The three-day Readers Against Banning Literature — known by its acronym RABL, pronounced “rabble” — reading began its life earlier this year during a happy collision between Carytown Books and the 2nd Annual James River Writer’s Festival. Originally planned as a “Come As Your Favorite Banned Book Character,” the event has evolved into a 72-hour read-a-thon.
“Seventy-two hours seemed aggressive at first, but with the amount of interest this has generated, I hope it’s enough time,” said Rick Zander, the owner of Carytown Books.
The very fact that books still get banned attests to the power of the written word, says James River Writer’s Festival co-chair Phaedra Hise. And it’s often the themes of magic, sex, race and religion that have the potential to land a book in the confines of banned or challenged purgatory faster than you can shout “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.”
The banned book reading “focuses on our literary community,” Hise says. “It has to do with literacy. Literacy isn’t just about being able to read, it’s about being well-read. Being well-read means you have access to everything that’s published.”
The event’s planners agree that the reading is not intended to change anyone’s mind, but simply to raise awareness. Zander says they “purposefully chose to read from books that people will say, ‘Gosh, that was challenged?’”
Starting Wednesday, May 19, at 4 p.m. and running through Saturday at the same time, Richmonders will read selections from 20 books on the American Library Association’s list of 100 most frequently banned or challenged books from 1990-1999. Local people signed on as readers include authors Ann McMillan and Howard Owen; storyteller Sam Marques; author and actress Irene Ziegler and media folks such as Style Editor in Chief Mark Mobley and William Millsaps, the executive editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
But Zander says reading slots are still open: “This is an open invitation, everybody who has a conscience about censorship and banning literature is certainly invited.”
Carytown merchants will donate beverages and munchies to sustain the epic three-day effort. And while local author and freelance journalist David Lawrence has already signed up for all three 4-6 a.m. shifts, Zander points out that the eager reader will still need a “pajama-party support group.”
Zander says though organizers will not be censoring the event, they will be aware that young children may be around. “We don’t want to forcibly expose people to something they’re uncomfortable with,” he says. “We will be creative in our scheduling of the excerpts.” SThe reading takes place from Wednesday, May 19, to Friday, May 21, at Carytown Books. To participate, stop by or call 359-4831.
A group of high school students will attempt to break the Guinness Book of World Records for straight aloud reading time at Carytown Books in June. Go to the James River Writer’s Festival Web site, www.jrwf.org for more information on such literary events in “Booktober” as a children’s book fair, the Virginia Book Awards and Reading and Writing Virginia.
These titles were chosen from the American Library Association’s 100 Most Frequently Banned or Challenged Books of 1990-1999.
The following information has been distilled from the Banned Books Project at solonor.com/bannedbooks
Books Challenged in Virginia:
“The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain was removed from a school system in West Chester, Pa., in 1994 for “offensive language, racism and promoting wild thoughts in kids” and was challenged in schools in Fairfax in 1997 for being “offensive to African Americans.”
“James and the Giant Peach” by Roald Dahl was challenged in schools in Wisconsin and Florida and removed from schools in Virginia for reasons of “crude language and encouraging children to disobey their parents.”
“The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank was challenged in 1982 in Wise County, Va., for “sexually offensive passages.”
“Forever” by Judy Blume was challenged by the Patrick County School Board in 1986 for “four-letter words, [talk] about masturbation, birth control and disobedience to parents.”
Other Challenged books that will be read from:
“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou was challenged as “pornographic” in a Texas school district and temporarily banned in Columbus, Miss., for being “sexually explicit.”
“Tom Sawyer” by Mark Twain was challenged in schools in both Texas and Georgia for “racism and offensive language.”
“The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger was challenged in school systems in Wisconsin, California and New Hampshire for “offensive language, sexual content, occultism and violence.”
“Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck was challenged in Arizona and Georgia schools, and removed from schools in Tennessee for “offensive language, racism and violence.”
“Bridge to Terabithia” by Katherine Paterson was challenged in Pennsylvania public schools for “Satanism and violence.”
“The Color Purple” by Alice Walker was challenged in California and banned from schools in Pennsylvania and West Virginia as “X-rated smut.”
“A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle was challenged in Florida and Alabama for “undermining religious beliefs” and using the name of Jesus Christ among a list of those defending the earth against evil.
“The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison has been challenged for having “sexual themes, offensive language and racial themes.”
“Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes was banned by Plant City, Fla., Emporium, Pa., and schools in Arkansas, Ohio and Wyoming because of “sexual themes.”
“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee was challenged or temporarily banned in Minnesota, New York, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and Arizona as a “dangerous book because of profanity and undermining race relations.”
“A Light in the Attic” by Shel Silverstein was challenged 1993 in a Florida school for “promoting disrespect, horror and violence,” or, according to the publisher, “encouraging children to break dishes so they won’t have to dry them.”
“Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley was challenged in schools in California because it centered around “negative activity” and removed from schools in Missouri.
“Native Son” by Richard Wright was removed from several school districts in New Jersey as recently as 1995 for being “dangerous, explicit and dishonest.”
“Lord of the Flies” by William Golding was challenged in Nebraska for implying that “man is little more than an animal.”
“Slaughterhouse-Five” by Kurt Vonnegut has been “banned by almost everyone at some point in its publication” on charges of “sexual content, violence and offensive language.” It was even burned in Drake, N.D., in 1973.
“The House of the Spirits” by Isabel Allende has been challenged for “sexual themes and offensive language.”
“The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood was removed from schools in Massachusetts for “profanity and sex.”
The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling has been banned from classrooms for fear that the books “will encourage children to experiment with the occult.”
Letters to the editor may be sent to: email@example.com