You Can’t Read That! Banned Book Review Lookback: The Color Purple

You Can’t Read That! is a periodic post featuring banned book reviews and news roundups.

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YCRT! News:

Don’t know how I managed to miss it all these years, but last night I finally caught South Park’s banned book episode, the one where the kids are at first excited to read The Catcher in the Rye, then disappointed because they can’t understand how anything so mild could ever have been banned, then energized to write their own ban-worthy books. You can stream the entire episode here. Just for fun, here are Goodreads reader reviews of Leopold Butters Stotch’s two banned classics, The Tale of Scrotie McBoogerballs and The Poop That Took a Pee.

Are you an educator facing parental challenges to books you’ve assigned? The Kids’ Right to Read Project offers resources and even helps fight some challenges. Here’s a link to one of the current actions the project is involved in, the banning of Bless Me, Ultima from yet another school district … this one not in Arizona, for a change.

Speaking of Arizona, 48 Tucson Unified School District teachers have filed an amicus brief against HB2281, the Arizona law banning Mexican-American studies programs, the law behind the infamous TUSD book banning that took place in January 2012.

“‘The back of the book is described as deliciously demented and a twisted tale from a teenaged psychopath and it’s all about killing,’ said Kassie Bennet. She was shocked when it was in her 15 year old’s back pack for a school assignment.” Barry Lyga’s YA novel I Hunt Killers has been challenged by parents in a Lexington, Kentucky school district.

The seemingly unending war against Sherman Alexie’s prize-winning YA novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian continues, this time in a West Virginia middle school where it has been banned.

Here’s a fascinating discussion between an author and a reader who demands she delist her books on Amazon because Amazon also sells books by an Al Qaeda terrorist. Does this mean I have to quit driving my Volkswagen?

So far, so good: Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Color Purple will remain on school reading lists in Brunswick County, North Carolina.

YCRT! Book Review:

the color purpleThe Color Purple
Alice Walker

The Color Purple is a story told in letters. Letters, at first, from a barely-literate Celie to God, letters that are little more than raw observations of a brutal, degraded, hopeless life. Letters, later, from Celie’s sister Nettie, reminding Celie of their shared history, relating the progress of Celie’s stolen son and daughter, and telling of Nettie’s life as a missionary in Africa. Later still, letters from Celie to Nettie, tragically undelivered. Finally, letters once again from Celie to God.

At the beginning Celie’s life is so harsh and her writing ability so minimal it takes courage just to keep reading. But Celie grows and her life slowly becomes richer, especially when she meets Shug Avery, blues singer, former lover of Celie’s uncommunicative husband, and eventual lover. Her life begins to open up when Shug helps her find Nettie’s letters, which Celie’s husband has kept hidden from her, and eventually becomes a happy life as she gains her independence and comes to understand people, including those she once hated. Page by page, letter by letter, Celie’s story becomes readable, then engaging, then fascinating, then fulfilling. This is a marvelous book … I’m so happy I finally read it.

Why is The Color Purple always near the top of every banned books list? Why do parents’ groups still try to have it removed from school libraries and reading lists? Lots of reasons. Whites hate it because it’s black-centric, and the few whites depicted therein are contemptuous figures. Blacks hate it because it paints a gritty, unflattering picture of poor southern black life, complete with shiftless men, uneducated women, and incest. Bluenoses of all races hate it because there’s sex in it, specifically lesbianism. Oh, and then there’s drugs. And alcohol. And juke joints. And Celie, though she writes to God, doesn’t in fact believe in God, let alone Jesus.

What follows is just a partial list of more recent challenges and bannings of The Color Purple, extracted from the excellent Banned Books Awareness blog:

  • 1984: challenged at an Oakland, California high school for “sexual and social explicitness, and troubling ideas about race relations, man’s relationship to God, African history, and human sexuality.”
  • 1985: banned by a Hayward, California school’s trustee because of “rough language” and “explicit sex scenes.”
  • 1986: restricted at a Newport News, Virginia school library for “profanity and sexual references”; accessible only to students over 18 or who had written parental permission.
  • 1989: removed from public libraries in Saginaw, Michigan; removed as a summer youth program assignment in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
  • 1990s: challenged as optional reading in a Wyoming school; challenged at New Burn, North Carolina High School because the main character is raped by her stepfather; permanently banned in the Souderton, Pennsylvania School District because it is, according to one administrator, “smut.”
  • 1995: banned at Pomperaug High School in Southbury, Connecticut because sexually explicit passages “aren’t appropriate high school reading”; challenged at an Oregon high school for language, graphic sexual scenes, and its “negative image of black men”; challenged in Florida, Texas, and North Carolina.
  • 1997: removed from Jackson County, West Virginia school libraries.
  • 1999: challenged in Lima, Ohio after parents described its content as “vulgar and X-rated.”
  • 2002: challenged by a Fairfax County, Virginia group called Parents Against Bad Books in Schools.
  • 2008: banned by Burke County schools in Morgantown, North Carolina over parental concerns about incidents of homosexuality, rape, and incest portrayed in the book.

Personally, I found The Color Purple devilishly seductive … and can easily understand why some parents regard it as a dangerous book. If you don’t want kids thinking outside the box, you don’t want them reading books like this!

This really is a staggeringly good read. Alice Walker is a brilliant talent. The Color Purple will make you think. For sure, you’ll never forget it.

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