A new exhibit at Open Books seeks to draw attention to the issues of censorship in American literature, which still occurs today despite our First Amendment rights.
The exhibit—”Altered Lit: Engaging Censorship through Altered Books”—consists of a series of books artistically manipulated by University of West Florida doctoral students to represent an issue related to censorship. Each altered book features a half dozen or more works of literature that have been banned or challenged.
The books cover a range of topics and subject matter, including young adult books and books written for an adult audience. They will be on display throughout the month of January, with an opening reception on Friday.
Lauren Anzaldo, a doctoral student at UWF and creator of one of the altered books, said that the exhibit brings to light the problem of censorship by presenting creative interpretations of works that have actually been challenged or banned alongside commentary about censorship.
“The altered books engage the topic of censorship in serious and silly ways, sometimes whimsical and humorous and sometimes macabre,” she said.
Anzaldo was a member of the Summer 2016 censorship class taught by Dr. Susan Jans-Thomas, UWF professor in the Research and Advanced Studies department. The culminating assignment for the course was to create an altered book that explored issues of censorship.
“Dr. Jans-Thomas has taught the censorship course many times over the years, and there have been other exhibits of the altered books created by the students in those classes,” Anzaldo said. “The books created by our class were on display at the public library in Fort Walton Beach during Banned Books week in September.”
Anzaldo’s husband, Scott Satterwhite, is an English instructor at UWF and is on the board of Open Books, which hosts rotating art exhibits.
“I suggested to the class that we set up an exhibit of our books at Open Books,” Anzaldo said. “Censorship, bookstore, art exhibit—it seemed like a logical combination of our efforts.”
There were six doctoral students in the censorship class at UWF in Summer 2016, and Anzaldo said that each has created a book that will be a part of the exhibit addressing themes including race, sexual content, language, violence and the occult.
Besides Anzaldo, the students that prepared books for the exhibit include Gwen Byrd, Rachel Conway, Leslie Cuyuch, Rachel Errington and Shelby Vaughn. Anzaldo said that Dr. Jans-Thomas also created an altered book for the class.
“Each student began with a book that was then altered to express the student’s chosen theme relating to censorship,” Anzaldo said. “The book was the framework for the creation of a work of art that challenged the practice of censorship. Pages were removed or added, three-dimensional objects were inserted, color and texture were incorporated into the books, and other alterations were made. Each altered book contains a ‘page map’ that delineates the items on each page and what the items represent. The books also include a short intro and outro essay about the altered book project.”
Research on censorship led Anzaldo to The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF), which has received and collected data about censored books since 1990. The OIF regularly reports on trends in banned and censored books.
“According to the OIF, sex, profanity and racism are the most common reasons cited for book challenges,” Anzaldo said. “They also report that the vast majority of challenged books deal with diverse content, such as people of color, LGBTQ characters and people with disabilities.”
Anzaldo said that the exhibit is important because it brings attention to the issue of censorship and attacks on freedom of speech.
“The OIF indicates that as many as 85 percent of instances of censorship are not reported to the media and do not come to the attention of the public,” she said.
“Censorship occurs regularly around the country, including in our city, but goes unnoticed or unacknowledged by many folks. This exhibit puts the issue of censorship in the spotlight and generates a dialogue about freedom of speech.”
Anzaldo lists two notable instances of censorship in history including Nazi book burning in the 1930s, and the attacks on actors and screenwriters by the House UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC) during the McCarthy Era in the 1940s.
“For example, the writing of Dalton Trumbo and Dorothy Parker was challenged during this restrictive and reactionary era in American history,” she said. “These events reportedly influenced author Ray Bradbury and inspired his 1953 novel ‘Fahrenheit 451,’ which is a seminal piece of anti-censorship literature and which, ironically, is regularly challenged. ‘Fahrenheit 451’ is just one work of classic literature that has been subjected to censorship. The ALA reports that 46 of the books on a list of the top 100 novels of the 20th Century have been targeted. Censorship is not a new phenomenon; it is a persistent phenomenon.”
Anzaldo said that books continue to be challenged for such reasons as profane language, references to sex or masturbation, occult content and racial references.
“Censorship continues to be a problem in America to this day,” Anzaldo said. “A total of 33 books appear on OIF’s list of books that were challenged, restricted, removed or banned in the most recent list from 2014-2015.”
Popular young adult novel “The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green made the list after it was pulled from library shelves from a middle school in Rancho Cucamonga, California because the subject matter involves teens dying of cancer who use crude language and have sex. “Twilight” by Stephanie Meyer, another best-selling young adult series, also made the list after it was challenged in a library in Cleveland, Texas for its vampire theme. A local minister requested that the “occultic and demonic room be shut down and these books be purged from the shelves.”
“Most challenges occur in schools and school libraries,” Anzaldo said. “Censorship of books is not a historic issue; it is an ongoing problem as individuals and groups continue to attempt to blot out ideas that they deem objectionable. As Supreme Court Justice William Brennan stated, ‘If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the Government must not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself objectionable or offensive.’”
ALTERED LIT OPENING
WHAT: Opening for the exhibit “Altered Lit: Engaging Censorship through Altered Books”
WHEN: 6-8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 13; exhibit will remain on display through Jan.
WHERE: Open Books, 1040 N. Guillemard St.