By Kiyanna Noel
Feinberg Library’s Director Elin O’Hara-Gonya hosted the annual Banned Books Read Out Sept. 21 from noon to 2 p.m. Approximately 25 students and faculty gathered in the Reading Room located on the third floor of Feinberg Library to share pieces of literature and why it has been added to the list of banned books.
“We’re facing an unprecedented number of attempts to ban books,” O’Hara-Gonya said. “The American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom has tracked 729 challenges for libraries, school and university materials and services in 2021. This resulted in more than 1,597 individual book challenges or removals. It should be noted that not all challenges result in a removal.”
“Books Unite Us, censorship divides us” was not only the motto, but the theme for the read-out. O’Hara-Gonya emphasized the importance of reading banned books and how they unite us by allowing us to sympathize with one another as well as how censorship creates a distance between communities and separates them all together.
“It is my personal belief that sharing stories, particularly those important to us as a community, means sharing a part of ourselves,” O’Hara-Gonya said. “I don’t think anyone can argue against the fact that books reach across boundaries, they build connections, thus building empathy between readers.”
According to O’Hara-Gonya most of the targeted books were by or about Black or LGBT persons. Many of the readers read books surrounding problems and struggles within the Black and LGBT communities, such as “Felix Ever After” by Kacen Callender, “The Bluest Eye,” by Toni Morrison and “George” by Alex Gino.
O’Hara-Gonya kicked off the meeting with words from the novel, “It Gets Better” by Dan Savage and Terry Miller, which is a part of a movement for the LGBT community as a way to bring awareness to the rising suicide rates.
English Literature and English Language Arts student Alexa Dumas expressed she is fascinated by banned books. Dumas read a passage from “The Witches” by Roald Dahl which was added to the banned books list in 1983 because of the description of women. In the book, a young boy’s grandmother warns him about witches and how to identify them.
Associate Librarian Mila Su took part in the read out. Su gave a bit of background and read the children’s book, “The Rabbits’ Wedding” by Garth Williams. This book was published in 1958 and banned in 1959 in Alabama because it promotes interracial marriages. When Su found out the book was banned, she looked to her mother for guidance, who reiterated to her the color of the rabbits getting married.
Assistant Director for Library & Technology Communications Mark Mastrean read from the children’s poetry book “Where the Sidewalk Ends” by Shel Silverstein. This children’s book was published in 1974 and banned in 1986 because it allegedly draws references to drugs, suicide, and disrespecting authority figures.
The Annual Banned Book read-out was concluded by O’Hara-Gonya’s call to action and reminding the audience of the importance of having banned books be accessible.
“So consider this on behalf of Feinberg Library a call to action for reader’s whether you’re a college student or simply later on in your life a member of your local public library community across the country to push back against censorship attempts in your community,” O’Hara-Gonya said.