OT: Repression? No. Freedom of expression? Yes, please.


Maya Angelous, one of my favorite authors and one whose books have been challenged or banned.

Let me point out it is not Banned Books Week, not for another few months. But I got my regular email from the Strand Book Store in New York, and today’s email encourages readers to seek out banned and challenged books. I was very startled to realize one of my favorite books of all time, a book that enriched and expanded my understanding of fellow humans, has been banned or challenged in a number of schools and libraries.,

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is the first volume in a series of autobiographical works by the woman who become the first African-American female poet laureate in U.S. History, Maya Angelou. She is a true Renaissance woman with an incredible story to tell.

As a teen, I found the paperback in a bookstore on a trip to Montgomery, read the blurb on the back and thought it was something that would interest me.

It did more than interest me. It drew me into the world of young black girl growing up with her grandmother, a store owner in racially divided Stamps, Arkansas in the 1930s. Angelou’s lyrical prose had me gasping with laughter at some of the passages and weeping in sorrow at others. It’s exhilirating and harrowing. It’s an important piece of American history as it was lived.

I have re-read it a number of times over the years until I practically wore that paperback out. I purchased the other volumes in her autobiographical series and they are all very much worth reading. But IKWTCBS remains my favorite.

So why has it been banned and challenged? Angelou includes a candid chapter about her childhood rape by her mother’s boyfriend and the repercusions–how she basically quit talking for two years. There is nothing titillating about this memoir, only her clear-eyed honesty, which can be hard to face.  But face it we should.    I am very grateful no one ever took that book out of my teenaged hands and said, “You can’t read this.” My life would have been the poorer for it.

About fedoralady

I'm an LA native--Lower Alabama, that is. My husband of more than 30 years and I live here on a portion of my family's former farm with two gorgeous calicos and a handsome GSD mix. My background is art education, and over the years I've been a teacher, department store photographer, sales associate and a journalist. My husband, his business partner and I have Pecan Ridge Productions, a video production company, for which I shoot & edit video and stills and manage marketing. I also still write part-time for the local paper. I love movies, music, art, photography and books, and my tastes in all of them are eclectic.

18 responses »

  1. Thank you for the recommendation, Angie! I’ll check this book out, it sounds really interesting! Must admit I haven’t heard of Dr. Angelou before, it sounds as if she really is a compelling personality!

  2. Banning books, very scary! When I was visiting Berlin, not long after the fall of the Wall, I saw a monument to books that were burned by the Nazi’s. I was in the middle of a square. All you saw from above was plexiglass, flush to the ground, with light radiating from underground. When you went over and look down, you saw rows after rows of empty book shelves. Banning books leads to burning books which leads to destroying free speech.

    • Exactly. It’s a slippery slope you don’t want to start down. My parents encouraged us to read and never told us what we could read. I was reading on a college level in junior high and it helped me immensely in my schoolwork. My mother used to say with great pride that aside from school, we received a good education from all the books we had consumed.

      • I agree completely. I wasn’t quite at college level in Jr. High but I do have a test that shows I was reading at the eight grade level in the third grade. I also remember my mother taking me to the local library and plopping me down in the middle of the biography section when I was about 10 or so. I have three college degrees but I know I’ve learned more on my own reading magazines and books. In my classroom, I teach my kids that books are special. They open up whole new worlds. I have taught many kids to read and one of my favorite things to hear is when one of my kids says, “I love to read!” It makes my whole day! If one of our books in the classroom has been loved beyond repair, it is with great regret that I throw it away. I tape those books until they can’t be taped anymore! I recently reread “The Hobbit”. It was my original, taped up copy. The pages are brown and my name is written inside with a very immature hand. But, I can’t throw the thing away! I might spring for a new one if Richard’s picture is on the cover!!!

        • I had two older sisters, six and ten years my senior, and I read their books as well as my own from the school library. We lived out in the country and could not be members of the city library (today we have a wonderful city-county facility). I was a member of a book club before I could even read and remained in one for years. We had a pretty substantial home library and would read and re-read our favorites over and over and over again. I can recite passages of Little Women.
          I remember reading my oldest sister’s paperback copy of Jane Eyre at age 10 and re-reading it every couple of years and finding I appreciated the story more and more each time.

          I ended up taking it with me when I went to my first job and it finally ended up literally falling apart. It was one of those Scholastic Book Services paperbacks of which we ordered tons over the years. I think it was no more than 50 cents when Deb bought it, if that. We got our money’s worth!

