UT plans vigil to observe Banned Books weekWritten by Justin R. Kalmes | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Paulette Kilmer, a professor in the UT communication department, said attempts to censor books and other forms of information threaten American society’s right to think freely. The vigil, she said, provides an opportunity to remind people how relevant reading is in shaping the country’s culture.
“There are always folks who think they know better than we do on what we should read,” Kilmer said. “The marketplace of ideas only functions well if there is a free flow of discourse through it.”
The slogan for the 11th installment of the annual event is “Closing books closes possibilities.” From 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Sept. 25 in the UT Honors Program building on the second floor of Sullivan Hall, speakers will discuss various censorship attempts throughout history and their effects.
Kilmer said the event has grown from as few as three or four students and her reading passages from banned books to a daylong event that draws 300 or more.
“It’s very important for us to have one day in the year when we take stock of the crucial role that reading and thinking freely play in our democracy,” she said.
English professor Tom Barden, who is also director of the UT Honors Program, is scheduled to make the keynote address with his presentation, “John Steinbeck and the Vietnam War.” Barden said he will talk about the famed author’s self-censorship during his coverage of the Vietnam War.
Both of Steinbeck’s sons served during the war, and President Lyndon B. Johnson was a close friend of the writer, Barden said. Steinbeck’s dispatches from Vietnam described a winnable war that was going as planned; however, his private letters painted a different picture, he said.
“It’s a pretty profound disconnect,” Barden said. “ … Because he didn’t want to betray his president and his buddy and didn’t want to talk against the war that his sons were in, he censored himself.”
Renee Heberle, co-director of the university’s law and social thought program, plans to speak about the arguments and debates on how to deal with the issue of pornography. She said she will describe how the Supreme Court defines pornography and how some feminists are divided on the issue, among other things.
Heberle said it’s her first time participating in the event.
“I always think it’s important to talk about what the state is or is not doing regarding questions of expression. It’s our job to explore the critical issues and text that perhaps the mainstream and the majority would view as dangerous, disruptive or subversive,” she said.
Assistant professor Brian Hickam, librarian for the College of Health Science and Human Service, said he plans to talk about attempts to censor musical acts on a national scale. Part of his presentation will focus on Ohio-based acts such as Marilyn Manson, he said.
Hickam’s talk will also serve as a history lesson for students who aren’t old enough to remember the Parents Music Resource Council’s music censorship attempts in the 1980s, he said.
“I think the purpose of the event is to remind people that [censorship] does go on; and your freedom to read freely is also your freedom to think freely, and that nobody should be able to dictate morality,” Hickam said.
Kilmer said the event is of greater relevance because it is an election year. She said some political parties might favor stopping the public from reading criticism or thinking about perceptions of which they disapprove.
“The battle for the First Amendment is ongoing,” she said.