Toni Morrison, Sherman Alexie Among Authors on Banned Book Lists

We're celebrating our favorite authors whose works have been banned at different points in history.

By Julianne Hing Oct 03, 2011

Every year parents, some administrators and the occasional library patron will raise a stink about a book libraries keep on their shelves. Or it’s a book that educators are attempting to use in their classrooms with students. And every year at the end of September there’s one week to celebrate those books, and the freedom to read. Banned Books Week, which ended on Saturday, sponsored by the American Library Association and other literacy and publishing groups, is a celebration of reading, and also intellectual freedom.

Here at Colorlines, it’s an opportunity to celebrate books by writers of color, many of them classics, that have been deemed too offensive for reading in the classroom. According to the American Library Association, Richard Wright’s "Native Son" faced challenges in 1978 and 1998 from parents in New Hampshire and California who said the language was too explicit and the content too violent for their high school students to read. "Invisible Man" by Ralph Ellison inspired a five-month controversy in Yakima, Washington in 1994 when parents objected to profanity and violent and sexual imagery in the book.

And these days, it’s Sherman Alexie’s novel "The Absolutely True Diaries of a Part-Time Indian," about an American Indian boy’s struggle to find and be true to himself, which parents are getting pulled out of classrooms. Crook County in Oregon did it in 2008, and last year a parent successfully got the Stockton, Missouri school board to ban the book in classrooms. Parents have taken issue with the swearing and mentions of racism and sex in the book. (Take a quick scan at the list of other frequently banned and challenged books and adults, it seems, don’t handle sex so well.)

Alexie has pushed back against critics who’ve called the content of his book inappropriate for young readers. 

"When some cultural critics fret about the "ever-more-appalling" young adult books, they aren’t trying to protect African-American teens forced to walk through metal detectors on their way to school," Alexie wrote for the Wall Street Journal earlier this year. "Or Mexican-American teens enduring the culturally schizophrenic life of being American citizens and the children of illegal immigrants. Or Native American teens growing up on Third World reservations. Or poor white kids trying to survive the meth-hazed trailer parks. They aren’t trying to protect the poor from poverty. Or victims from rapists."

"They are simply trying to protect their privileged notions of what literature is and what it should be."

Here’s a roundup of titles by writers of color that have been pulled off of library shelves and out of classrooms. Join us as we celebrate Banned Book Week. I for one will be sure to spend time with a book that’s daring and honest and beautiful.

Song of Solomon
by Toni Morrison
The Kite Runner
by Khaled Hosseini
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
by Maya Angelou
Bless Me, Ultima
by Rudolfo Anaya
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
by Sherman Alexie
Their Eyes Were Watching God
by Zora Neale Hurston
Invisible Man
by Ralph Ellison
by Toni Morrison
The Bluest Eyes
by Toni Morrison
The Color Purple
by Alice Walker