“Perhaps you will learn from this that books are sacred to free men for very good reasons, and that wars have been fought against nations which hate books and burn them. If you are an American, you must allow all ideas to circulate freely in your community, not merely your own.”
Those words of Indianapolis Public Schools alumnus Kurt Vonnegut were written to a North Dakota school board after they burned copies of Slaughterhouse-Five. The Shortridge High School graduate has several novels on the list of most frequently challenged classics. We’re wrapping up Banned Books Week – a nationwide event committed to raising awareness of censorship in libraries. The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library is a major participant in Banned Books Week, hosting events through September 27.
From classroom staples like “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Great Gatsby” to popular series including “Harry Potter” and “The Hunger Games,” many of our favorite books have been banned or challenged in public libraries. When asked about the banned book that first made an impact on his life, Arsenal Technical High School Media Specialist Gregg Nowling credits an unusual choice: “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret.” He says Judy Blume’s coming-of-age classic popular with girls helped him empathize with women, and eventually nudged him into becoming a feminist.
Although the most commonly cited reasons for challenging a book are religion and unsuitable content for the target age group, Nowling stresses it’s important for students to have access to a variety of viewpoints. “It’s kids getting to see these different views that allows them to figure out the world a little bit better,” he said.
IPS students can learn a valuable lesson from frequently banned author Vonnegut – perseverance. “He wrote one of the greatest pieces of literature ever and nobody liked it…but he just kept writing,” Nowling said. “He didn’t care that the critics didn’t like his books or that people burned them.” Kurt Vonnegut is proof that following your dreams can be hard work, but you can leave a lasting impact on your community and beyond.