With Banned Books Week fast approaching, intellectual freedom and censorship is on many people’s minds. A recent news article out of Oregon brings this continued discussion to light once again. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) has chosen to boycott a local bookstore based on what it considers a racially offensive book display.
Each September, the Shakespeare Books & Antiques bookstore in Ashland, Oregon, features a banned books display featuring works such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) and Little Black Sambo (1937) as a means to educate visitors regarding frequently challenged and banned books. The store’s owner, Judi Honoré, states that this same display has been featured for a number of years and this is the first year of any such complaints.
The OSF drafted a letter asking that the items be taken down from public view; however, Ms. Honoré refused, citing that these books should be available in such times as a means of education, not for promoting racial insensitivity. She is not without her supporters, including City Councilor Carol Voisin. Following Ms. Honoré’s refusal, the OSF has called for a boycott of all goods and services which the festival might have purchased from the bookstore.
What is at stake here is the continuing discussion of intellectual freedom. That the display might offend some is not the point, rather that these books were banned for a reason and that such a display should create a dialogue concerning our past, present and future. Sometimes the harsh truths behind the past are unpleasant. The question is not about how to create palatable displays for all sensibilities, but rather what lessons might be garnered from the situation. This certainly is a teachable moment for all when works such as Huckleberry Finn and Little Black Sambo might be discussed alongside contemporary titles such as the Harry Potter series and Perks of Being a Wallflower in order to break down racial, ethical and generational barriers.
Linsey Milillo works in teen and adult reference services for the Lane Libraries in Fairfield, Ohio. She’s an avid blogger with interest in reviews, programming and discussing timely issues at the center of library and information services.