Over the centuries, various forms of expression have been banned or destroyed, and their creators have been censored, imprisoned, tortured, killed, exiled. It is the mission and responsibility of libraries to present multifarious viewpoints, and that is why the American Library Association joins other organizations to support Banned Books Week. During Banned Books Week, we celebrate freedom of speech and freedom to read.
Loud and Clear: Writers Who Found Ways to Express Themselves
Censored books fall into four subject areas: political, religious, sexual, and social. This book traces the censorship histories of 120 books from around the world, providing summaries of the books and reasons for them being censored.
Among the many “firsts” in the life of Constance Baker Motley, she was the first Black woman appointed as a federal judge and the first Black woman to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court. Throughout her life, she fought for equality and justice for all and knew that inequality of any type was a barrier to freedom of expression.
When freedom of speech is restricted, then freedom of thought and freedom of expression are in peril, which includes the written word. Historian Eric Berkowitz examines the history of censoring speech and how it has impacted people’s lives over the centuries.
Elijah Lovejoy was a Presbyterian minister, newspaper editor, and temperance crusader. Prior to the Civil War he became a staunch abolitionist, and as the owner of two newspapers his offices and printing presses were vandalized. While guarding a new press in a warehouse he was killed by an angry mob.
Veteran reporter Brian J. Karem examines the challenges facing journalists (in print, television and social media) in how to provide clear information about what takes place in government. He offers workable solutions to how this can be accomplished.
Ai Weiwei is one of China’s most famous and infamous internationally known artists. On April 3, 2011, as he was about to fly out of Beijing's Capital Airport, he states, " ...a swarm of plainclothes police descended on me, and for the next eighty-one days I disappeared into a black hole." The title of the book is part of a poem written by his father, Ai Qing, who was imprisoned during the Cultural Revolution in China. This book is a memoir about his father, himself, his country, and the necessity for freedom of expression everywhere in the world.
The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie was published in 1988. The title refers to a group of verses in the Quran about three pagan Mecca goddesses. At the time, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa that ordered Muslims to kill Rushdie, and Rushdie went into hiding and was under constant protection. In August, 2022, while at a public reading, he was attacked with a knife.
Literature plays a major role in freedom of expression. Azar Nafisi, professor, and writer, presents her thoughts in a series of letters to her late father, who was the Mayor of Tehran. In examining the books of selected writers, she urges us to examine the motivations of those who stand in the way of freedom of expression. At the same time, she cautions us not to replicate the behavior of those who seek to suppress this precious freedom.
The books of renowned Egyptian novelist Alaa Al Aswany have been translated into 30 languages and published in more than 100 countries all over the world. However, his books have been banned in Egypt and a great many places in the Arab world. This novel is a satiric look at a modern repressive government that is thrown into turmoil when a revolution takes place.
Since it was first published in Egypt in 1959, Naguib Mahfouz's novel Children of the Alley has been controversial: banned; allowed to be sold; sold under the counter; pirated; illegally reprinted, and the author’s life was threatened. This book examines that history and opens “... a window onto some of the fiercest debates around culture and religion to have taken place in Egyptian society over the past half-century.”
The following watchdog organizations provide continuous information about writers and others who are being censored, tortured, jailed, or exiled. You can stay informed by subscribing to their emails.