Banned Books Week: Toni Morrison

Suzanne Blaz, a staff member from the Chicago-Kent Law Offices, sent this contribution to commemorate Banned Books Week:

No one uttered the word banned, but certain books assigned at my school were ‘objected’ to. More often than not, the book was written by a woman, including a personal favorite and much banned Margaret Atwood and, in particular, Toni Morrison.

Toni Morrison, 2006, Oil on canvas by Robert McCurdy In the National Portrait Gallery

Toni Morrison, 2006, Oil on canvas by Robert McCurdy
In the National Portrait Gallery

Her books presented such a foreign viewpoint to the predominently white and highly religious parents of my small hometown, they might as well have been science fiction/fantasy, a genre that also inspired fear.

Books with a sexual theme were always the easiest for the censors to complain about, whereas books like Ralph Ellison’s Invisible man, another favorite banned book, would ‘pass’ by. First, they objected to ‘Sula’ due to a scene where she catches her husband cheating, then ‘The Bluest Eye’ for its depiction of incest and rape, followed by objections to ‘Beloved’ and ‘Song of Solomon’ being included on reading lists distributed to students.

Admittedly, Ms. Morrison’s books do contain controversial subjects, but they are not there to be prurient or to encourage such behavior; rather, they are thought-provoking. Tackling difficult topics such as sexual violence, race and the long-term effects of slavery, her high-caliber fiction develops avenues for discussion that textbooks cannot do as easily.

Despite attempts to deny and suppress its discussion, sexual violence is a reality for many and prevention often hinges on open and free dialogue. Thankfully, I grew up with teachers as parents who let me read anything, and were more likely to call the ACLU on the would-be censors.

If you are looking for a banned book writer to “binge” read or suggest to a book group, Toni Morrison is an eye-opening choice.

From the ABA Banned Books Site:

According to the Office of Intellectual Freedom, Toni Morrison’s books have been banned so often that she’s on the list of “most frequently challenged authors of the 21st century” for 5 or the last 15 years and two of her books appear on the “Most Frequently Challenged Books Written by Authors of Color 1990-1999” list.

About Emily Barney

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