I realized it was about the section of the book that's about my mother's suicide, where she killed herself in a bathtub. ..There's nothing there that could possibly titillate. Even if you're a sadist, you wouldn't go to that one for the picture, to see a dead body. And so I was offended just like they were, but I was offended by describing a naked corpse as a nude woman.
-Art Spiegelman in conversation with Lisa Tolin, Editorial Director of PEN America after the banning of "Maus: A Survivor's Tale," his Pulitzer Prize winning graphic memoir.
I've been facilitating a Banned Book Club at a local library, one book a month since September, and though it has been poorly attended, it's been good for me, a reminder that books matter and so do writers in a free society. And as I am a writer in this free society, I figure I matter too, as do all readers, and all three libraries I belong to in the Mid-Hudson Valley; I've taught writing workshops in two of them. A beacon of civilization, may all libraries everywhere on Planet Earth prosper forever. May we #standupforlibraries and #standupforwriters no matter the pressures brought upon us.
I am a long-standing member of the Authors Guild, PEN America and International PEN, all organizations working to staunch the book banners disruptive rhetoric and fascistic actions, to protect the authors of the books thus banned, and internationally, to free incarcerated writers all over the world. I think of this struggle as both personal and political, and hope, dear reader, that you will also. As Joyce Vance so eloquently said in a recent Substack newsletter, we cannot rest, it is a moral imperative not to rest. She signs her newsletters "in this together."
I began the process of choosing the banned books for the club last summer and read about twenty of the 1,000 plus on American PEN's list. One book a month seemed a very small sampling, but it was an important gesture, and Nicole Lane, the librarian at the Gardiner Library, agreed to put the Banned Book Club on the library's calendar of events. She even published a "manifesto" that she distributed to the library's members. It reads, in part: "Individuals should be trusted to make their own decisions about what they read and believe. Further, parents should not be making decisions for other parents' children about what they read. We are united against book bans."
My syllabus included a similar manifesto, which reads in part: "Book banning impacts the education of our children and the livelihoods and reputations of authors, illustrators, and other creators. It corrodes the trust, civility and freedoms we must sustain in a working democracy."
Four Thursdays @ 6:30 p.m.
September 14: Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye
October 12: Ashley Hope Perez, Out of Darkness
November 9; Art Spiegelman, Maus
December 14: George Johnson, All Boys Aren't Blue
Of these four writers, three are living writers. I decided to write to all of them to bolster their courage and determination, and my own. I told them I'd assigned their books, that their books are worthy of assigning.
Writing to thank (living) writers I admire is a practice I began many years ago. I contact them through their website, publisher, agent, or Facebook page. More often than not, I receive a reply, sometimes formulaic, sometimes personal. And if a book has been banned this "right action," as the Buddhists call it, has its own reward; it's a contribution to the struggle against the persecution of writers and their work.