A panel of two dozen students and faculty from the University of Michigan’s English Department met Sept. 21 for an Interactive Banned Books Discussion to discuss a list of books banned in the United States. United and around the world during National Banned Books Week.
The American Library Association (ALA) first launched Banned Books Week in 1982 after a sudden increase in the number of citizens challenging books for their relevance in education and public spaces. According to a report by PEN America, a New York-based nonprofit organization, 2,532 cases of individual book bans were recorded in the United States between June 2021 and June 2022. Four schools in Michigan banned a total of 41 books during that time, including a recent book banning effort by Dearborn Public Schools that removed seven books from student access.
In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Briahna Anders, head of the English department’s undergraduate program, said the discussion represented the culmination of months of readings and small-group discussions organized by the Department of English. English.
“Over the summer, the department purchased (banned) books and then sent them to students so they would have a chance to read over the summer,” Anders said. “Around the beginning of the academic year, all the groups met and discussed what they read over the summer, and different themes emerged related to why the books were banned or disputed.”
During the panel discussion, attendees discussed the challenged books and weighed in on the effects of banning them.
Rackham student Monét Cooper spoke to the panel about her experience teaching Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History, a non-fiction graphic novel published in 1991 depicting a survivor’s recollections of the Holocaust. The novel found itself at the center of an academic freedom debate when the McMinn County School Board in Tennessee banned the book, citing issues of vulgarity and nudity.
“(My class) went to the Holocaust Museum and spent time with a Holocaust survivor to share her story…and one of my students turned to me and said that a family member told him the Holocaust was a lie,” Cooper said. “So I sincerely believe that when we ban a book, we ban the curriculum and we ban any necessary intervention in history and memory.”
English teacher Aliyah Khan presented “The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley,” which discusses Malcolm X’s thoughts on black nationalism and his own experience in the Massachusetts prison system.
“’The Autobiography of Malcolm X’, a black radical Muslim, is banned from so many prison systems. This is not just about ending black racial politics; it’s also about prisons,” Khan said. “How the prison systems are racially and historically problematic in this country and how the justice system is problematic.”
Books to Prisoners, a Seattle-based nonprofit, attempted to send a shipment of “The Autobiography” to prisoners in Tennessee. The shipment was returned with a note that said “Malcolm is not authorized”. The book had previously been banned in prisons in Texas and Florida. The Florida prison system has banned 20,000 book titles in total.
Khan also discussed a recent lawsuit brought by Heather Thompson, professor of African-American and African studies at UM. The lawsuit alleges that the New York State Department of Corrections’ ban on his book, “Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971,” was unconstitutional.
Young engineer Maria Fields, a representative of the central student government, told the Daily that she thinks access to books is important for the quality of education.
“As someone who spends a lot of time volunteering in the education space,” Fields said. Fields said. “I know it’s important for students to have access to books that benefit their education.”
Daily reporter Chen Lyu can be reached at [email protected]