Apparently it’s that time of the year again! Remember my posts (this, this, this, and this) from last year? I had a lot to say. I’ll always have a lot to say when it comes to restricting someone’s right to read.
If you’d like to see the lists of most frequent challenges, you can find it here thanks to the American Library Association. The link also shows a list of the most common reasons why a book is challenged. The ALA’s website has a ton of information about banning and challenging books, and there’s a list of events in honor of Banned Books Week.
I’m going to tell another very personal story now, one that doesn’t necessarily have to do with banning or restricting access to books, but one that I still think fits with the idea of Banned Books Week. I may not be a widely published author, but even I’ve been banned.
I was a senior in high school. At this point in my life, my novel writing had dwindled, but my song and poetry writing was at an all time high. I constantly had my pen and Notebook of Randomness (that’s it’s official title) out on my desk at school to write down lines in between work. My English teacher loved my enthusiasm for writing, and she didn’t care that I was working during class. Some of my other teachers did not feel the same way, but this story isn’t about them.
My English teacher frequently assigned us projects that had to do with poetry/song writing, and I loved it. This one particular project was to write a poem dedicated to someone who had a major impact on your life. Most people chose their parents or other relative that they admired. I, finding every loop hole imaginable, chose to write a poem about the life changing friendship I once had that turned out to be a horrible mistake. I had already written about 1,000 poems about the subject because of how it shaped me as a teenager. I would not be the person I am today without this event. So while it sucked and sent me spiraling into a terrible depression, I look back on it grateful at all I learned. So it was easy for me to weave the story into a poem. Here’s what I wrote:
You were new, so I said, “hi”.
We became close as time went by.
You acted kind, I was so naïve.
All the while you had a scheme up your sleeve.
I like him, so of course I told you,
But him and me just wouldn’t do.
You played me like a board game,
I tried not to care when he forgot my name.
Eventually I moved on in my life,
And you followed after creating strife.
I was sick and tired of you,
I became a monster as my anger grew.
A year went by and I forgot
The lessons of betrayal that you taught.
I repented of my anger and let go of the past,
Hoping we could be friends at last.
I told you about him as a test,
To see who you’d choose to like best.
I watched as you put on your little act.
He bought it, despite all that it lacked.
And though it hurt to see you win,
I ignored it to let my new life begin.
We went through the cycle once more,
And again it ended just as before.
I’m over it and I’m happy now,
It was an interesting show, please, take a bow.
You gave me something vital, remember it I must.
Than you for teaching who I can trust.
I was so proud of it. When I presented it to the class, everyone laughed and applauded. My teacher said it was her favorite out of all the years she’d given the assignment. I got a perfect score on the assignment and my teacher hung it on the wall in her classroom.
A few weeks went by before anything happened. I went to school, I went to work, I went home for dinner and homework. After dinner, my father received a phone call. It was from the family of the person I wrote the poem about. Apparently she ate lunch in my english teacher’s classroom and spotted the poem on the wall. She complained to her parents who complained to my parents and the school. The principal insisted my teacher take it down.
The next day at school my teacher pulled me aside and told me that she was required to take down the poem to avoid offending the other student. She made a lot of comments about how unfair it was, and told me she was going to fight with me on this. Then she said that if I was ever called to the principal’s office to discuss it that she needed to be included.
A few days later I went out to my car in the school’s parking lot to discover that someone had crashed into it. I was taken to the Vice Principal’s office to file a report. Of course, he chose that moment to discuss “the incident”, despite the fact that I was a total mess because the front end of my car was falling apart.
I don’t even remember what was said by either of us. I remember standing my ground about freedom of speech and how I covered the identities of anyone I wrote about. I left the office strong, but before I made it 10 steps, I was in tears. I went to my teacher who said she was going to talk to the Vice Principal about how poorly he handled the situation, and then she sent me home from school so I could take a day to recuperate. I went home in tears, and my mother helped me calm down. Not long after that, I started to feel different than I ever had before.
For the first time in my life, my words had influence. They caused impact, emotion, change. While it was painful to have my words challenged, it also felt amazing. It turned me into something I never thought I could be-significant.
My teacher saved my poem and hung it on her wall the next year. She said my poem deserved to be read. Those who ban or challenge books think they can take the power away from someone’s words, but all you do is bring more attention to them. We celebrate them.