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Freedom to Read Celebration

By Kerri Provost

September 27, 2011

“Our materials are for the whole community,” Henry Dutcher, the Director of the Enfield Public Library, announced on Monday evening.

Last January, an Enfield resident complained about how the town library was planning to screen Sicko. Instead of simply opting to not view the film, he took the complaint to a council meeting. With unprecedented speed, politicians pressured the library to cancel. After gaining a reputation for being backwards, Sicko was permitted to be shown in Enfield last February. Dutcher reminded the crowd at the Hartford Public Library that the materials in public libraries are not just for “one, two, or a dozen individuals”; they are for everyone.

During Monday’s “Beware of the Book” program, five people read passages from banned books, one commented on the frequently banned (and censored) The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Dutcher spoke at length about the choice to show Sicko. This event was moderated by Colin McEnroe and was introduced by Andrew Schneider, Executive Director of the ACLU of Connecticut.

Councilperson Luis Cotto read a passage from Bless Me, Ultima, a coming-of-age story that many have found controversial for religious reasons. Susan Schoenberger, author of A Watershed Year, read from Ulysses. Schoenberger said that as a writer, she admires Joyce’s unwillingness to self-censor. For those familiar with Joyce, the attempt to ban his work might seem unnecessary, as it is so inaccessible to most readers that the majority would give up before even being able to decipher to “objectionable” passages. Dennis House read from The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby, which he described as “crass” and filled with bad spelling; a grandmother in California pushed to have the potty-humor book pulled from her local public library.

Haddiyyah Ali and Aleyah Seabrook, sophomores from Capital Preparatory Magnet School (CPMS), read from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Later, the young women were asked why neither said the word that makes this book so controversial. The response was two-fold: self-respect and context. They explained that in context, they are not offended because they know it is historical and that it was a matter of Mark Twain working through his ideas about race; however, to read a passage out of context could be offensive to those listening who do not have all of the background information. Dr. Driscoll of Saint Joseph College explained that contextualizing this book means investigating the historical era it was set in, as well as looking into the evolution of Twain’s own attitude about race. Driscoll also works as a faculty member for the Mark Twain House and Museum’s “Born to Trouble — Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” program that is linked with CPMS.

In his welcome message, CEO of the Hartford Public Library, Matthew K. Poland, called the attempt to ban books “wrongheaded.” Dutcher of the Enfield Public Library described how he practices book selection and weeding out, rather than banning. Choosing which books to add to the collection, he said, is based primarily on local interest, not content. If a book goes AWOL, the library examines its circulation history; if there was very little movement of the book, then it is unlikely to be replaced.

Dennis House described how WFSB recently made a decision regarding what to/not to broadcast. He said that WFSB chose not to use the entire audio from the Komisarjevsky trial in which the defendant apparently details what he did to the youngest victim. House admitted that as a result, some may have a slightly less negative impression of the defendant.

During the post-reading discussion, Schoenberger said that as a writer, she would rather people read a banned book or just not read it, as opposed to reading a whitewashed version, as exists of Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. She described how something is lost about books when the material that some find offensive is omitted. Push was one example she gave of a “story [that] could not have been told in a sanitized version.”

Poland of the Hartford Public Library told the audience: “we’re protecting your right to read.”

Reprinted with permission of Kerri Provost, author of the blog RealHartford. To view other stories on this topic, search RealHartford at http://www.realhartford.org/.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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