The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie
“Censorship is telling a man he can’t have a steak just because a baby can’t chew it.” — attributed to Mark Twain
Today’s Spotlight on Censorship profiles National Book Award winner and New York Times bestseller The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, which has caused quite a stir this year in Stockton, Missouri. Back in April, it was removed from the school curriculum when one elementary school parent complained about the book’s content. The Stockton School District Board then held an open forum for concerned local parents and citizens to discuss whether the book should be returned, with restrictions, to the high school library.
The board’s April decision inspired local protests against the ban and captured the attention of the Office for Intellectual Freedom, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, National Council of Teachers of English, and National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC). NCAC and OIF united with allied groups and sent two letters to the board, arguing that “[n]o educational rationale has been advanced for removing the book, nor could one be plausibly made,” to no avail. In a disappointing outcome on September 8, the school district board voted 7-0 to uphold the ban of the book from school classrooms and 7-2 to keep the book out of the high school library, despite the urging of many educators to keep it.
Alexie’s novel about a teenage boy growing up on an Indian reservation who decides to attend an all-white high school was already banned from a Crook County High School classroom in Prineville, Ore., in 2008 after one parent complained that the protagonist’s discussion of masturbation was “offensive.” The book was challenged again in Illinois in 2009 by a group of Antioch High School parents who objected to its vulgar and racist language, but was ultimately retained on the school’s summer reading list.
While The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was thankfully returned to the Antioch High School summer reading list, the school district did create a new committee — including parents — to review summer reading assignments and decide if parents should be notified if a selection contains possibly objectionable material.
On the topic of censorship of Part-Time Indian, Alexie said:
The opposite of this is censorship, which arises out of not taking kids seriously, which I hate. Chris Crutcher gave a great talk about censorship [for the ALAN Workshop], and I believe censorship is really about condescension. It’s the notion that kids don’t have complicated emotional lives, don’t have complicated responses to a complicated life. Censorship is an attempt to make kids and their lives simple. Being accustomed to that sort of treatment, kids just respond well to anything that takes them seriously.