By Carlynn Crosby, marketing intern at the University Press of Florida
This week (Sept. 27–Oct. 3) is Banned Books Week, an annual event designed to celebrate the freedom to read and the value of open access to information. Each year, the literary community—comprising librarians, authors, publishers, teachers, journalists, and readers—comes together during the last week of September to support the intellectual freedom associated with the expression of ideas.
According to the Banned Books Week website, more than 11,300 books have been challenged and reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom since 1982. In 2014 alone, 311 books were challenged, the top ten of which were:
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
- Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi
- And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
- The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
- It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris
- Saga, by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples
- The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
- A Stolen Life, by Jaycee Dugard
- Drama, by Raina Telgemeier
Interestingly, many of the books challenged have, at one point in time, been bestsellers. Some of the most challenged books last year have been taught in schools (The Bluest Eye and Persepolis, for example) while others have been turned into movies. (The film adaptation of The Perks of Being a Wallflower has earned an estimated $33.4 million worldwide since its release in 2012).
Other banned and challenged books of the past, including The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Grapes of Wrath, and The Great Gatsby, have even been considered iconic and have had a “profound effect on American life,” according to a recent Library of Congress exhibition on “Books That Shaped America.”
One such book, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Florida resident Zora Neale Hurston, was challenged because of language and sexual content despite later making TIME magazine’s 2005 list of the top 100 best English-language novels published since 1923.
During my three semesters interning at the University Press of Florida, I’ve learned that part of UPF’s mission as the official publisher for Florida’s State University System is to facilitate the creative exploration, exchange, and evaluation of ideas, providing a forum to better understand and experience the world around us.
Book banning challenges this mission, as such forms of literary censorship restrict the exchange and exploration of ideas. This type of censorship limits the access to books that readers need in order to learn about the world.
Intellectual freedom is a core value of the American Association of University Presses as well, so I encourage you to follow the hashtag #ReadUP on Twitter to see what the university press community is up to this week. Many publishers will be sharing books of their own that have faced challenges and banning in the U.S. or internationally.
And for additional reading on Zora Neale Hurston, why not start with these three University Press of Florida books?
- Zora Neale Hurston’s Final Decade
by Virginia Lynn Moylan
- Zora Neale Hurston and American Literary Culture
by M. Genevieve West
- Crossing the Creek: The Literary Friendship of Zora Neale Hurston and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
by Anna Lillios