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Students read banned books

Amanda Gray and Tabitha Ricketts | Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Students gathered across Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s campuses to protest censorship and read aloud from Banned Books during national Banned Books Week.

The Week, which runs from Sept. 24 to Oct. 1, is necessary to spark conversations about censorship and free speech, Notre Dame Librarian-In-Residence Naomi Bishop said.

“Banned Books Week is a big deal, and it needs to be celebrated,” she said at the Banned Books Read-Out in the Hesburgh Library Concourse on Monday.

Surrounded by student-designed posters, nine readers read from the 10 most-challenged books of 2010. The readers were library staff members and members of the Literacy Awareness Club of Notre Dame (LAND).

Saint Mary’s College has been celebrating Banned Books Week by hosting a series of daily excerpt readings in the Cushwa-Leighton Library. The readings take place from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. everyday through Friday.

Robert Hohl, a librarian at Saint Mary’s Cushwa-Leighton Library, was in charge of organizing the occasion for the College. Hohl said this week is about confirming the community’s right to free speech.

“What so often seems to happen is that people focus on [the issues] and don’t look at the larger picture,” he said. “This week gives us the chance to talk about that, and really understand the values of freedom of expression.”

Among those readers at Notre Dame’s Read Out was David Archer, a reference and Peace Studies librarian at Hesburgh Library. Archer said he has battled censorship for nearly 30 years.

“I hope [Banned Books Week] means we help raise awareness of the value of the freedom to read,” he said.

Archer read from the children’s book “And Tango Makes Three,” a story about two homosexual penguins that raise an egg together. Challenged on the grounds of being “age inappropriate,” the book has been among the top challenged books for four out of the last five years.

While this is the first Banned Books Read-Out sponsored by the Library and the second on campus, Archer said the week began in 1982.

Saint Mary’s first year Megan Steron was one of the many students who signed up to participate in the readings at the Cushwa-Leighton Library.

“I think it’s a wonderful way of bringing attention to the censorship that is imposed on [literature],” she said. “I am completely opposed to it.”

Steron, who read from John Steinbeck’s controversial book, “Of Mice and Men,” said she wishes banned books were celebrated more than just a week out of the year.

“I think, especially in schools, it’s important to get people interested in reading and [show them] why they need to read these challenged books and not let them fade into oblivion,” she said.

Hohl said he has worked since the summer to coordinate the events for Banned Book Week.

“We’ve never done this before,” Hohl said. “We have put posters up and had displays of banned books in the past, but never a weeklong event.”

Banned Books Week is significant to the literary world, Hohl said.

“Challenges [against books] should be taken seriously by school boards, libraries … [but the books themselves] also need to be addressed, and really seen,” he said. “[To censor] is really to undermine the free exchange of information within a community.”

Notre Dame Professor Robert Sedlack, whose senior-level graphic design course designed the posters, said the project served as a good introduction to the semester, as well as a spark for in-class dialogue.

“I want a project where not everyone will be on the same page, if you pardon the pun,” he said. “We might have some controversy, and I’ve seen that the more emotional a connection to a project, the better the work.”

The son of a library director and a college English professor, Sedlack said he grew up in an environment that encouraged reading.

“There’s a lot of overlap between great books and challenged books,” Sedlack said. “Who gets to decide what’s right or wrong for me to read?”

Saint Mary’s also had a display of student-designed posters from Sedlack’s class for the week.

Hohl said that by raising awareness within the Saint Mary’s community, the participants support banned books around the world.

“That’s what good literature is for,” he said. “It is to help us understand human conditions, and deal with them.”

Notre Dame senior and LAND Service Chair Caitlin Wilson said the club volunteered to read from the books after being contacted by Wilson.

“We like anything that means more people are reading,” she said. “Everyone should be able to read the books that got me excited. I love ‘Brave New World’ and ‘The Hunger Games’ (both in the most challenged books of 2010 list). Everyone should have a chance to read.”