October 1, 2010
Indiana State University held its seventh annual Banned Books Outloud Thursday (Sept. 30) featuring a banned book that is celebrating its 50th anniversary of publication.
"To Kill a Mockingbird", written by Harper Lee and published in 1960, is number four on the Radcliffe Publishing Course's list of the Top 100 Books of the 20th Century. According to the Office of Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association, of these 100 books, almost half of them have been challenged or banned.
"To Kill a Mockingbird" has been banned and challenged for many different reasons over the years including its presentation of racism and language content.
The mission of Banned Books Outloud is for people to be reading from banned books out loud all day, said Darlene Hantzis, professor and director of the American Democracy Project.
The American Democracy Project created Banned Books Outloud to bring attention to the national Banned Books Week.
"The American Democracy Project is celebrating democracy which is out loud, democracy cannot be silent," Hantzis said. "The point is reading, not having an audience or entertaining, just reading and knowing you get to do that, out loud."
President Dan Bradley participated in the event by reading a significant passage from "To Kill a Mockingbird." The passage Bradley read centered on the decision of the jury in the trial which was a climactic event in the novel.
"That's one of the passages I can never get through without crying so I'm glad someone else read it today," Hantzis said.
Students also read from other challenged and banned books including "Lord of the Flies" and "Of Mice and Men."
Senior public relations major Ally Paauwe read from her favorite book, "The Great Gatsby," which she chose because it is her favorite book.
"I think that having this opportunity for the ISU campus is very important because it shows that even if the words on a page of a book are ‘banned' the voices of the authors will not be silenced," Paauwe said. "Banned Books Outloud allows students, faculty and staff to pay homage to the intent and creative vision of the authors who wrote them. It is our duty and our right to make sure that our voices and the voices of those before us are never silenced."
For the first time, "Banned Books Outloud" featured a panel of faculty from the English and history departments. Christopher Olsen, professor and chair of the history department; Robert Perrin, professor and chair of the English department and Mandy Reid, assistant professor of English, sat on the panel to discuss and answer questions from the audience about the novel and why it has been challenged.
"Some of the people who have challenged it say the book itself is racist and others say that the book doesn't help with racism because it's actually a protest of racism," Hantzis said. "It makes people think about [racism] and they'd rather people didn't think about [racism] because then people get angry."
The members of the panel discussed the reasons that the novel has been banned and agreed that the novel does not promote racism and that the issues of gender and class in the South are more interesting.
"The race issue, to me, is sometimes less interesting in these novels because it is so obvious," Olsen said. "Especially from a perspective like Harper Lee's, which is not as subtle an examination of race...as say Faulkner."
The novel has one narrator but she has many influences in her life that are multi-gender and multiracial. These different perspectives in the book are important for the balance of the book, Perrin said.
Perrin shared an anecdote about the process Lee went through to get her novel published. The first publisher rejected the novel. The second, J.P. Lippincott and Co., accepted it but said it was a remarkable series of short stories that were in no way connected and needed to be revised. This process took more than two years.
Through the revision process it became a strong novel that had many lessons along the way involving race and gender among other issues, Olsen and Perrin agreed.
President Dan Bradley reads from "To Kill a Mockingbird" during Banned Books Outloud. ISU Photo
Contact: Darlene Hantzis, Indiana State University, professor and director of the American Democracy Project, at 812-237-3658 and Darlene.Hantzis@indstate.edu
Writer: Alexa Larkin, Indiana State University, media relations intern, at 812-237-3773
Students read excerpts from "To Kill a Mockingbird" in celebration of its 50th anniversary.