Party for the Right to Read

The ACLU wants Banned Books Week to be a wake-up call

Censorship – the old-fashioned book-burning kind – is alive and well in 2004, as intellectual freedom advocates remind us with the annual celebration of Banned Books Week, Sept. 25-Oct. 2. Recall the rash of actual book burnings that the seemingly innocent goings-on in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series ignited a couple of years back: Due to its focus on wizardry and magic, the series topped the American Library Association's list of Most Frequently Challenged Titles for years, ousted in 2003 by Newbery Award-winner Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's Alice series, which has been targeted for its sexual content. (Other books on the ALA's 2003 Top 10 include the perennially controversial Of Mice and Men and Go Ask Alice, along with works featuring positive messages about homosexuality and critical ones about the right to bear arms.)

Banned Books Week began in 1982 as part of the ALA's struggle to bring censorship within schools and libraries out in the open. Now, former Chronicle staffer Lauri Apple, currently the director of the ACLU of Texas' Banned Books Project, hopes to further expand awareness of BBW and censorship here in Austin beyond the circles of educators, library patrons, and parents. "I want the older progressive people you usually find at ACLU gatherings, and the younger crowd that you usually don't, to meet," she says. "They share an ideology and need to connect so they can keep track of what's going on in their communities."

So Apple decided to throw a party – a bunch of them, in fact. During Banned Books Week, independent bookstores around town are coming alive, hosting "Read-a-Thons" where local authors, lawyers, scholars, and activists read excerpts from texts that have been challenged or banned in Texas' schools. Apple has also organized an "Artists Interruptus" anti-censorship art show at the Old School, featuring art that has been banned from public venues. For Apple, the expansion was a natural one. "A lot of the books that have been challenged [in schools] are targeted due to an illustration or image in the book, and not because of the story itself," she explains.

Apple says Banned Books Week needs to serve as an alarm awakening people to the realities of censorship – "It is important for people to realize that this is a local issue, no matter where they live." The ACLU of Texas' annual report listing books banned or challenged by Texas school districts will be released Sept. 27.

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Banned Books Week, ACLU of Texas, American Library Association, Lauri Apple

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