June 2009, the BBC‘s Finlo Rohrer wrote that, 58 years since publication, the book is still regarded “as the defining work on what it is like to be a teenager. Holden is at various times disaffected, disgruntled, alienated, isolated, directionless, and sarcastic.” Adam Gopnik considers it one of the “three perfect books” in American literature, along with Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Great Gatsby, and believes that “no book has ever captured a city better than Catcher in the Rye captured New York in the fifties.” Jeff Pruchnic wrote an appraisal of The Catcher in the Rye after the death of J.D. Salinger. In this article, Pruchnic focuses on how the novel continues to be received incredibly well, even after it has aged many generations. Pruchnic describes Holden as a “teenage protagonist frozen midcentury but destined to be discovered by those of a similar age in every generation to come”. Bill Gates said that The Catcher in the Rye is one of his favorite books ever.
But not everyone agrees with these glowing appraisals. In 1960, a teacher in Tulsa, Oklahoma was fired for assigning the novel in class; however, he was later reinstated. Between 1961 and 1982, The Catcher in the Rye was the most censored book in high schools and libraries in the United States. The book was banned in the Issaquah, Washington high schools in 1978 as being part of an “overall communist plot”. In 1981, it was both the most censored book and the second most taught book in public schools in the United States. According to the American Library Association, The Catcher in the Rye was the 10th most frequently challenged book from 1990 to 1999. It was one of the ten most challenged books of 2005, and although it had been off the list for three years, it reappeared in the list of most challenged books of 2009.
Catch-22 is an anti-romantic war novel by American author Joseph Heller. He began writing it in 1953; the novel was first published in 1961. Often cited as one of the most significant novels of the twentieth century, it uses a distinctive non-chronological third-person omniscient narration, describing events from the points of view of different characters. The separate storylines are out of sequence so the timeline develops along with the plot. The novel is set during World War II, from 1942 to 1944. It mainly follows the life of Captain John Yossarian, a U.S. Army Air Forces B-25 bombardier. Most of the events in the book occur while the fictional 256th Squadron is based on the island of Pianosa, in the Mediterranean Sea, west of Italy. The novel looks into the experiences of Yossarian and the other airmen in the camp, who attempt to maintain their sanity while fulfilling their service requirements so that they may return home.
Catch-22 was banned in Strongsville, OH (1972), but the school board’s action was overturned in 1976 by a U.S. District Court in Minarcini v. Strongsville City School District and Challenged at the Dallas, TX Independent School District high school libraries (1974); in Snoqualmie, WA (1979). The book is frequently criticized for being “insufficiently patriotic.”
The Hate U Give
After a controversial decision to pull The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas off the shelves at schools in the Katy (TX) Independent School District, the critically acclaimed novel about a black teen dealing with the aftermath of witnessing a police shooting that killed her unarmed friend was returned to the district’s high school libraries on Thursday. The book is back on shelves at all of Katy ISD high schools, but it includes a parental consent – that can be given by a phone call, email or an in- person consent by the parent,” said Maria DiPetta, manager media relations for Katy ISD.
The Hate U Give, Thomas’ debut novel, is the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award winner for fiction and a National Book Award Longlist and Morris Award Finalist title. The book’s ultimate fate in the district is pending a committee review of the original challenge. After a parent complained about the book to the board of education in November, members of the board and superintendent Dr. Lance Hindt read the book, according to DiPetta. Hindt then made the decision to pull the book “because of the pervasive vulgarity,” DiPetta said.
Th1rteen R3asons Why
Th1rteen R3asons Why is a young adult novel written in 2007 by Jay Asher. It is the story of a young high school student as she descends into despair brought on by betrayal and bullying, culminating with her suicide. She details the thirteen reasons why in an audio diary which is mailed to a friend two weeks after her death.
