• Archuleta A. Chisolm

The Freedom to Read: Banned Books Week and Black Authors


Banned Books Week (September 27 – October 3) is a celebration of the freedom to read. It was launched in 1982 after numerous books were deemed to taboo for classrooms, libraries, and bookstores. Some of the books contain graphic violence or blasphemy. But for Black authors included on the list, including my three favorites: Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, and James Baldwin, oftentimes simply writing about the Black experience in America can be controversial and violent.

It’s always been important for Black readers to see themselves in stories and films. Representation has always mattered. Everyone has a right to freedom of speech and expression. One of the things I often tell aspiring writers is to never waiver your voice. The truth isn’t always pretty and wrapped up in a bow. Our stories can be painful and twisted, however, truth must prevail.

Freedom to write. Freedom to read. In honor of Banned Books Week, I encourage you to order these three books and savor them. Links to The Lit Bar Bookstore provided.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” Maya Angelou

In this autobiography, Angelou describes the racism and abuse she endured which are really examples of Black excellence and overcoming adversity. Despite being on the bestseller list for two years, the book is banned in Alabama for “inciting bitterness and hatred towards white people.” In Colorado, the book was called a “lurid tale of sexual perversion,” for describing Angelou’s molestation as a child and the subsequent effect the abuse had on her as an adolescent.

In a 2009 interview, the late poet said ignorance may be behind why the book was banned. “I’m always sorry that people ban my books,” Angelou said. “Many times, I’ve been called the most banned. Many times, my books are banned by people who never read two sentences.”

Go Tell It on the Mountain,” James Baldwin

Published in 1952, “Go Tell It on the Mountain” describes the lives of Black people in Harlem during the early 20th century and speaks frequently about religion and racism. Along with a scene depicting rape and violence against women, the book is also banned for depicting a young boy coming to terms with his homosexuality.

Beloved,” Toni Morrison

When Toni Morrison died in 2019, she was acclaimed as being one of the most prolific Black female writers in the country. With dozens of novels and plays, much of her work was focused on the role of race and womanhood in society. Her 1987 novel “Beloved,” however, placed her on the banned books list.

“Beloved” is based on the life of Margaret Garner, an enslaved woman who killed her child to keep her from a life of slavery. In 2016, Richard Black, a Republican member of the Virginia State Senate, said the book was “moral sewage” and was too violent to be taught in high school English courses.

In a 2009 interview, Morrison warned against censorship of literature and art. “I contemplate with dread the erasure of other voices, of unwritten novels, poems whispered or swallowed for fear of being overheard by the wrong people. … That thought is a nightmare.”


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©2020 ARCHULETA CHISOLM