Badass B*tches of Banned Books
Every year, new books are banned and challenged in schools and libraries across the world. And while we’re impressed with all of the many authors that have managed to get on the naughty list of books at risk of censorship, we’re most impressed with the badass women who have tackled taboo topics and risked their position in society to do so. In celebration of Banned Books Week (September 23–29), Strand is proud to highlight female authors who have been banned and challenged. We hope you pick up a banned book this week by one of these powerful women and join us for Banned Book Bingo featuring SOL, the non-binary Drag Queen of Banned Books!
🔥 Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison is the Queen of Banned Books and is listed as one of the “most frequently challenged authors of the 21st century” according to the American Library Association (ALA). Challenged in multiple places across the United States, Morrison’s Beloved is about an escaped slave who rears her children in a world of terror and enslavement. Morrison includes instances of violence and sexual abuse. Challenges cite violence, sexual content, bestiality, and racism as reasons for removing the Pulitzer Prize winning work from curricula.
Indiana high school students had to quit reading Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon because administrators were offended by its sex, violence, and profanity.
This book has been banned for its sexual themes, particularly a scene where the narrator finds her husband cheating on her.
The Bluest Eye has been banned in the past for containing incest and rape in its pages.
🔥 Maya Angelou
Literary legend Maya Angelou was not only a prolific poet, singer, and memoirist, she was also a civil rights activist. In one of her most well-known works, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou describes her early childhood full of racist rhetoric and trauma, followed by her teen pregnancy. She describes how she overcomes personal and societal hardships to become the brave woman she turned out to be. The book has been challenged in 15 states across the country and has been pulled from many reading lists. Parents have claimed it encourages profanity and is filled with descriptions of drug abuse and sexually explicit conduct.
🔥 Madeleine L’Engle
This book-to-movie classic is ranked #22 in the ALA’s list of most banned books 1990–2000. The most common claim asserts that it contains occult elements like witches, crystal balls, and unusual abilities that do not come from God. Jerry Falwell Ministries claimed that it undermines religious beliefs and contains offensive language. While many argue that IT and the planet Camazotz serve as anti-communist symbolism, the book has also been challenged for pro-communist sentiments.
🔥 Zora Neale Hurston
When it was first published, the novel was controversial because of its sexual content, which Hurston brought to life through Janie, the main character, and her struggle through three marriages and poverty. Janie tries to find her identity and voice in a society where, because of her gender and race, she is brought down to the lowest social class. According to the ALA, the book was unsuccessfully challenged for sexual explicitness at Stonewall Jackson High School in Virginia, where a parent requested it be removed from the academically advanced reading list.
🔥 Sandra Cisneros
Who’s afraid of Sandra Cisneros? Apparently, public schools in Arizona. The book was part of the Mexican-American studies program that began in public schools in Tucson. State legislature ultimately banned the program and the books that composed the curriculum under statute H.B. 2281, which prohibits courses and materials supposedly designed for one ethnic group.
🔥 Margaret Mitchell
Who would’ve thought a coming of age story about a spoiled young woman would cause so much controversy. This classic was banned in a California school district for its depiction of the immoral behavior of Scarlett O’Hara and the freed slaves in the novel. It was also challenged in 1984 for the use of the n-word.
🔥 J.K. Rowling
Film and television producer, screenwriter, philanthropist, and famously banned author of the top best-selling book series in history, J.K. Rowling is the ultimate banned book badass. Her epic series Harry Potter has been challenged in many places across the United States and around the world for supposed subtextual references to Satanism and the occult, and that it glorifies witchcraft. Other grounds for banning include objections to inappropriate or anti-authoritarian behavior, and the criticism that the series is too dark and therefore unsuited for children.
The 1996 novel is based on the story of Precious Jones, an illiterate sixteen-year-old, who grows up in poverty. Precious is raped by her father, battered by her mother, and dismissed by social workers. The story follows Precious, pregnant with a second child by her father, through her journey of learning how to read and be on her own. Challengers objected to the lack of good family values in the novel, as well as strong language, rape, sexual content and exposure to diseases such as AIDS.
🔥 Alice Walker
Alice Walker is a prolific writer and activist. Her banned novel The Color Purple, won the National Book Award for hardcover fiction and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Some of the reasons this book is challenged include the violence, profanity, and sexuality in the book, including a rape scene. However, it has also been challenged and banned in various states because of its depictions of violence, homosexuality, racism and race relations, including in Oregon for the book’s negative portrayal of black men.
