Six Bridges Book Festival: Maureen Corrigan on Banned Books
For more than twenty years, Maureen Corrigan has been the book critic for NPR’s Fresh Air. She is also a columnist for the Washington Post as well as the Nicky and Jamie Grant Distinguished Professor of the Practice in Literary Criticism at Georgetown University, where her courses are very popular and her lectures have been described as “brilliant,” “hilarious,” “passionate,” and “eloquent.” She is the author of Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading: Finding and Losing Myself in Books and So We Read On: How the Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures, which was named one of the ten best books of 2014 by Library Journal. Corrigan knows a lot about books considered too dangerous to read and is the author and presenter of “Banned Books; Burned Books: Forbidden Literary Works”—a unique program on the subject of book bannings and burnings in America and Great Britain.
Sponsored by Fred K. Darragh, Jr. Foundation and Little Rock Public Radio.
For more information about this event, or the Six Bridges Book Festival, please call 501-918-3000.
Decide for Yourself: Five Banned Books That Everyone Should Read (by Maureen Corrigan)
- New English Canaan by Thomas Morton (1637). There’s a reason you probably haven’t heard of what scholars believe to be the first book banned in America: the banning worked! This first-person chronicle stoked the ire of Puritans and Pilgrims in the Massachusetts Bay Colony (and their financial backers back in Great Britain) because it presents an alternative view of early America. Morton, who has a scathing wit, expresses contempt for the repressive codes of The Massachusetts Bay Colony and his admiration for the Native Peoples. He also proposes an attitude of mutual cooperation rather than conquest. For his views, Morton was exiled three times, but earned the admiration of future readers like Nathaniel Hawthorne and Philip Roth.
- The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story edited by Nikole Hannah-Jones, Caitlin Roper, Ilena Silverman and Jake Silverstein. Where does the story of America begin? With the arrival of the Mayflower in 1620 or with the arrival of the White Lion the year before, carrying a cargo of enslaved Africans? This collection of essays, poems and fiction has been faulted by some scholars for alleged historical inaccuracies, but has sparked more widespread criticism, challenges, and bannings because of its insistence on centering the story of slavery in the American narrative. Like Thomas Morton’s New English Canaan, The 1619 Project tells a story that counters cherished American narratives about the past.
- Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955). How can one defend a novel narrated by a pedophile inspired, in part, by the real life kidnapping and abuse of 11-year-old Sally Horner in 1948? There’s nothing to admire about this novel . . . except its stylistic brilliance; its provocative on-the-road social commentary about mid-century America; and the character of narrator Humbert Humbert, who dazzles readers with his wit even as he repels us. Lolita is ground zero for discussions about how we judge the value—moral and literary—of art.
- Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1855). “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn,” declared Ernest Hemingway in 1935. That’s high praise from a writer not known for his generosity to other writers. But, dazzling as Huck’s voice is, his “coarse” language has gotten Huckleberry Finn banned somewhere in the U.S. ever since its publication in 1885. Early censors considered Huck a bad role model for the (male) youth of America. In recent decades, however, the objections to this contender for The Great American Novel are more likely to come from The Left. The “N word” appears over 200 times in the novel, which has also been understandably accused of perpetuating racial stereotypes. Is such language justified?
- Fun Home: A Family Tragicomedy (2006) by Alison Bechdel. The term, “graphic novel,” as we now understand it, came into use in the 1970s, coinciding with the social transformations of that era in regard to race, gender politics, and sexual identity. Given their often socially-pointed plotlines, as well as their appeal to YA audiences, graphic novels are now annual mainstays on the ALA’s “Top Ten Banned and Burned Books List.” Alison Bechdel’s classic, Fun Home, has been challenged, in particular, for its queer coming-of-age storyline.