Tag Archives: Harper Lee

Banned Books Week 2021

This week begins the annual “Banned Books Week” which lasts through October 2.  The yearly event is sponsored by the American Library Association and promotes literacy, free speech and a free press.  It’s the regular battle against the self-styled, self-appointed overlords of what is supposedly proper and improper for everyone to see and read.  I’ve always believed this should be a year-long event, as free speech and free press are under constant threat – not just in, but in totalitarian regimes, like North Korea, but even in open societies, such as the United States.

Keep writing and keep fighting!

The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom tracked 156 challenges to library, school, and university materials and services in 2020.  A total of 273 books were targeted for removal, but here is a list of the most challenged, along with the reasons cited for censoring the books.  Some are familiar classics, while others are new arrivals.

George by Alex Gino
Reasons: Challenged, banned, and restricted for LGBTQIA+ content, conflicting with a religious viewpoint, and not reflecting “the values of our community”

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds
Reasons: Banned and challenged because of author’s public statements, and because of claims that the book contains “selective storytelling incidents” and does not encompass racism against all people

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity, drug use, and alcoholism, and because it was thought to promote anti-police views, contain divisive topics, and be “too much of a sensitive matter right now”

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Reasons: Banned, challenged, and restricted because it was thought to contain a political viewpoint and it was claimed to be biased against male students, and for the novel’s inclusion of rape and profanity

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity, sexual references, and allegations of sexual misconduct by the author

Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin
Reasons: Challenged for “divisive language” and because it was thought to promote anti-police views

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Reasons: Banned and challenged for racial slurs and their negative effect on students, featuring a “white savior” character, and its perception of the Black experience

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Reasons: Banned and challenged for racial slurs and racist stereotypes, and their negative effect on students

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Reasons: Banned and challenged because it was considered sexually explicit and depicts child sexual abuse

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Reasons: Challenged for profanity, and it was thought to promote an anti-police message

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In Memoriam – Harper Lee: 1926 – 2016

Nelle Harper Lee

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.”

Harper Lee

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Happy Birthday Harper Lee!

1382129825000-AP-Harper-Lee-Museum

“Many receive advice; only the wise profit from it.”

Harper Lee

Born on this day in 1926 in Monroeville, Alabama, she is known for only two things: authoring “To Kill a Mockingbird” and being friends with fellow writer Truman Capote. Still, for (essentially) a one-hit wonder, she’s left an indelible mark on American literature.

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Still Searching for Harper Lee

Among American writers, Harper Lee remains one of the most enigmatic.  It’s been over 50 years since the reclusive author published To Kill a Mockingbird, but the breakthrough novel remains a bestseller, translated into dozens of languages, and is central to school curricula across the world.  The prestigious Folio Society is offering a cloth-bound version of this classic at a discounted rate for members.

To Kill a Mockingbird is somewhat autobiographical.  Like its central character, Scout, Nelle Harper Lee grew up in a small Alabama town; “quite the little tomboy,” according to her sister Alice who, at age 100, is still practicing law.  The Lee sisters’ father, Amasa Coleman Lee, was a lawyer who served 12 years in the Alabama state legislature.  In 1931, when Harper was 5, 9 young Black men were accused of gang-raping 2 young White women, a certain death sentence in those times and in that place.  The defendants, who were nearly lynched before being brought to court, were not provided with the services of a lawyer until the first day of trial.  Despite medical testimony that the women had not been raped, the all-White jury found the men guilty of the crime and sentenced all but the youngest, a 12-year-old boy, to death.  Six years of subsequent trials saw most of these convictions repealed and all but one of the men freed or paroled.

Lee was close friends with the more flamboyant Truman Capote.  In 1959, she traveled with him to Holcomb, Kansas to cover the murders of the Clutter family; what they both thought would be a minor criminal affair.  Lee ended up working as Capote’s assistant on the story, which culminated with In Cold Blood.  But, by the time Capote published his masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird had become Lee’s own magnum opus.  It arrived on the literary scene just as the nation was experiencing a major upheaval in social politics and race relations.  The book was a turning point in how America viewed itself and its proclamations of true equality and personal freedom.

However, it is the only book its author Harper Lee wrote and she has never been interviewed in almost 50 years.  Her Greta Garbo-like reclusiveness from the literary world has only increased interest in her, and – as often happens in the lives of such people – rumors replaced facts.  Some claim Capote is the true author of To Kill a Mockingbird; that she is descended from General Robert E. Lee; and that her mother had twice tried to drown her as a child.  Lee, obviously trying to stay above the ridiculous fray, won’t respond to such accusations.

Last year President Obama presented Lee – who will turn 86 on April 28 – with the prestigious National Medal of Arts.  Naturally she did not attend the ceremony.  Recently though, he recorded an introduction to a re-release of the 1962 film adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird.

This enduring fascination with the novel and its mysterious author will keep Lee at the forefront of modern American literature.

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