🔥 Jazz Jennings
This children’s book describes Jazz Jennings’ journey towards acceptance as a young transgender girl who realizes she is trans at a young age. Challengers believed depicting a transgender child and discussing early sex education was offensive. A school in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin canceled a reading of the book meant to support a transitioning six-year-old student, after a religious group expressed outrage.
🔥 Angie Thomas
The Hate U Give is a Young Adult novel by Angie Thomas that was on the New York Times YA best seller list for 50 weeks, with a movie version soon to be released. It centers around a black 16-year old named Starr, who becomes an activist after her friend is killed by police violence. The book was banned in 2017 in Katy Independent School District in Texas for drug use and explicit language and was recently challenged in South Carolina by a local police union who called it “almost an indoctrination of distrust of police.”
🔥 Lois Lowry
The award-winning book that depicts a society driven to maintain an amazing amount of control over its members, including euthanasia and suicide. Some parents have reacted strongly to these themes in the book and seek to ban it, citing that it is too dark for children and excessively violent.
🔥 Jeannette Walls
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls is banned from many schools and even some libraries due to the strong sexual scenes and situations dealing with alcoholism and abuse.
🔥 Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel is a multi-talented author and cartoonist. Her poignant graphic novel about her coming of age and realization that her dad was gay has been challenged multiple times for its supposedly pornographic illustrations, and many movements have started to attempt it to remove it from school curriculum.
🔥 Alice Sebold
The Lovely Bones was challenged because it was considered too frightening for middle school students. The book also features a heaven personalized to the murdered girl Susie’s tastes. Many people felt that Sebold was challenging and offending religion with this version of heaven.
🔥 Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood is the successful author of book-to-movie sensation The Handmaid’s Tale, a dystopian novel where women’s only function is to breed. It was listed on the American Library Association’s 100 most frequently challenged books in the 90's and early 2000's, claimed to be anti-Christian and pornographic.
🔥 Rainbow Rowell
For a book about young adult love and acceptance, this book sure gets a lot of flack from parents. Eleanor and Park was one of the most challenged books in the U.S. in 2016 when Minnesotan parents complained about it profanity and treatment of sexuality.
🔥 S.E. Hinton
S.E. Hinton’s classic book about a group of greasers has been banned from some schools and libraries because of the portrayal of gang violence, underage smoking and drinking, as well as strong language/slang and family dysfunction.
🔥 Judy Blume
Blume is frequently the target of censorship as many of her books deal with teen issues revolving around sexuality. Forever… is a novel that documents a high school girl’s loss of virginity and delves into the emotional aspects of her choice. Challenged for being anti-monogamy, for its discussion of birth control and pre-marital sex, and for its a lack of moral tone, the book has been banned from many schools.
In this book, a sixth grade girl goes through puberty in a family without religious affiliation. Challenged since the 80’s, the book was eventually removed from the Gilbert, Arizona elementary school libraries and ordered that parental consent be required for students to check out this title from the junior high school library. Many parents argued that it was sexually offensive, amoral, and anti-Christian.
🔥 Harper Lee
While many educators believe To Kill a Mockingbird is fundamental to understanding how racism works in America, some parents believe it is inappropriate for students. Racism, language, and a rape scene are the usual culprits when banning this book. Some black community members have protested the racist language used in the book, especially the n-word.
🔥 Barbara Ehrenreich
Nickel and Dimed is a work of nonfiction by an undercover journalist who uncovers the grim reality for many Americans working full time for poverty-level wages. As the author goes undercover and explores the low-wage lifestyle, she realizes she cannot get by on one job alone. This book was challenged in a couple of Pennsylvania schools, citing the book as obscene and containing no moral value. It has also been criticized as promoting economic fallacies and socialist ideas, as well as profanity, offensive references to Christianity, and a biased portrayal of capitalism.
🔥 Ayn Rand
Controversial author Ayn Rand has also been the subject of scrutiny for her two popular novels which discuss the philosophical system of Objectivism, a system that emphasizes individuality and productive achievement. Critics have challenged and condemned The Fountainhead, citing that it endorses rape and portrays a godless and perverse world.
Atlas Shrugged is Rand’s fourth and final novel, which many consider to be her magnum opus. In it, individuals act in their own self-interest, which has caused many to challenge the book’s presence in the education system. While there is no evidence that the book has been banned in the U.S., many have expressed their dissatisfaction with the book’s promotion of selfishness as moral fortitude, as well as its critical view of government.
📖 Additional Reading
Marjane Satrapi: The Complete Persepolis
Erica Jong: Fear of Flying
Shahrnush Parsipur: Women Without Men
Anaïs Nin: Little Birds
Kate Chopin: The Awakening and Selected Stories
Rebecca Skloot: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Pauline Réage: Story of O