WSU Libraries to host Banned Books Week roundtable Oct. 4, share banned book favorites

A stack of books on a table.
Banned Books Week runs Oct. 1-7.

Banned Books Week, an annual event celebrating the freedom to read, began Oct. 1. To coincide with the observance, Washington State University Libraries, the WSU Roots of Contemporary Issues Program (RCI), and the WSU Department of History are hosting a roundtable discussion on Wednesday, Oct. 4. Titled “History in the Future,” the event will take place from 12:10 to 1 p.m. in the Terrell Library atrium. The roundtable will also be livestreamed.

Speakers are Erin Hvizdak, WSU Libraries’ humanities librarian; Debbie Nakata, U.S. history teacher, Pullman High School; Ashley Boyd, WSU Department of English; and Ray Sun, Department of History. They will engage with the audience in a conversation about current and past attempts to censor books as well as other historical information and knowledge in libraries and schools.

“For instance, we are seeing certain states restricting what can be said about various historic systemic inequalities in educational materials in the K–12 school system,” said Katy Whalen, RCI assistant director, associate professor of history, and roundtable moderator. “The panelists will discuss the importance of teaching and having historical knowledge; how they use history in their work; and what it means for us — in the classroom and beyond — if we see continued restriction of access to critical historical information.”

To commemorate this year’s Banned Book week, WSU Librarians are also sharing their own banned book favorites. WSU Libraries Associate Dean Beth Blakesley recommends three “perennial classics” that have been challenged and banned for decades: “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou, “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, and “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison.

“They were important books with strong, young female characters, and it always bugged me that some people were threatened by them, and by us girls by extension,” Blakesley said.

Instruction and Assessment Librarian Corey Johnson said he enjoyed sharing the picture book “And Tango Makes Three” with his two boys when they were young. Written by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson and illustrated by Henry Cole, the book is based on the true story of two male penguins at the Central Park Zoo who raised a chick together.

“The illustrations are fantastic, and the message that families come in a wide variety of ‘person combinations’ is one I want my children to take to heart,” Johnson said.

Social Sciences and Government Information Librarian Lorena O’English suggests “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America” by Barbara Ehrenreich, a boots-on-the-ground experience of poverty and low-paid jobs in the United States.

“I was a hotel maid for a bit in the ‘80s, and I heard stories like these from my coworkers,” O’English said. “I’m also thinking about the importance of finding representation and connection in books. I was the moderator of a WSU ‘Under the Big Tent’ discussion some years ago where LGBTQ+ students talked about the importance of books and libraries to them — essentially that they were windows and doors to self-understanding and connection. What happens when those windows and doors are slammed shut?”

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