Sherman Alexie Challenged Twice in One Month

Banned and Challenged Books, Challenge Reporting, Intellectual Freedom Issues

By: Sarah Hicks

Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time IndianIt seems the upper Midwest has a problem with Sherman Alexie. Within one month, his 2007 novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian has been challenged in two school districts. The first challenge occurred in April, in Prairie du Sac, Wis., while the second challenge occurred earlier this month in a northern Minnesota school district.

In Prairie du Sac, parents challenged the book, which was part of Sauk Prairie High School’s 9th grade curriculum, by arguing that it was unsuitable for classroom use. One parent cited “shocking words of profanity, sexual innuendo and violence” as their reason for wanting the book banned. Some argued that the book — which includes references to masturbation, profanity, sexual innuendo, violence and several slurs — “sends a very dark message that promotes disrespectful and immoral behavior.”

The challenge to the book in Minnesota’s New London-Spicer school district is based on similar concerns. Two written statements were submitted at a public meeting that called for removing the book from the 8th grade curriculum. One statement argued that the book “contain[s] passages that conflict with the traditional family values held by many in this community.”

The Minnesota challenge is still ongoing, and a date for the decision has not yet been set. Thankfully, in Wisconsin, the book has been kept in the curriculum. Many in the community saw value in Alexie’s novel. One freshman at the school said the novel “showed ways to express yourself through art, reading and sports, which is stuff we can all relate to. Today kids express themselves a lot through social media. But this book showed there are lots of other ways to do so.”

author Sherman AlexieSeveral parents also argued in favor of the book, saying that it’s important for students to gain an understanding of issues facing other people. On May 22, the superintendent decided in favor of the book, so for now it’s staying in the curriculum. We can only hope that the same happens in Minnesota.

Alexie’s 2007 novel, a semi-autobiographical story about growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation, is a frequently challenged book, regularly included in annual lists of banned books (it topped the list is 2014). It’s been removed from plenty of schools, so the fact that these challenges occurred isn’t overly surprising. I’m far more concerned by the fact that both challenges happened within a month or so of each other. While I can’t pretend that this is the first time the novel has been challenged twice in quick succession (it was pulled from the Meridian, Idaho school district in April 2014 and then challenged in June 2014 in North Carolina), it could be indicative of a larger problem.

It’s unclear yet whether more books are being challenged or banned now, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that were the case. The ideological distance between different groups right now is not being helped by our current political climate or news media. As always, if we are to bridge these gaps, the answer is not to isolate ourselves from the experiences of others, but to actively seek out voices that differ from our own.

The current challenges to Sherman Alexie’s novel do not involve libraries directly, but I would hope that we are all working against challenges like these, challenges that only seek to separate us more. Being aware of attempts at banning books (and standing against them) is obviously something we should all be doing as librarians. But hopefully, we are also working toward expanding the horizons of our patrons, introducing them to issues that they may not be aware of and helping them find the humanity in those they don’t know.


 

shicksheadshotSarah Hicks is a current MLIS student at the University of Pittsburgh, and works in a local public library. She has long been passionate about issues regarding intellectual freedom, and believes that these issues are becoming increasingly important worldwide, especially those related to privacy, surveillance, and censorship. Perhaps unsurprisingly, as certain stereotypes about librarians are not wholly untrue, she is both an avid reader (of many genres) and a total cat lady. Sarah can sometimes be found @exactlibrarian.

2 comments

  • Adults can read any book they so choose, but when it comes to our children, we are stewards of their welfare until they come of age. In any film, these words would be rated R at the least. Why do people like myself have to defend my desire to not put a stamp of approval on this work for children? Adults can do what they want, lets at least give our children the respect of disapproval for them, until they are adults?

  • Agree wholeheartedly! You are far too gentle though – it should be x-rated. My own children were a result of the influences of a father whose grandmother was an Indian child removed from her parents, robbed of her native name, and forced into a white man’s school. Her life was tragic from beginning to end and the beat went on through the lives of her children. Four out of five died from alcoholism. I divorced my children’s father because of his extreme verbal and physical, and emotional violence. He was never able to escape the pain of his father’s abuse as a result of alcohol – a huge common problem amongst native people. In saying all of that, I get it first hand. Our children need to know real history, not the watered down versions we were all fed in the school system until recent years. My objection is not based on alexie’s story, but his prolific use of vulgarity throughout the book, along with racial slurs. Just a great deal of unnecessary trash. I do not want my grandchildren exposed to this novel. I am raising them, I, and I only will make this choice for my boys. Schools, keep your hands off and stop crossing boundaries with our children.

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