Book bans are on the rise across the country. According to the American Library Association (ALA), libraries in every state faced an unprecedented number of attempts to ban books last year. The ALA notes that most of the challenged books in 2021 were written by Black or LGBTQIA+ authors. Locally, although staff at Natick’s Morse Institute Library say they’re grateful that the community welcomes a diverse set of books, it hasn’t stopped library staff and trustees from proactively making a big statement about the freedom to read.
The library this week has installed an interactive public art display in front of the Natick Center building to remind the public of the importance of the freedom to read. Library Director Miki Wolfe said, ‘The interactive fREADom installation invites our community to use the provided chalk to write the titles of books that they are delighted to have the freedom to read.”
The fine print on the fREADom Wall says the installation is inspired by the Before I Die project, a global art project that invites people to reflect upon their mortality and consider the things that matter most. Their website says there are over 5,000 such walls around the world. If you’ve ever come across a Before I Die wall (we haven’t, but we don’t get out much), participants list things they’d like to do before they, well, you know. Popular sentiments include “make a difference,” “accomplish all my dreams,” and “rule the world.”
On the Morse Institute’s fREADom wall, instead of bucket list items, participants fill in the blank in the sentence FREADOM is reading _________. When we stopped by, titles on the wall included:
Maus, the Pulitzer prize-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust, by Art Spiegelman. (Banned in a Tennessee school district in early 2022 due to “inappropriate language” and nudity.)
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, also a Pulitzer prize winner, about Scout and Jem Finch as their childhood innocence is stripped away when their father Atticus defends a Black man falsely accused of rape. (Removed this year from required classroom reading lists in Burbank, CA this year due to its use of racial epithets.)
Gender Queer, by Maia Kobabe, recounts Kobabe’s journey from adolescence to adulthood and the author’s exploration of gender identity and sexuality, ultimately identifying as being outside of the gender binary. (Called pornographic by parents, and removed from public school shelves in Loudon County, Virginia.)
With the fREADom wall, the Morse Institute librarians and board members say they seek to champion, “the freedom to speak, the freedom to publish, and the freedom to read, as promised by the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.”
Challenging a school board’s challenge
A School District School Board in Palmer, Alaska, in 2021 voted to remove I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou, and four other books, from the school curriculum, due to what was identified as their controversial nature. Angelou’s autobiography recounts her early years, which were marked by racism and rape. Caged Bird was called out by a board member as containing “anti-white messaging.” After community members protested the school board’s vote, it rescinded its decision, and the books remain available in the schools.
Check out Natick Report’s Instagram account for a video of the fREADom wall. Please follow Natick Report on Instagram while you’re there.