Welcome to the final installment of our Banned Books Week celebration!

Why are books challenged?

Taking a look at the top ten books challenged in 2016, five of the ten list LGBT characters, transgender characters, or LGBT content as a reason.   But challenges change with time: from 2000-2009, “homosexuality” accounted for only 361 of 5099 challenges.  Butler University Libraries notes that additional reasons include racial issues, encouragement of “damaging” lifestyles, blasphemous dialogue, violence or negativity, and presence of witchcraft, among others.

Who challenges books?  In 2016, 42% of challenges were made by parents, 31% by library patrons, and 10% or less were made each by library board members or administrators, librarians or teachers, political and religious groups, government, or other.  From 2000-2009, challenges came primarily from parents, schools and school libraries, and public libraries.

Challenges to the Beat Generation

Last week, we talked about the Persepolis debacle in Chicago, but that certainly isn’t the first time a book has drawn such attention and fire.  Sixty years ago,  People v. Ferlinghetti was heard in San Francisco over the publication of Allen Ginsberg‘s book Howl and Other Poems due to “graphic sexual language of the poem.”
“Howl” is probably best known for its opening line

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,

Expert witnesses for the defense included professors, editors, and book reviewers, and Ferlinghetti was eventually found not guilty.  You can read more about the trial here, and get a sense of how “Howl” fit into the world of bebop and modern art here.  The first recorded reading of “Howl” was at Reed College in Portland; hear the recording here.  Today, “Howl” is one of the Library of Congress’s “Books that Shaped America.”

William S. Burrough’s novel Naked Lunch, which NPR describes as “a dark wild ride through the terror of heroin addiction and withdrawal, filled with paranoia, erotica and drug-fueled hallucinations” was brought to court to face an obscenity trial in 1965 after a Boston bookseller was arrested for selling it.  You can read more about the trial here, including excerpts of testimonies from Norman Mailer and Allen Ginsberg.  You can read an excerpt of the court documents here, including the statement that “the book could not be said to be utterly without redeeming social value, and so was protected by the First Amendment of the Federal Constitution from being adjudged ‘obscene’.”

Conversation Highlights

In 1975, Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs were in Chicago to give public readings.  During their trip, they stopped in to the studio to chat with Studs.  In this first clip, Allen Ginsberg talks about first meeting William (Bill) Burroughs, and how Burroughs was a teacher and mentor for him. This leads to a conversation on the addiction to language, or “language as dope,” as Studs puts it.  Ginsberg explains that Burroughs taught him “That language itself was an addiction and that we were all addicted to ticker tape repetition of conditioned concepts.”

Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs, among others, are part of a group known as Beat generation authors or Beat poets.  In this clip, Studs asks about what that word means.  Later, they talk about both Ginsberg’s and Burroughs’ time in Europe.

Studs and his guests make two Chicago connections during this conversation.  In 1959, the University of Chicago’s literary magazine Chicago Review planned to publish the last of three installments of Naked Lunch.  Once it was challenged, former Review editors Irving Rosenthal and Paul Carroll planned to publish it in Big Table instead, which also faced anger and pushbackAllen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, and Gregory Corso were in Chicago to give a reading to raise money for the Big Table publication.

In 1968, and Burroughs were in Chicago for the Democratic Convention protests. In this clip, Ginsberg talks about his testimony as a witness for the Chicago Seven and his attempts to chant “ohm” and “Hare Krishna” the courtroom.  This video shows Ginsberg chanting with a group before the convention.

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