Categories: Beat News

Banned Books Week & the Beats

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.

David S. Wills

David S. Wills is the founder and editor of Beatdom literary journal and the author of Scientologist! William S. Burroughs the Weird Cult and World Citizen: Allen Ginsberg as Traveller. His next book, High White Notes: The Rise and Fall of Gonzo Journalism comes out in November, 2021.

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  • i spent 14 months as a library volunteer in 2006-2007.
    we had a copy of 'on the road' but the thing is, it was in the 'young adult' section. i questioned it because of the adult topics but that is where i was told it belonged.
    we had a banned book week while i was there, where we pulled all the banned books off the shelves and displayed them.

    ginsberg said his greatest achievement with howl was the fact that teenagers would 'have to' read the word 'fuck' as part of curriculum.

    speaking of banning, i just got banned by the police for my blog. they do not take it as fiction. haha

    • What the fuck? You got banned from what?

      I've read that Ginsberg quote and I love it. I now aim to find an even more explicit word and popularise it.

      Kerouac's On the Road definitely is a young adult book in my opinion, although I'd hasten to add that perhaps it should be presented to "young adults" over the age of 15 yrs. Then again, I'd be proud of my 14 yr old brother if he gave it a read.

  • oh, i read it at that age, 15-16, too, but i am just surprised that the drugs and sex are allowed in young adult, especially when it makes them sound fun.
    i just saw this. i don't know how library systems work in other countries. in america, they were founded by ben franklin, who helped william penn fuck over the irish nation (yeah, pennsylvania was little william's 'gift' for his 'troubles' in ireland. like churchill, they all were rewarded for killing irish and taking the island for britain and look how long it went on)...but the library system here is pretty cool, except the government gets a list of all the books you read. no joke.

    Banned Books Readings - Philadelphia
    Every year a variety of groups, including the American Library Association and the ACLU, take a week to celebrate the freedom to read without censorship. The "banned" in the name refers to the hundreds of books that have been challenged and/or withdrawn from schools, public libraries, and bookstores. Banned Books Week this year runs Sept. 25-Oct. 2.

    What: Philadelphia Chapter Banned Books Reading

    Join some of Philadelphia's celebrities as they read selections from their favorite banned or challenged books!

    Where: Philadelphia Free Library, Central Branch, Auditorium, 1901 Vine Street, Philadelphia

    When: Wednesday, September 29, 7:30 pm


    Greg Frost, author
    Merrie Jones, author
    Louis Massiah, executive director, Scribe Video Center
    Susana Mayer, Salonnière, Muse & Occasional Clinical Sexologist
    Edward Pettit, Edgar Allan Poe impersonator
    Wesley Stace, author (a.k.a. singer John Wesley Harding)
    Dennis Tafoya, author
    Emceed by musician and performance poet Lamont Dixon.

    Free and open to the public

    Co-sponsored with the Philadelphia Free Library.

    • It's funny/scary that the government can know what you're reading. I remember seeing that parodied on the Simpsons - I think Lisa was the first person ever to check-out an Al Gore book.

      It's great that libraries are promoting "banned" books, rather than hiding them away. Who was it that said, "What is freedom of speech if there is no freedom to offend?" (or something like that?)

  • As I understand it, the original scroll version of On The Road, typed in 3 weeks on one long ream of taped together paper without any paragraphs, contained not the only the real names of the protoganists, but also some explicit scenes which Viking Press, the publishers, insisted be edited out in the 1957 edition, according to the notes of my copy of On The Road. Viking Press have since released (2007) the unexpurgated version, called On The Road, The Original Scroll.

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