Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story misattributed a quote said by Ann Marie Short. The Observer regrets this error.
As part of Saint Mary’s Banned Books Week, the College held a virtual seminar Wednesday night discussing the book bans. Speakers included religious studies department chair Stacy Davis, English department chair Ann Marie Short, alumna Grace Maher from the St Joseph County Public Library and Kathy Burnette, owner of Brain Lair Books in South Bend.
Davis kicked off the seminar with a discussion of the Bible. She said the Bible is the most banned book in history and one she frequently teaches in her classes.The Bible is used to justify the banning of other books despite containing the same graphic and controversial themes, she said. Davis said the move to ban books by Bible readers is not about the books themselves, but rather a power play. She explained the act is more about getting rid of ideas than books themselves.
Short also explained the theme and title for this year’s Banned Books Week: “Books Unite Us, Censorship Divides Us.”
“Banning books does capitalize on people’s fears, which are generally grounded in their fear of difference and having certain values and beliefs threatened by those who have different values and beliefs,” Short said. “People come around narratives because they show people what they have in common. Narratives are how people construct stories about themselves and collective identities.”
Short also discussed the importance of celebrating Banned Books Week on the Saint Mary’s campus.
“At Saint Mary’s, we are cultivating students who think and make their own decisions and you can’t do that if you only surround yourself with ideas that make you comfortable,” Short said.
Davis said reading banned books is a useful experience for students.
“It’s important for students to be aware of what’s happening, but also to be aware that more likely than not, they’ve read a book that is now being banned,” she said.
Maher provided statistics that reflect the recent increase in banned book petitions. She also discussed the role of banned books in both school and public libraries.
Finally Burnette spoke about her experiences as a bookseller who specializes in serving marginalized communities. The bookstore store is a safe space for people of all identities, she said, adding that she works to be inclusive while also working to not support writers with exclusive opinions.
Several examples of banned books were discussed, including the most frequently banned book in the past year, “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe. Short also suggested reading Ibram X. Kendi’s children’s book “Antiracist Baby.”
“People are so afraid of anti-racism as a concept that they will go after a children’s book,” Short said.
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