By Lakshmi Sunder
Banned Books Week has been practiced since 1982. Since then, the number of books that have been censored has only burgeoned, increasing dramatically in recent years. In the first eight months of 2022, there have been 681 attempts to censor 1651 different books, more books than were censored in 2021. These books include cornerstones of American literature and history—novels like The Color Purple, The Bluest Eye, and The Diary of Anne Frank—along with more surprising texts like Harry Potter and The Lorax.
Now more than ever, it is imperative that we advocate against the censorship of books that appeal to more diverse audiences. The majority of texts that have been banned are those by authors of color and queer authors. School curricula is already lacking in its diversity, even though school is a key space to unlearn systems like white supremacy and heteronormativity, from kindergarten picture books to AP® Literature classical epics.
We cannot diversify our curricula if censoring “controversial” books (books that push against our preconceived notions) become the norm. We cannot diversify our curricula if authors and the groups they represent are being robbed of the chance to amplify their voices and become current cornerstones of literature.
While our ultimate goal should be to systemically undo censorship, there are also practices we can exercise as individuals:
1. Start a “Banned Books” Book Club. Get together with some peers and support marginalized authors who have recently had their books banned. Excellent examples include Maia Kobabe’s Gender Queer (the most challenged book two years in a row), Jonathan Evinson’s Lawn Boy, and George M. Johnson’s All Boys Aren’t Blue. Meet at a consistent time (perhaps once a month) to read and discuss your thoughts on these censored texts.
2. Join Youth-led Organizations. Organizations like Diversify Our Narrative can be an excellent outlet to advocate for anti-racist curricula and schools and push against censorship. You can start a regional chapter or join one that has already been established.
3. Petition Your District Superintendents to Reconsider the Censorship of a Book. Start a social media account that promotes a petition to advocate against the banning of a specific book in your district or school. Get as many students and faculty as possible to sign the petition. Once you have a sufficient amount of signatures, reach out to your district superintendents/school heads or attend a school board meeting to campaign against this censorship.
4. Create a “Little Free Library” of Banned Books. Reach out to local social justice centers and ask if you can set up a little free library of banned and diverse books outside their facilities. Compile banned books (you can ask students at your school to donate books) and put them in a box in front of these community centers. Any passerby can take a book or add one!
5. Write a Letter to an Author of a Banned Book. Write an encouraging letter to an author of a banned book, and promote their work on social media accounts and in your community. Request to do an interview with them, and reach out to publications (especially those that support marginalized writers) to see if you could publish a review of that novel in one of their issues or on their blog. Good publications include Apogee Journal, The Acentos Review, and our very own, The #TWP Quarterly Lit Zine!
These are just small ways for you, as a literary citizen, to make a huge impact on the freedom of choice when it comes to what you let your mind explore though literature.
By Elizabeth Comas
A melody strung together with instruments of all kinds—from pianos and guitars to drums and horns. Music is a beautiful piece of art that can make us feel different emotions. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Combining performing arts and literary arts to create something inspiring! And not only that—every song is unique, with different rhythms, lyrics, instruments, voices, and moods.
Music can make us feel bigger than something that is. You ever dance to a song or nod your head to the beat? Or imagine a made-up scenario to the lyrics of the song? These small things are not appreciated that often, in fact, underground musicians don’t get too much recognition. The reality is music is all that. The people that do enjoy music or regularly listen to it outweigh the ones that don’t.
Arguably, many frown upon the idea of a career in music. They don’t see it as a “real” job. However, music brings joy to millions of people and makes us feel distracted. Sometimes, a distraction can be just what we need. I know from experience that music can save lives, especially those songs with a theme or message behind it. When I was in a rough place after my pet died, I listened to music to help me cope, specifically emotional songs. It made me feel understood and I didn’t feel as alone. It may seem contradictory to listen to sad songs when you’re sad enough as it is but for me, it gave me an outlet to feel better. I didn’t feel alone in the world. I felt connected. Music is more important than one thinks, and the amount of time spent making a melody woven with instruments is powerful.
