10th Annual Banned Book Readings Promote Expression and Community – The Daily Sundial

CSUN’s 10th annual Banned Book Readout focuses on censorship in the United States and its impact on building communities.

The CSUN Department of Journalism and University Libraries hosted the event in conjunction with the CSUN Queer Studies Program and Center for Pride. This is the first time in the event’s history that the latter two projects are involved, as many of the books are LGBTQ-themed.

The campaign, subtitled “Stop Aside,” underscores the importance of belonging and inclusion, particularly in the context of Florida’s Parental Educational Rights Act and the Stop Wrongs Against Our Children and Employees Act (also known as the Stop Waking Act) after. According to CSUN journalism professor Elizabeth Blakey, the theme of the event is to emphasize that “all books belong to the bookshelf, just as all belong to our community” and that “no one group or individual can drive anyone out.”

Audiences listen to the 10th Annual Banned Books Readout at CSUN on September 29, 2022 in Northridge, California. The event, dubbed “Belonging on the Bookshelf,” is the series’ first in-person return to the COVID-19 pandemic since its inception. (William Franco Espinosa)

Katherine S. Dabbour, associate librarian at the University Libraries, said that banning books in a democracy would be counterproductive, and that it shouldn’t be up to others to decide what books people read or don’t read.

“If you don’t like a book, put it on the shelf,” Dabbour said.

From January to August of this year, the American Library Association recorded 681 attempts to ban or restrict library resources, with 1,651 titles targeted. Most of the selected titles read are on ALA’s list of the ten most challenging books for 2021. Some titles include “The Hate You Give,” “This Book Is Gay,” and “Gender Queer: A Memoir.”

Students in Blackie’s American Journalism and Media History class read passages from selected books aloud to the audience.

Jonathan Iveson’s novel The Lawn Boys was one of the books selected for reading. This book was the second biggest challenge last year. Journalism student Fatimah Jackson read a passage about community in this coming-of-age novel.

“No matter who you are, what your last name is, no matter where you come from, no matter how you swing, no matter what obstacles you face, just remember: You are bigger than that,” Jackson read. “As that person said: you include many people.”

CSUN student Gabby Pineda reads a passage from Jay Asher’s book “Thirteen Reasons Why” to a CSUN audience on September 29, 2022 in Northridge, California. The book covers topics related to mental health and suicide that some schools also consider mature students. (William Franco Espinosa)

Karimah Tennyson-Marsh, an eighth-grade teacher and writer, talks to the audience before reading aloud. She describes how she helps students of different races, genders, and sexual orientations by introducing books that reflect student experiences and identities.

Teachers share how limiting access to different perspectives limits young people from feeling included.

“If we only allow certain voices to be read aloud in class, then we’re telling 50 percent of our students that they don’t matter,” Tennyson-Marsh said. “Telling students they don’t matter doesn’t create community, but it actually backfires.”

Blakey made comments to The Sundial ahead of the event, noting that some politicians and their push for censorship are “unnecessary” and a “weak government” strategy.

“There comes a time when the government’s attempts to censor human rights and human expression become so harmful that you have to resist,” Blakey said. “You have to fight back and fight for free speech.”

CSUN student Emelie Cuellar reads a passage from Jesse Andrews’ book “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” to a CSUN audience on September 29, 2022 in Northridge, California. The book has been banned by some schools for pornographic content. (William Franco Espinosa)

Journalism student Justin Parrott, one of the event’s readers, said hosting the event was a way of showing acceptance to those who were “terrified to come out and express their feelings.”

“It’s nice to have these banned books at Cal State Northridge, just to let people know that they feel comfortable, that they feel accepted, and that they have value here,” Parrott said.

Blakey gave a talk titled “Belonging on the Shelf – How Do We Respond to Censorship?” The journalism professor said she was “overwhelmed” by the number of banned books and disagreed with excluding outside voices. She highlights the connection between community building and expressing difference.

“We are a strong community when we are united by the beauty of our differences and our shared humanity,” Blakey said. “We are all members of a community and we have more similarities than differences.”

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