Banned and beautiful

Walk into the Chapel Hill Public Library and you’ll see a wall filled with imaginative book covers. The seven large ones are the winners in the third annual competition for the library’s Banned Books Trading Cards. So beautiful they all are that it’s hard to remember, at first, that the books they represent were banned, at least in one time and place. Where’s Waldo, for example. Our Bodies, Ourselves. The Grapes of Wrath. The stories can be hard to believe.

Raising awareness of these controversies is what the program is about, and every year the interest in learning these stories has grown, according to library director Susan Brown. Building from past years, in which teachers sought out the cards to use in their own “Banned Books Week” curricula, this year the library partnered with the UNC Program in the Humanities to secure a grant from the Freedom to Read Foundation. Working with the Humanities Program’s Civic Education Consortium, they created a curriculum for middle and high school classes. A Teacher’s Institute for educators attracted teachers from across the state. The grant funded an additional 5,000 sets of cards, which were made freely available to teachers.

The cards were more widely distributed this year, as well–at Flyleaf Books as well as the major UNC campus libraries.

And the number of contest entries, according to Brown, has doubled every year, to more than 100. The project is a terrific forum for local artists, a celebration of our community’s creativity. And although we’ve come a long way, as a society, from one in which books are truly banned–as in, if you sold them you’d be prosecuted–the controversies keep coming.

The contemporary resonance is perhaps best illustrated in Libby Fosso’s winning selection representing Ralph Ellison’s 1952 Invisible Man, in which the shadow figure of a young man is surrounded by a collage of newspaper stories from Ferguson. Just two years ago, this classic novel was banned in Randolph County, North Carolina.

Worth a visit to the library–soon, for the posters will only be up for a couple of more weeks.




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