The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas-Austin will premier an exhibit this fall dedicated to the history of censorship in the United States in the years between World War I & II. The Banned, Burned, Seized, and Censored exhibit will feature first edition copies of some of the most frequently challenged pieces of literature in American History as well as photos, letters, and other primary source documents from the era. The exhibit ends January 22, 2012.
From Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer to Eric Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, the exhibit shows how and why censorship was able to thrive in the United States during the turbulent times that were framed by the two Great Wars. The exhibit opens September 6th at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin which is located at the corner of 21st and Guadalupe. I’m excited about this exhibit, and since I’ll be in Austin I will definitely check it out as soon as it opens. The questions being asked are important, and as Assistant Director and Curator for Academic Programs Danielle Sigler explains the, “exhibition focuses on how censorship happens in one country, during a particular era.”
According to the press release:
Between the two world wars, censors waged war on “objectionable” literature using tactics from extra-legal intimidation to federal prosecution. Larger-than-life personalities battled publicly over obscenity, “clean books” and freedom of expression while writers, agents and publishers attempted to navigate the increasingly complex world of American censorship.
One thing I find very interesting about this exhibit is the multiple methods of enacting censorship in the 20s, 30s, and early 40s in the United States. Not only were official state run institutions involved in the censorship process (U.S. Post Office & the Treasury Department), but the publishing houses themselves were complicit in the censorship. I’ve always been interested in the corporate aspects of censorship and how profit dictates what can and cannot be said in America. Banned, Burned, Seized, and Censored is right up my alley.
Built from the extensive collection of the Ransom Center and UT-Austin’s research collections, the exhibit boasts itself as a look into censorship from a variety of perspectives including representatives of the government, the artists themselves, and most notably from the people who argued the legalities of censorship. Many of the items in the exhibit come from the collection of Morris Ernst which the center will open up for research later this year. For researchers of American culture and popular culture this is especially exciting.
The exhibit couldn’t open at a better time. This year’s Banned Books week which is sponsored by the American Library Association (ALA) begins September 24 and ends October 1, 2011. The week of literary festivities is the ALA’s way of reminding us what ‘freedom of speech’ really means in this country. Of the millions of books published in the United States and around the world, there are 97 books listed by the ALA that are frequently challenged by various groups. These are the “classics” of American and World literature and include some of Funk & Beans’ favorite literary works. These include revolutionary titles such as George Orwell’s 1984 and Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. Where would we, as a nation of free-thinking people, be without these two novels? What would our society have become had we not been made aware of the filth and disgusting reality that was the meat packing industry at the turn of the 19th Century? These questions are critical to our foundation as a democratic and free society.
In honor of the exhibit, banned books, and the not-so free speech we hold so dear in the United States, here are ten of our favorite banned books. After you see our list, have a look at the list of frequently challenged novels and tell us which ones are your favorite.
- 1984, by George Orwell
- Animal Farm, by George Orwell
- The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway
- Native Son, by Richard Wright
- Go Tell it on the Mountain, by James Baldwin
- As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner
- Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
- One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey
- The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
- The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck