Ginnie Graham: Books targeted for ban reflect cultural malaise of this moment | Columnists

Oklahoma author John Wooley doesn’t stop when answering which author had a big influence on him, but often finds himself on many contested book lists.

Wooley, author of more than 25 books and host of the popular KWGS (89.5 FM) show “Swing on This”, first read the “Grapes of Wrath” right after completing his military service.

“It clarified in my mind the value of metaphorical truth – that something doesn’t have to have actually happened for it to be true. Jesus Christ did it with his parables; Aesop did it. did with his fables; and John Steinbeck did – with more than one of his novels, but especially this one,” Wooley said.

“It’s fascinating and quite amazing that the 83-year-old ‘Grapes of Wrath’ still manages to piss off some people to the point that they can’t stand the thought of anyone being exposed to it. Among other things, This long-lived militant hostility speaks to the power and truth of John Steinbeck’s masterpiece.

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“It made me understand, for the first time, the challenges, attitudes and prejudices that my mother Okie and her peers faced during the Great Depression. Her situation was not as dire as the Joads’, but she migrated to California, where she found work.”

Interestingly, his mother couldn’t stand the book, feeling that it denigrated his people.

“And none of my attempts to explain that the Okies were the good guys – or that Steinbeck was a great author – would change her mind. She went to his grave not understanding why he had become my favorite writer,” said said Wooley.

This difference of opinion sums up the world of literature. In what some people find very offensive, others find value and meaning.

This week is National Banned Books Week. The fight against censorship has taken on new meaning as extremist movements successfully pull titles from the shelves, especially those around the themes of race and gender identity.

When looking at past contested lists, the titles complained of often reflect the era. Banned books are about displacing cultural discomforts, and that never gets old.

Literature can be controversial and important. Good literature can make a person think, debate, feel bad, and get angry. It can also be instructive, thoughtful and comforting.

Steinbeck’s story of the Oklahoma Joads making their painful westward migration was a bestseller when it was released in 1939, but also banned in several places and symbolically burned. Some thought it was communist propaganda. Farm groups saw it as a provocation to oppose agricultural labor practices.

Most notably, the Kern County Council, in California – where the fictional family ended their trip – voted 4 to 1 to ban the book from all libraries and schools in the county.

As if the book wasn’t available in the neighboring county. Just like today books are available online from any number of booksellers.

Much like “Grapes of Wrath,” when “The Autobiography of Malcolm X (As Told to Alex Haley)” was published in 1965, it won critical acclaim for its confessional narrative structure. A New York Times review called it “a brilliant, painful, and important book,” and it played a pivotal role in the civil rights and black arts movements.

Yet, then and now, challenges are issued accusing him of being anti-white for exploring themes of black ideology.

Tulsa author Hannibal Johnson, who wrote extensively about the 1921 race massacre, cites the book as one of his most influential.

“It offers an incisive look at systemic racism and an implicit call for social justice,” Johnson said. “It is an inspiring tale of personal growth and transformation against overwhelming odds. The truth born of lived experiences contained in such a book can be threatening to some. This truth reveals the injustices that belie American ideals and exceptionalism. American.

“Some may experience cognitive dissonance. Such truth, however, gives us the opportunity to do and be better; to come closer to our noble aspirations. Without such truth, we will always fall short. of our promise and our potential.”

In Oklahoma right now, many books are being challenged on the basis of LGTBQIA+ content, with accusations that it’s pornographic or “woke” (whatever that means). Some are graphic novels, and those images make adults uncomfortable.

Not all of these titles are intended for young children. But, for some young adults, especially those seeking information about sexuality and identity, these books can provide understanding.

The state does not have a law specifying that the books are illegal. The censorship approach is more insidious; it is through laws like the House Bill 1775 and threats to end teaching careers that have a chilling effect.

Many authors write books because they can’t find what they want to read. They don’t see anything that describes their life, their thoughts or their dreams.

Author George M. Johnson is the National Honorary Chair of Banned Book Weeks. He is a black non-binary activist and author of the best-selling young adult memoir “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” which ranks #3 in the hardest books of the last year.

“I know what it’s like to grow up and not have stories about my own lived experience, nor the truth outside of an ahistorical context,” Johnson said in a statement.

“This is a fight for the truth that has always existed even though it is rarely told. When young people are empowered with stories about the experiences of others, they grow into adults who understand the need for fairness and fairness. equality and have the tools to build a world like we have never seen.

Banning books and censoring thoughts to clean up the world — as many in Oklahoma are trying to do — doesn’t make young people stronger. It only makes them ignorant and less prepared for a more diverse world.

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