A panel of two dozen University of Michigan students and faculty members in the English department gathered Sept. 21 for a Banned Books Interactive Discussion to discuss a list of books banned in the U.S. and around the world during the National Banned Books Week.
The American Library Association (ALA) first launched Banned Books Week in 1982 after a sudden surge in citizens challenging book for their appropriateness in education and public spaces. According to a report by PEN America, a New York-based non-profit, 2,532 instances of individual book bans were recorded in the U.S. between June 2021 and June 2022. Four Michigan schools banned a total of 41 books in that time, including a recent book banning effort by Dearborn Public Schools which removed seven books from student access.
In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Briahna Anders, the undergraduate program manager of the English department, said the discussion represented the culmination of months of readings and discussions among small reading groups organized by the English department.
“Over the summer, the department purchased (banned) books and then sent them out to the students so they had a chance to read over the summer,” Anders said. “Toward the start of the academic year, all of the groups met and discussed what they read over the summer, and different themes popped up related to why the books were banned or challenged.”
During the discussion panel, attendees discussed the challenged books and weighed in on the effects of banning them.
Rackham student monét cooper spoke to the panel about her experience teaching “Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History,” a non-fiction graphic novel published in 1991 depicting memories of a Holocaust survivor. The novel found itself at the center of a debate over academic freedom when the McMinn County School Board in Tennessee banned the book, citing vulgarity and nudity concerns.
“(My class) went to the Holocaust Museum and spent time with a Holocaust survivor to share her story … and one of my students turned to me and said that their family member had told them that the Holocaust was a lie,” cooper said. ”So I believe truly that when we ban a book, we ban curriculum, and we ban needful intervention in history and memory.”
English professor Aliyah Khan introduced “The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley,” which The book touches on Malcolm X’s thoughts on Black Nationalism and his own experience in the Massachusetts prison system.
“‘The Autobiography of Malcolm X,’ a Black radical Muslim, is banned from so many prison systems. It is not just about ending Black race politics; it is also about prisons,” Khan said. “How prison systems are problematic racially and historically in this country and how the justice system is problematic.”
Seattle-based non-profit Books to Prisoners tried sending a shipment of “The Autobiography” to Tennessee prisoners. The shipment was returned with a note reading “Malcolm not allowed.” The book had previously been banned in prisons in Texas and Florida. The Florida prison system has banned 20,000 book titles in total.
Khan also discussed a recent lawsuit filed by Heather Thompson, U-M professor of Afroamerican and African Studies. The suit alleges the New York State Department of Corrections’s ban on her book, “Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971,” was unconstitutional.
Engineering junior Maria Fields, a Central Student Government representative, told The Daily she believes book access is important for the quality of education.
“As someone who spends a lot of time volunteering in the educational space,” Fields said.” Fields said. “I know that it’s important that students have access to books that benefit their education.”
Daily Staff Reporter Chen Lyu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.