July 2, 2024

Natalie Moore: Books teach and inspire us. Banning them is anti-democratic

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Writing for WBEZ in Chicago, Natalie Moore talks to the former head of the American Library Association.

The brilliant Tracie Hall stepped down as the head of ALA earlier this year. She’s traveled around the country and globe railing against censorship and championing intellectual freedom. One of her latest projects is Litanies for Survival, a free community library in Humboldt Park. It’s a cozy and colorful reading room filled with donated books that have been banned elsewhere or are written by authors of color.

Audre Lorde, the late poet and former librarian, is the inspiration behind Litanies for Survival (installed in partnership with The Honeycomb Network and Rootwork Gallery). On the shelves are works by June Jordan, Alice Walker and Natalie Diaz. The goal is to have 1,000 books. When I visited in May, 850 had been donated.

“It has to originate in Chicago because, of course, the first book sanctuary was started here by the Chicago Public Library,” Hall said. A book sanctuary is a political statement — you can’t check the books out.

Hall has been to countless school board hearings on censorship. They nearly always start out the same: The person suggesting the ban didn’t even read the book.

“How is that a legitimate argument you’re starting with? You don’t know what the redemptive quality is in these books, why many of these books have become canonical,” Hall said.

Themes such as sexual assault, a parent’s substance abuse, suicide and exploitation of immigrant labor may rattle some adults, but Hall argues reading about these issues may help young people: Books are an escape and affirmation.

Hall is more worried now than ever. She calls the current era the “fourth wave” of censorship.

America’s founding principles include freedom of religion, press and assembly. In part, that’s because some texts were banned in Britain.

But those freedoms didn’t extend to the enslaved. Then, during World War II, Hitler and the Nazis raided and demolished libraries. In the early 2000s, books mentioning sexual orientation and gender fluidity began to be banned.

Now, there’s “kind of voracious banning of books by LGBTQIA and people of color authors, and social justice themes, that we haven’t seen since days that we don’t even want to remember,” Hall says.

Read the full article here. 

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