The Midwest Writing Center is organizing a celebration of Banned Books Week at the downtown Rock Island Public Library (401 19th St.) on Wednesday, Sept. 21.

Local writers, artists, librarians, educators, and others will be reading selections from their favorite banned or challenged books. The full list of readers will be announced later and the readings will start at 6 p.m. in the second-floor Community Room. The event is free and open to the public.

Every year, the ACLU marks Banned Books Week, to celebrate the freedom to read and call attention to attempts to censor books, according to a release from ACLU of Iowa.

Examples of banned books, pictured at the Des Moines Public Library (photo by ACLU of Iowa).

But this Banned Books Week, it’s especially important to highlight the importance of keeping books—and therefore ideas and knowledge—widely available, the organization said recently. In recent years, there have been a number of high-profile challenged and banned book cases in Iowa and nationwide.

Nationally, the American Library Association reported that in 2021, the last full calendar year, there was an unprecedented number of attempts to ban books. ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom tracked 729 challenges to library, school, and university materials and services for that year, resulting in more than 1,597 individual book challenges or removals. Most targeted books were by or about Black or LGBTQ people.

Iowa also is seeing a number of public attempts to ban books and block educators from providing young people with reading materials that have already been vetted by librarians and teachers.

  • At the Vinton Public Library this year, two directors resigned because of efforts to purge LGBTQ books. Our statement on that situation can be found here.
  • In Logan, Iowa, recently a local author’s book about her family was challenged.
  • Some Iowa politicians want to dramatically expand Iowa’s obscenity laws and charge librarians and teachers with felony charges simply for doing their jobs and giving kids books those politicians don’t like.
  • A roundup of some other recent attempts in central Iowa to ban books can be found here.

“It’s disturbing that, across our state, we are seeing individuals or groups trying to shut down access to certain books and ideas,” Mark Stringer, ACLU of Iowa executive director, said in the release. “They are trying to get them banned from public schools and community libraries because they don’t want other people to read them.

“Our country was founded on the ideal of free and open access to ideas and knowledge. Government institutions, like public schools and public community libraries, have a legal obligation under the First Amendment to not censor materials simply because some community members don’t agree with the viewpoints in those materials,” he said. “Free societies read freely.”

The most challenged book in the U.S. last year was “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe.

“A person can decide that they don’t want to read a certain book. They can decide that they don’t want their child to read that book. But they can’t decide that the entire school or the entire town can’t read that book,” Stringer said.

The top 10 challenged books in 2021 are:

Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe
Reasons: Banned, challenged, and restricted for LGBTQIA+ content and because it was considered to have sexually explicit images.

Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison
Reasons: Banned and challenged for LGBTQIA+ content and because it was considered to be sexually explicit.

All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson
Reasons: Banned and challenged for LGBTQIA+ content and profanity and because it was considered to be sexually explicit.

Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez
Reasons: Banned, challenged, and restricted for depictions of abuse and because it was considered to be sexually explicit.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity and violence and because it was thought to promote an anti-police message and indoctrination of a social agenda.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity, sexual references, and use of a derogatory term.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
Reasons: Banned and challenged because it was considered sexually explicit and degrading to women.

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Reasons: Banned and challenged because it depicts child sexual abuse and was considered sexually explicit.

This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson
Reasons: Banned, challenged, relocated, and restricted for providing sex education and LGBTQIA+ content.

Beyond Magenta by Susan Kuklin
Reasons: Banned and challenged for LGBTQIA+ content and because it was considered to be sexually explicit.

For more information on the annual event, click HERE.