Controversial books read aloud at HSU library in protest and celebration
Humboldt State University students and faculty gathered in front of the HSU library on Tuesday, Sept. 24 for a banned book reading in celebration of Banned Books Week.
Garrett Purchio, librarian for the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, worked with Marcy Burstiner from the Humboldt Center for Constitutional Rights to host one of many readings held across the country for the campaign promoted by the American Library Association.
“It’s a chance to really listen to different people’s perspectives,” Purchio said. “I think it’s always great to hear, you know, people are reading this book because of the impact it has on them, or maybe it really opened their eyes to the world.”
Readers chose from a rack of more than 50 banned or challenged books, including books of diverse content—defined by the ALA to have content by or about people of color, LGBTQ+ people or people with disabilities.
Purchio said that while many people feel we are at a point in history beyond censorship, literature still faces frequent challenges.
“Every year there’s always a list of new words that are challenged for different reasons,” Purchio said. “The ALA puts out a list of the top books challenged in 2018, 2019.”
Ocean Campbell, a graduate student in social work, read David Levithan’s Two Boys Kissing. According to the ALA, the book is ranked number 11 for the most challenged and burned book in 2018 because it included LGBTQ+ content.
“I really wish that this book had existed when I was a teenager,” Campbell said. “I think it possibly could have changed my whole life.”
Campbell said the book had a powerful message and brilliant moments that resonated with her. Campbell said any young person who wants the book should be able to have it.
Harriet Burr, a librarian with a master’s degree in community economic development, read For Whom The Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway, a book set during the Spanish Civil War.
“How many of you learned about the Spanish Civil War in school?” Burr said. No hands raised in the audience. “Why don’t we teach this?”
Burr said people are unaware of a lot of history, in part due to purposeful obfuscation. Burr blamed former President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Catholic Church for ignoring the Spanish Civil War.
Purchio said people ban or challenge books because they feel threatened by a work and have a desire to respond. He said the book reading celebrates the freedom to read.
Marcy Burstiner, who is also a HSU journalism professor, added a similar sentiment.
“You can threaten the writers, but the book will go on,” Burstiner said.
According to the ALA, it launched Banned Books Week in the 1980s after a United States Supreme Court case ruling said school officials could not ban books in libraries because of their content.
Since then, the ALA has compiled lists of challenged books each year. The ALA also posts additional information on banned books on their website.
“It’s still happening,” Purchio said. “It’s important to keep this band going, because it’s good to show that even though censorship exists in the world, there’s some people who champion freedom of speech and freedom to read.”
A previous version of this article listed the author of “Two Boys Kissing” as David Campbell, but the author is David Levithan.