Th1rteen R3asons Why has received recognition and awards from several young adult literary associations, and the paperback edition reached #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list in July 2011. A screenplay was written, based on the original release of the book, that became the basis of the dramatic television series 13 Reasons Why released through Netflix on March 31, 2017. The screenplay contains several deviations from the book, including, but not limited to, name changes, plot elements, and character personalities.
Since it was published in 2007, Th1rteen R3asons Why has been a target of censorship. A Colorado school district banned the novel, saying it glamorized suicide. In Ontario, Canada, the story was pulled from school libraries for its “negative portrayals of helping professionals.” In Alberta, any discussion of the book was prohibited.
Earlier this year, the novel was adapted into a Netflix series, which reignited the debate around the novel’s themes and their portrayal. Parents and school districts worried the series would promote “suicide contagion”; Netflix added more trigger warnings before episodes. The New Zealand Office of Film and Literature banned people under 18 from watching the drama without an adult. For Asher, who helped develop the show, the response to both works has reinforced his ideas about the danger of censorship.
Since its publication in 1945, George Orwell’s allegory, Animal Farm, has received its fair share of abuse, challenges and outright bans including: a 50’s challenge from the John Birch Society (Wisconsin) – based on the phrase “the masses will revolt.” In 1968, the New York Stat English Council’s Committee on Defense Against Censorship conducted a comparative
study in New York State English classrooms that placed the novel on its list of “problem books”; the reason cited was that “Orwell was a communist.” Oddly enough, Animal Farm was banned from the 1977 Moscow, Russia International Book Fair because it “criticized socialism.” A survey of censorship challenges in the schools, conducted in DeKalb County (IL) for the period of 1979 to 1982, revealed that the novel had been objected to for its political theories. It was also banned from schools in the United Arab Emirates, along with 125 others in 2002 on the grounds that it contains written or illustrated material that contradicts Islamic and Arab values—in this text, pictures of alcoholic drinks, pigs, and other “indecent images.”
Talk about irony-challenged adults: Ray Bradbury’s classic about the evils of banning books and suppressing knowledge has, itself, been censored, redacted, challenged and banned on a number of occasions, including:
(1967) when Ballantine Books released the “Bal-Hi Edition” aimed at high school students which censored such words as “hell” and “damn” and “drunk man” became a “sick man,” (1987) when the book was given “third tier” status under a homegrown book classification system at Bay County Schools in Panama City FL meaning it contained “vulgarity,” (1992) Venado Middle School in Irvine CA censored the book after students received copies with words such as “hell” and “damn,” (2006) the book was challenged at Conroe Independent School District (Conroe TX) for “discussion of being drunk, smoking cigarettes, violence, ‘dirty talk,’ reference to the Bible, and using God’s name in vain,” going against “religious beliefs.” And there are more.
This play by Kenneth H. Brown provides a graphic, hyper-realistic window into institutional violence and personal degradation in the U.S. Marine Corps brig in Fuji Japan during the US Occupation post-WW2. The Brig was controversial because it showed the workings and intentions of these standard operating procedures for punishing personnel that broke military laws, but also, carefully documented how these punishments were used to restructure the minds and emotions of prisoners to create obedient, selfless, more perfect Marines: at great cost to both the individual prisoner / soldier and their superiors who meted out punishments and managed the process of reshaping the thoughts and behavior of the inmates in the Brig.
In 1964 The Living Theatre staged The Brig (by Kenneth H. Brown) based on the experience of Marines in the Marine’s brig. Not a play about the Abu Ghraib prison …or Guantànamo but about Marines abusing Marines. The idea was to make the audience feel the cruelty of brute authority and drive home in them the desire to resist and dissolve that same authority. Calls were made for congressional investigations – of policies and procedures of military jails / prisons, the theatre troupe presenting the play, and the character of the playwright, Kenneth H. Brown. The Living Theater was evicted from its space, and later, when they illegally reoccupied that same space and continued to produce The Brig, the cast and crew were forcibly arrested and dragged off to jail. IRS leverage was also used against The Living Theater to make their financial future untenable. The show was revived in 2007 without incident – and what does that say?
