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Banned Books Week and Black authors

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Sept. 20 marks the beginning of Banned Books Week, a celebration of literature deemed too taboo for American classrooms. Some books on the list contain graphic violence or blasphemy. But for Black authors included on the list, including Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison, oftentimes simply writing about the Black experience in America can be controversial. 

In past years, the Indianapolis Public Library has commemorated Banned Books Week through programming. Due to changes caused by COVID-19, nothing is planned for 2020. However, the library system has made an effort to spotlight books written by Black authors, specifically books highlighting the importance of antiracist activism. In honor of Banned Books Week, here are three books written by prominent Black authors to pick up throughout the week, all of which are available through the Indianapolis Public Library system. 

“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” Maya Angelou 

This autobiographical coming of age story depicts growing up Black and poor in the South. In it, Angelou describes the racism and abuse she endured, examples of Black excellence and adversity. Despite being on the bestseller list for two years, the book is banned in Alabama for “inciting bitterness and hatred towards white people.” In Colorado, the book was challenged as a “lurid tale of sexual perversion,” for describing Angelou’s molestation as a child and the subsequent effect the abuse had on her as an adolescent.

In a 2009 interview, the late author and poet said ignorance may be behind why the book was banned. 

“I’m always sorry that people ban my books,” Angelou said. “Many times, I’ve been called the most banned. Many times my books are banned by people who never read two sentences.”

“Go Tell It on the Mountain,” James Baldwin

Published in 1952 by writer and commentator James Baldwin, “Go Tell It on the Mountain” depicts the lives of Black people in Harlem during the early 20th century and speaks frequently about religion and racism. Along with a scene depicting rape and violence against women, the book is also banned for depicting a young boy coming to terms with his homosexuality. 

“Beloved,” Toni Morrison

When Toni Morrison died in 2019, she was lauded as being one of the most prolific Black female writers in the country. With dozens of novels and plays, Morrison focused largely on the role of race and womanhood in society. Her 1987 novel “Beloved,” however, placed her on the banned books list. 

Set in Ohio after the Civil War, “Beloved” is based on the life of Margaret Garner, an enslaved woman who killed her child to keep her from a life of slavery. The novel was challenged as late as 2016 when Richard Black, a Republican member of the Virginia State Senate, said the book was “moral sewage” and was too violent to be taught in high school English courses. 

In a 2009 interview, Morrison warned against censorship of literature and art. “I contemplate with dread the erasure of other voices, of unwritten novels, poems whispered or swallowed for fear of being overheard by the wrong people. … That thought is a nightmare.”

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

Read banned books! 

To find these books or other banned books, visit indypl.org

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