UCA took part in the nation-wide celebration of Banned Books Week, Sept. 27 through Oct. 3, by encouraging students to participate virtually.
In previous years, UCA has celebrated by having public readings of banned books on the steps of Torreyson Library. This year, due to the pandemic, the students were asked to participate in the American Library Association’s #StandfortheBanned Virtual Read-out.
According to an email sent to English majors and minors, students could record a video under three minutes long, introducing themselves and the banned book of their choice and reading a small passage.
“Banned Books Week is important because we have the constitutional right to free speech, and that includes the right to not have literature censored or banned,” Assistant Professor of English Katherine Willis said. “Free and open discourse is essential to democracy and a cornerstone of our country since its founding.”
Books can be banned for a number of reasons. In recent years, books including the LGBTQIA+ community, sexually explicit scenes or references and conflicting religious viewpoints have been the most challenged.
“Banned Books Week is for anyone and everyone who wants the freedom to read what they want without censorship or restrictions. Many people are surprised at just how many books have been challenged or banned, even ones that might seem innocuous,” Willis said.
Elijah Barnett, a senior pursuing a double major in history and African American Studies, participated in this year’s digital celebration. The banned book he chose for his submission was Captain Underpants and the Revolting Revenge of the Radioactive Robo-Boxers by Dav Pilkey.
“When I researched what banned books were, I saw that Captain Underpants was a banned book and I thought that was so interesting because I’ve read Captain Underpants since I was a kid,” Barnett said. “To see that it was a banned book now is just kind of weird to me.”
According to the American Library Association’s website, the entire Captain Underpants series is on the challenged books list due to it being “perceived as encouraging disruptive behavior…offensive language and violence.”
“Challenges to books tend to come most often from library patrons, parents of school-age children, school boards and political and religious groups. 2019 actually saw a 14% increase from the previous year in the number of challenges and bans,” Willis said.
There is a difference between a challenged book and a banned book. According to the American Library Association, when a book is challenged, it is an attempt to remove the material from libraries and schools or to restrict it. When a book is considered banned, it has been removed from libraries and schools altogether.
Each year, the American Library Association releases a “Top 10 Most Challenged Books” list. For 2019, eight of the books were challenged because of LGBTQIA+ content.
This year, the top 3 challenged books are George by Alex Gino, Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin and A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss.
Banned Books Week was established in 1982. This year’s theme was “Censorship is a Dead End.”