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New H&SS course recognizes significant banned, restricted books

Credit: Celia Ludwinski/Photo Editor Credit: Celia Ludwinski/Photo Editor Credit: celia Ludwinski/Photo Editor Credit: celia Ludwinski/Photo Editor

It is ironic that a book about censorship, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, is banned in some locations due to its containing offensive language and questionable content.

Unfortunately, many other books that have become favorites of readers of all ages — books such as To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle, and Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison — are censored for similar reasons.

This past week, from Sept. 25 to Oct. 2, the American Library Association (ALA) marked “Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read.” However, at Carnegie Mellon, one group of students is recognizing banned books all semester long through a new course in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

The class, Studies in Print Culture: Censored Texts, is taught by English professor Kathleen Newman.

Studies in Print Culture examines book censorship from the mid-20th century to the present and explores political, racial, and sexual censorship.

The course first focused on the time of the anti-Communist blacklist; the class read Walter Bernstein’s Inside Out: A Memoir of the Blacklist and Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.
Next, the students will read Catcher in the Rye (J.D Salinger), To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee), Giovanni’s Room (James Baldwin), and The Price of Salt (Patricia Highsmith).

Newman was inspired to teach the class because she has “been researching writing about the 1950s for almost 20 years. I was ready to share some of my research with my students, and to see what lessons they have to teach me.”

She found quickly that her students had a great deal to teach her. “I was surprised on the first day of class when so many of the students shared their own experiences of being shut down for various activities deemed ‘inappropriate’ in high school — plays with sexual references and gay advocacy groups, to name just two.” said Newman.
Often books that are banned by some are extolled by others as masterpieces.

Scott Rosenfeld, senior English major and one of the students in Newman’s class, explained that, “really good books are also usually the most polarizing. A book is your favorite because there’s something in it that speaks to you-the ideas, the characters-and a lot of those strong ideas are ones that are controversial.”

“By banning books, you restrict the amount of culture people are exposed to and shelter people from the realities of life. And it’s unfair that someone can decide what others can read and form opinions of,” said Alyssa Danesh, a first-year in the Carnegie Institute of Technology.

One way Carnegie Mellon students can continue Banned Book Week is by celebrating their freedom to read a banned book.

A full list of frequently banned books , sorted by author and year published, can be found at www.ala.org/ala/issuesadvocacy/banned/frequentlychallenged/index.cfm.

The ALA also encourages individuals wishing to celebrate the freedom to read to volunteer at the American Civil Liberties Union (www.aclu.org).