Music also can serve as motivation to get work done, believe it or not. For instance, in a 2013 study called, “The Effect of Music on the Human Stress Response,” by Myriam V. Thoma, Roberto La Marca, and Urs M. Nater, it’s stated that “Listening to music prior to a standardized stressor predominantly affected the autonomic nervous system (in terms of a faster recovery), and to a lesser degree the endocrine and psychological stress response.” Clearly, with a reduction in stress, it can encourage people instead of just being bored in silence and make the time go by faster, stimulating the brain to work harder. There are so many benefits of music to the listeners, yet music is not appreciated enough.
Music is more than just songs. It’s words, it’s writing, it’s inspirational. It combines math, fine arts, reading, and writing. Not just one thing or two things, but multiple things. It’s beautiful.
Putting on a pair of earbuds and closing my eyes, I hear a melody. Simple, yet complex. Basic, yet elaborate. Calm yet chaotic. And for once, I can relax.
By Lakshmi Sunder
Books featuring diverse characters—POC and queer main characters—have increasingly been accepted in the mainstream and popularized through platforms like BookTok (think: The Song of Achilles or The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo).
While this is an admirable step in the right direction, many of these books are ultimately tragedies. As characters reckon with their identities, they spend much of their “hero’s journey” being saved by someone else or not saved at all. Happy endings are a rarity.
It is crucial that we do not sugarcoat what it means to be marginalized, but it is just as crucial to show marginalized characters feeling joy and the typical kinds of sadness—AKA the classic pitfalls of life which are unpleasant, but distinctively not tragic. Let’s see more novels with queer teens falling in love—ones that don’t end in their deaths; let’s see more novels with POC characters that don’t only combat white aggression, or have it be combatted for them. Below is a list of ten such books:
If you have any titles, send them to us! We'd love to add them to our goodreads bookshelf!
By Lakshmi Sunder
Going back to school also means confronting the darker parts of American life, including the prevalence of school shootings and other gun-related violence.
Three days after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, which took the lives of 19 students (the youngest of whom was eight-years-old) and two elementary school teachers, there was a National Rifle Association (NRA) Convention in my hometown of Houston. More specifically, there was an NRA Convention three blocks away from my high school.
Well-known names were at the convention, including Republican Senator Ted Cruz and former President Donald Trump; Governor Greg Abbott of Texas was going to attend the convention, but instead he had to go to Uvalde—about four hours west—to honor the lives lost there. He sent a video message to the convention’s attendees instead.
In anticipation of a potentially life-threatening situation on the day of the convention, May 27th, a school administrator tweeted, “Your student’s safety and well being is always our top priority…Please assist by picking up your students in a timely manner…If your student drives to school, please encourage them to immediately leave downtown upon dismissal…”
NRA attendees were also in anticipation of a potentially life-threatening situation: during Trump’s speech, there were no firearms allowed in the center.
My friends and I looked longingly out the window on the fourth floor last Friday, hands pressed against the glass to guess at what temperature protestors were braving in the Texas summer. We praised passersby who had protest posters in hand, walking towards the convention center, even as we were encouraged to stay away from it.
"She's wearing a drawstring bag and a visor. She’s ready for whatever," one of us would say.
"If anything bad happens, at least we’re on the fourth floor," said another.
It was silent for a moment.
"I wish I could go," we all said as a helicopter passed by, a banner tacked to its tail that read, “NRA Go Away.” It became clear that day that we would rather risk our lives than wait for the inevitable to happen. Hundreds of protestors felt the same. But as teens, instead, we used our voices as storytellers to share and express how we felt about what was happening a stone's throw from our high school. We wrote blog posts, articles, short stories, memories, diary entries, or poetry about that day. Most of our writings would be published. None of our experiences would be forgotten.
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