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ONU Students and Staff Celebrate Banned Books Week

ONU's Sigma Tau Delta and Heterick Library staff read works from Banned Books (Northern Review photo/Dominic Turnea).

Every year, classic and modern works of literature are challenged by individuals all across the United States. But what causes works of literature to be banned in certain places? On Sept. 25, Ohio Northern University’s English Honorary group, Sigma Tau Delta, and the staff at Heterick Library celebrated Banned Books Week with their annual Banned Books Reading event. Staff and students were able to read passages from select books that have been banned or challenged throughout the years. 

For years, parents and community members nationwide have challenged books for their realistic or questionable content. From the American Library Association, it is reported that some of the most critically acclaimed works were banned or challenged. "Dead Poets Society" by N.H. Kleinbaum, "The Things They Carried" by Tim O’Brien, and "Of Mice and Men" by John Steinbeck, are works critically acclaimed and nationally recognized, yet have been constantly challenged and banned in some areas. Sigma Tau Delta advisor Dr. Douglas Dowland explained that it is common for challenged books to be frequently read by the public, especially students.

“Books that are banned are often the ones that end up in your classrooms,” Dowland said. 

Students and ONU staff presented books that were banned throughout the years. The first reader was Sigma Tau Delta President Kelley Lewis, who read passages from Margaret Atwood’s "The Handmaid’s Tale."  Lewis explains that the novel fits into many of the characteristics of a banned book: violence, sexual content, profanity, and an unsuited age group. Atwood’s novel warns readers of an eerie future when free thinking and free thought are restricted. Lewis explains that the novel sparks additional controversy due to the political climate the United States is currently in, and how similar "The Handmaid’s Tale" is to our own world. 

“The true terror is not the actions in the story, but the ideas in the story itself,” Lewis said. 

Bethany Spieth, Instruction & Access Services Librarian at Heterick read portions of chapter 35 from J.K. Rowling’s "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows." Spieth's read chapter called “King's Cross," shows the transition of Harry Potter becoming a man after sacrificing his own life for his loved ones. When asked if the "Harry Potter" series is about witchcraft, Spieth explained that "Harry Potter" is a story that tells of sacrificial love, rather than witchcraft.

Vice President of Sigma Tau Delta, Marisa Lucas, read passages from Sylvia Plath’s "The Bell Jar," a story that addresses issues of suicide. Lucas emphasizes the importance of addressing issues of mental health, saying how it's important to talk about these uncomfortable issues, rather than banning books that address it. 

“We don’t want to admit there is a problem, and that’s why there is a problem,” said Lucas. 

Mackenzie Sowers presented to the audience passages from Sherman Alexie’s nationally praised book, "The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian." Sowers explained how some individuals who have requested to have the book banned have not, in fact, read the story closely enough, often claiming the novel to have scenes of bestiality, pornographic images, and harsh violence. Sowers, who has read the book closely in college courses, denies that the book presents this graphic imagery.

Students and audiences began to wonder how closely the critics read these books: Are critics simply looking for the inappropriate things, rather than the story itself? Some other students that presented were Via D’Agostino, who read passages from Lewis Carroll’s "Alice in Wonderland," Dominic Turnea, who read passages from J.D. Salinger’s "The Catcher in the Rye," and Library Director, Kathleen Baril, who presented passages from "It’s Perfectly Normal" by Robbie H. Harris and Michael Emberley. 

Senior creative writing major, Emily Walkerow, was the final reader, whom read passages from Harper Lee’s "To Kill a Mockingbird." The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel addresses issues of racism, violence, and the ideas of growing up in a racist community. Walkerow explained to the audience that the book was criticized for being “conflicted with some community views." This information sparked conversations amongst the audience members, agreeing that the communities who claim that the novel conflicts with their values are racist communities, ones committed to formalized racism. Dr. Lisa Robeson, Chair of the English Department, believes it’s more than about banning books like Harper Lee’s work.

“Banning book isn’t about books, it tells us about the banners,” Robeson said. 

For listings on banned books throughout the years, the American Library Association’s website provides many resources and information on how one can learn more about the histories of banned books.

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