by: Emily Temple
As you might have already heard, it’s Banned Books Week, and booksellers, librarians, and literary critics of all kinds are taking the opportunity to celebrate their favorite once-banned (or oft-banned) literature. But what do the authors themselves have to say about all this? After the jump, we’ve collected a few of our favorite hilarious responses from authors when their books were banned or challenged — because when there’s a challenge, why not challenge right back? Click through to hear what visionaries like Mark Twain, Harper Lee, and Maurice Sendak have to say to those who would deprive the world of their books, and let us know if we missed any choice quotes in the comments.
Mark Twain to his editor on the Concord Public Library banning The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in 1885:
“Apparently, the Concord library has condemned Huck as ‘trash and only suitable for the slums.’ This will sell us another twenty-five thousand copies for sure!”
And to a librarian on the Brooklyn Public Library’s ban on the same book in 1905:
“I am greatly troubled by what you say. I wrote ‘Tom Sawyer’ & ‘Huck Finn’ for adults exclusively, & it always distressed me when I find that boys and girls have been allowed access to them. The mind that becomes soiled in youth can never again be washed clean. I know this by my own experience, & to this day I cherish an unappeased bitterness against the unfaithful guardians of my young life, who not only permitted but compelled me to read an unexpurgated Bible through before I was 15 years old. None can do that and ever draw a clean sweet breath again on this side of the grave.”
Maurice Sendak to Stephen Colbert on the frequent banning of In The Night Kitchen:
Stephen Colbert: “This one gets banned all over the place. And you know why.”
Maurice Sendak: “He’s got a dick.”
SC: “Why are you printing a smutty book?”
MS: “Because he’s a boy.”
SC: “Yeah, yeah, but you don’t have to rub it in our face. Boys wear pants.”
MS: “Not when they’re dreaming. Have you never had a dream yourself where you were totally naked?”
MS: “Well I think you’re a man of little imagination.”
Watch the entire interview here.
John Irving in response to an attempt to ban The Hotel New Hampshire from a New Hampshire school library:
“I take the side of young people, but I am also a realist; it is especially offensive to me when an uptight adult suggests that my stories are ‘inappropriate’ for young readers. I imagine, when I write, that I am writing for young readers — not for uptight adults.”
Read the entire letter here.
Ray Bradbury on the frequent attempts to censor or ban his books:
“… it is a mad world and it will get madder if we allow the minorities, be they dwarf or giant, orangutan or dolphin, nuclear-head or water-conversationalist, pro-computerologist or Neo-Luddite, simpleton or sage, to interfere with aesthetics. The real world is the playing ground for each and every group, to make or unmake laws. But the tip of the nose of my book or stories or poems is where their rights and my territorial imperatives begin, run and rule. If Mormons do not like my plays, let them write their own. If the Irish hate my Dublin stories, let them rent typewriters. If teachers and grammar school editors find my jawbreaker sentences shatter their mushmild teeth, let them eat stale cake dunked in weak tea of their own ungodly manufacture. If the Chicano intellectuals wish to re-cut my ‘Wonderful Ice Cream Suit’ so it shapes ‘Zoot,’ may the belt unravel and the pants fall.”
Read more here.
Harper Lee in a 1966 letter to the Hanover County School Board in Virginia after they banned To Kill a Mockingbird from school libraries state-wide:
“Surely it is plain to the simplest intelligence that To Kill a Mockingbirdspells out in words of seldom more than two syllables a code of honor and conduct, Christian in its ethic, that is the heritage of all Southerners. To hear that the novel is ‘immoral’ has made me count the years between now and 1984, for I have yet to come across a better example of doublethink. I feel, however, that the problem is one of illiteracy, not Marxism. Therefore I enclose a small contribution to the Beadle Bumble Fund that I hope will be used to enroll the Hanover County School Board in any first grade of its choice.”
Read the whole letter here.
Kurt Vonnegut on censorship of his books (and in general):
“All these people talk so eloquently about getting back to good old-fashioned values. Well, as an old poop I can remember back to when we had those old-fashioned values, and I say let’s get back to the good old-fashioned First Amendment of the good old-fashioned Constitution of the United States — and to hell with the censors! Give me knowledge or give me death!”
Philip Roth on the controversy surrounding his works:
“This indictment is a kind of fever that flares up from time to time. It flared up after Defender of the Faith, again after Goodbye Columbus, and understandably it went way up — to about 107 — after Portnoy’s Complaint. Now there’s just a low-grade fever running, nothing to worry about. I think the generation that got hot and bothered by my work is getting a little tired of the fuss. You know… if you hang around long enough, they begin to get used to you.”
Read more here.
J.K. Rowling on accusations that Harry Potter promotes Satanism (the same reason for which it has been variously banned from schools), particularly one write-in question on the same in an interview with Katie Couric:
“A very famous writer once said, ‘A book is like a mirror. If a fool looks in, you can’t expect a genius to look out.’ People tend to find in books what they want to find. And I think my books are very moral. I know they have absolutely nothing to do with what this lady is writing about, so I’m afraid I can’t give her much help there.”
Philip Pullman on the news that The Golden Compass was #2 on the list of most challenged books in American in 2008:
He described his response as “glee… Firstly, I had obviously annoyed a lot of censorious people, and secondly, any ban would provoke interested readers to move from the library, where they couldn’t get hold of my novel, to the bookshops, where they could.”
He added that banning a book on religious grounds was “the worst reason of the lot… Religion grants its adherents malign, intoxicating and morally corrosive sensations. Destroying intellectual freedom is always evil, but only religion makes doing evil feel quite so good.”
Read more here.
Justin Richardson, co-author of the picture book And Tango Makes Three, was the most challenged book in America in 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2010 (in 2009 it was second place):
“We wrote the book to help parents teach children about same-sex parent families. It’s no more an argument in favor of human gay relationships than it is a call for children to swallow their fish whole or sleep on rocks.”
Read more here.