For those of you who don’t know – and that won’t be many in this age of Twitter & Facebook – it is Banned Books Week. This valuable celebration of the First Amendment was begun in 1982 Judith Krug, and is celebrated annually in the last week of September.
During each Banned Books Week we are asked to celebrate books whose freedom has been ensured by the First Amendment and to remember those titles against which so many misguided do-gooders attempt to rail. It is an important week because it is so very easy to take for granted the tremendous freedom we have in the west. Pioneering authors and law-makers have sought to ensure the freedom to read and disseminate information.
Probably at the forefront of most minds right now is the struggle of Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti to ensure the publication of “Howl.” The obscenity trial, which was of course won by Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti, is remembered in Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s forthcoming movie, Howl, starring James Franco. It’s hard to overstate the importance of this victory against oppression.
Several years later William S. Burroughs was in court, defending his masterpiece, Naked Lunch. Thanks to the testimony of writers and activists like Ginsberg, Naked Lunch’s short-lived ban was overturned, setting another milestone in the road to freedom. It was the last major obscenity trial in the United States.
According to the American Library Association, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road was also banned, or at least challenged in the United States at some point. I cannot, however, find any proof of this. If anyone is aware of where or when this occurred, please let me know.