City Lights Celebrates Banned Books Week All Month Long!

Lawrence Ferlinghetti in front of City Lights Bookstore.

Banned Books Week, as organized by booksellers, librarians, publishers and authors, is a national program, which aims to draw attention to the problem of censorship. If you think that’s an issue of the past, just read this statistic: Since 1982, there have been more than 10,000 challenges to books in schools and libraries in the United States–an average of 500 per year!

Celebrating its 30th anniversary, Banned Books Week begins Sunday, September 30th, running through Saturday, October 6th, and will be marked by events at bookstores around the country. City Lights will recognize the occasion all month long in October with authors John Waters, devorah major, Jack Hirschman, Beth Lisick, Stephen Elliott, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and many others who’ll share an excerpt from their favorite banned book right here on on our blog! See a flat-out fabulous reading from Lady Chatterly’s Lover by John Waters, Jack Hirschman reminiscing about what it was like to be a witness for the defense at the obscenity trial for Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, and so many more videos featuring some of your favorite writers celebrating banned books and questioning censorship.

Most of these videos will be available at the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression‘s web site, as well.

Banned Books Week also gives us a chance to revisit a crucial part of City Lights’ own story, the publication and defense of HOWL And Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg:

In the Fall of 1956, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and City Lights Bookstore Manager Shigeyoshi Murao were arrested for the sale and publication of Allen Ginsberg’s HOWL.

At the obscenity trial that followed, Ferlinghetti and City Lights were vindicated as the judge in the case ruled the book not obscene, stating his opinion,

“I do not believe that Howl is without even ‘the slightest redeeming social importance.’ The first part of Howl presents a picture of a nightmare world; the second part is an indictment of those elements in modern society destructive of the best qualities of human nature; such elements are predominantly identified as materialism, conformity, and mechanization leading toward war. The third part presents a picture of an individual who is a specific representation of what the author conceives as a general condition. . . . ‘Footnote to Howl’ seems to be a declamation that everything in the world is holy, including parts of the body by name. It ends in a plea for holy living. . . . ”

The judge went on to set forth certain rules for the guidance of authorities in the future, establishing the legal precedent of “redeeming social importance” that in the next decade allowed Grove Press to publish D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover, and Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, and other landmark books.

Be sure to regular visit our blog as we celebrate Banned Books throughout the month of October!

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