Judith Malina on the artistic and political vision overarching their production of The Brig: Violence is the darkest place of all. Let us throw light on it. In that light we will confront the dimensions of the Structure of Violence, find its keystone, learn on what foundation it stands, and locate its doors. Then we will penetrate its locks and open the doors to all the jails.
Sappho, Ovid & Anna Ahkmatova
Sappho (c. 630 – c. 570 BC): Although her work is considered exceptional in craft, depth, and resonance, Sappho’s work has often been the focus of controversy because of its content, informed by her exploration of physical and emotional love among women and her own bisexuality. The famed poet of Lesbos was born around 615 BCE but it was not until over a millennium and a half later, in 1073, that Pope Gregory VII allegedly called for her writings to be formally burned in Rome. Rumors also circulated that bishop Gregory of Nazianzus had earlier ordered her poetry to be burned (in c.380 CE). These burned works were merely fragments of the 50,000+ lines that were consumed in a succession of fires at the famed library in ancient Alexandria. Julius Caesar, himself, may have finished off the structure during his Roman civil war campaign in 48 BC.
Ovid (43 BC – 17/18 AD): During the reign of Augustus, the Temple of Apollo, the Atrium of Liberty and the Porticus of Octavia thrived as public libraries in Rome; however, the emperor still maintained control over the libraries’ contents. In 8 CE, he banned the poet Ovid to exile (a sentence called relegatio) and kept his racy Ars Amatoria (“The Art of Love”) from public libraries — though his other works appear to have remained available. From his exile on the Black Sea, Ovid wrote: “I come in fear, an exile’s book, sent to this city: kind reader, give me a gentle hand, in my weariness: don’t shun me in your fear …”
Anna Akhmatova: Part of the quartet of poets – Osip Mandelstam, Marina Tsvetaeva, Anna Akhmatova and Boris Pasternak – considered Russia’s finest in the modern era, her life during WW1, the Bolshevik Revolution, the Stalinist Terror and the “Thaw” after Stalin’s death in 1953, reads like a documentary of Russia’s collective national pain. Her first husband, Nikolay Gumilyov, was accused of subversion and executed by the Cheka. Her son, Lev Gumilyov, was twice incarcerated and spent half a decade in Stalin’s Gulag. After the late 20’s, her work was programmatically ignored by the Soviet publishing apparatus and much of her work was known only through underground samizdat networks. Her early poems are recognized as delicately nuanced and supremely crafted but her two masterworks Requiem and Poem Without a Hero – both written during the period spanning Stalin’s Terror (30’s) and WW2 (40’s) – chronicle the full scope and range of Russia’s spiritual agony and unbendingly defiant hope. Her nickname among many Russians (both the cultured and the nearly illiterate) was “the keening muse” of the people.
The Eve of Destruction
The American media helped popularize Eve of Destruction by using it as an example of everything that was wrong with the youth of that time. The song also drew heavy flak from conservatives. A group called The Spokesmen released a partial parody and answer record entitled “The Dawn of Correction”. A few months later, Green Beret medic St. Sgt. Barry Sadler released the patriotic “Ballad of the Green Berets“. Johnny Sea‘s spoken word recording, “Day for Decision”, was also a response to the song. Due to its controversial lyrics, some American radio stations, “claiming it was an aid to the enemy in Vietnam” banned the song, as did Radio Scotland. It was placed on a “restricted list” by the BBC, and could not be played on “general entertainment programs.”
Please read the attached press release from the 100K Poets for Change Initiative. This organization is responsible for an annual World Peace through poetry event every September 29th. This year they’ve expanded that to include a new Read a Poem to a Child Initiative. If you’d like to participate, please follow the directions in the press piece and contact Poets for Change. We can also talk about this after tonight’s reading or you can call John Sullivan at 409-370-1562 (call or text), or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.