The word “story time” often invokes images of children sitting cross-legged in a circle as they listen to their teacher reading something akin to Dr. Seuss. However, the story time hosted by Concordia in the Wall Lounge on Tuesday, Sept. 25 was nowhere near as innocent. At “Adult Story Time: Banned Books Edition,” six Concordia staff and faculty members read excerpts from their favorite challenged books, all which would have sent shivers up and down Dr. Seuss’s spine.
Banned Books Week, an annual event that celebrates the freedom to read, was introduced in 1982 as a response to an unanticipated surge in the amount of books that were being challenged in academic settings. “Challenging” refers to an attempt made by a person or group to remove a reading material from a library, store or curriculum. Books are usually challenged when they contain one or a combination of contentious subject matter, such as racial themes, mental illness, alternative lifestyles, unpopular religious or political beliefs, profanity, sex and violence. Many of the books read at Adult Story Time contained situations involving these vexed matters.
Addressing the controversial topics pertinent to our world through means of literature is vital to our society, as books have the power to spark conversations that otherwise wouldn’t have occurred among diverse audiences.
Jennie Archer, the First-Year Experience Librarian at Concordia, explained, “Books can highlight voices that aren’t always heard and expose us to new viewpoints, which is important as we promote diversity, equity, and inclusion on campus.”
Joan Kopperud, a professor of english at Concordia, further stressed the importance of Banned Books Week.
“Having a designated week to focus on banned books raises awareness of book challenges that are on the rise. It also gives people a voice to stand up and oppose censorship,” she said.
One of the main goals of Banned Books Week is to combat censorship by emphasizing the value of free, open access to information. Thanks to Archer, who was also the organizer of “Adult Story Time: Banned Books Edition,” Concordia was able to take part in this national dialogue.
Archer was inspired to orchestrate this event after a conversation with Kopperud last spring. They were discussing Kopperud’s Dangerous Literatures class and had decided that it would be fun to host a banned books event here on campus. Archer believed that it was fitting to celebrate by reading banned books aloud, since this year’s Banned Books Week theme was “Banning Books Silences Stories.”
Six Concordia faculty and staff members jumped at the prospect to read aloud excerpts from their favorite challenged books for Adult Story Time. The lineup for the event was comprised of Joe Kennedy, who read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, Laura Probst, who read Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, Najla Amundson, who read Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, Joan Kopperud, who read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, Eric Eliason, who read Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison and Jacqueline Bussie, who read her own Love without Limits.
Elisa Bumblies, a junior transfer student from Germany, was surprised that a lot of the books read from that night had been challenged.
“I could see why some people’s perspectives wouldn’t agree with a few of the passages, but, in general, I wouldn’t have expected any of these books to be challenged,” she said.
While “Adult Story Time: Banned Books Edition” provided an opportunity for Concordia students to learn more about the censorship dilemma by listening to excerpts from challenged books, another aim of this event was to not let the battle against censorship come to a ceasefire beyond the bulwarks of the Wall Lounge. Students can actively combat censorship by exercising their freedom to read by reading banned books, thinking about why a banned book might make an uncomfortable one, informing themselves on the challenges concerning the right to read and, as Laura Probst, director of the library and one of the featured Adult Story Time readers, overtly put it, “Call censorship out when you see it and be an advocate for those whose voices are silenced.”
Banned Books Week and events like “Adult Story Time: Banned Books Edition” can only do so much when it comes to confronting issues of censorship. In order for students to continue the fight against censorship, they need to keep educating themselves and others on the matter.