          Oh, my. The possibility of a copy of TH with Thorin on the cover? I am smiling at the mere thought. 😀

          • We order from Scholastic several times a year in my class. I cheapest books are now $1. (And they’re not too many of those!) Love Scholastic:)

            • I am glad to hear it’s still going strong. I have very fond memories of the many hours of pleasure those books gave me (and still give me). I think a few of Deb’s cost as little as 25 cents. Of course, the fact she is a decade my senior and I am old enough to remember when Hair came out is an indicator that was a while back!!

          • I wonder if it’s the same Scholastic book company that we have available through schools here. I always bought from them when my son was at primary school, it was a fabulous source of well-priced and wide-ranging books.

  3. There is a thought that’s nagging me… I’d like to know what you think.. Should Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” be banned? Are there really no books that should be banned? At all?

    • The problem that I see with banning is, where do you draw the line as to what is and is not acceptable? Who makes those decisions? Do we want to put these matters in their hands? It’s a complex issue.

  4. That is an interesting question. “Mein Kampf” is a very scary book. I can think of others equally as scary that are revered today. However, I think that once we start banning books because one group of people doesn’t agree with it’s message, then books that you do agree with may be next. I think I’d rather know what hate group’s are spouting so that a defense can be made against their message. Forewarned is forearmed. Would Hitler have risen to power if that book had been banned, we’ll never know. I do know that Hitler mesmerized crowds with his speeches. Unfortunately, he knew how to spread his particular brand of hatred with his mouth. Having been there and seen the results of that time, I wish that he’d never been born. Walking though Dachau made me physically ill. I had to run out of the building with the ovens for burning bodies. I sat in front of the chapel crying until the rest of my group came out. That was a horrible, terrible time for our world. But I still don’t agree with banning books. Boy, you’ve really made me think! Thanks!

  5. No, you do not ban books. You educate readers so that the ability to read comes with the ability to think critically and to become aware of what others feel and think. It’s about asking questions: Why does this move you? Why does this appeal? Why does this make you sick? Why does this frighten you? Why does this horrify you? Why do you think this is a good idea or a bad idea? In this sense, “Mein Kampf” is one of the most horrifying books ever written, but how would you know if you hadn’t looked at it? Would you take someone’s word for it? Would you take someone’s word for it that another book was “good” or “bad” or even “the only” book?

  6. I agree with you,Leigh!
    @Laurie cornell: Is the world would be better if Hitler had not been born? I don’t know,I would like to belive so.
    I know that the same horrible things happened in Africa,America,Asia,entire nations were tortured and murdered.

  7. My impression from living in Germany for a long time — where there are laws banning the production and distribution of materials that glorify National Socialism and Holocaust denial — is that the ban makes certain kinds of materials even more attractive to people who have never seen them. Neo-Nazism thus becomes a form of rebellion, which is a disturbing trend. Having been forced to read Mein Kampf in grad school, I think a bigger problem with it than its assertions is that it’s sort of boring. Martin Luther’s On the Jews and their Lies is a much more disturbing read, and it’s easy to get a copy of that, and you can see immediately why several cities in the 16th c. banned its publication. Mein Kampf, in contrast, is mostly a lot of hinting, and you could come away from it with the impression that it can’t have been nearly as dangerous a book as everyone says. Most people who owned copies of it certainly never read it (it was apparently a frequent wedding gift in Germany during the war years) and even now, although it’s been banned in Germany since 1945, you find a moldy copy off and on in a used book sale. In essence, although it’s against the law in Germany to publish or distribute any material that glorifies National Socialism, the Internet has made that law meaningless. There’s plenty of crap printed in the U.S. and elsewhere and it makes its way into Europe almost unimpeded. So I tend to think that banning anything is sort of pointless now. If you want to ban something or get rid of it, what you have to do is impede the information network that transmits it. This is why efforts against attempts to restrict the Internet are so important.

    My parents never made any attempt to restrict what I read, although I know a lot of what I read bothered / bothers them. But I was limited to what was in the school library. I think a lot of parents assume that the school library should reflect their political / religious / worldview assumptions precisely because they don’t want to go through the work of confronting what their kids are reading. It’s a convenient timesaver to ban books if you don’t have time to treat controversial topics sensitively with your kids.

    • Thanks for sharing this historical perspective, Servetus. I agree, now that we all have access to the information highway online, banning is pretty much wasted effort. And banning is like the forbidden fruit for some; if it’s banned, then that makes it all the more desirable and irresistible to access for some people.

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