Despite receiving accolades ranging from the National Book Award to the Pulitzer, these five notorious novels have been banned by schools across the United States.
Their Eyes Were Watching God —Zora Neal Hurston, 1937
“Their Eyes Were Watching God” is a bildungsroman about a young Black woman growing up in the Deep South. In 1997 parents in Brentsville, Virgina attempted to ban the novel from their Advanced English curriculum for “sexual content”. Fortunately, the ban was overturned.
Native Son — Richard Wright, 1940
Bigger Thomas is a Black man hired to chauffer a rich White family in 20th century Chicago. His awkward run-ins with his employers turn from comic to gravely serious when he accidently murders a member of the family. “Native Son” has been banned from schools and libraries in eight states for “violent and sexual content.” When will these censors learn that violence and sex make for the best books?
Invisible Man — Ralph Ellison, 1952
This cerebral novel riffs on everything from Dostoyevsky to the Odyssey in telling the tale of its nameless Black narrator. Despite winning the National Book Award a year after its publication, “Invisible Man” has been banned by schools in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Washington for being “too intellectual” for young readers. We here at NCAC tend to think that a good book should expand the mind, not shrink it.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X — Malcolm X and Alex Haley, 1965
A cornerstone figure of the American Civil Rights movement, Malcolm X gained much controversy for his embrace of violence as a means to revolution and “Separate but Equal” race politics. His autobiography covers this great man’s fascinating life, including his time and jail and his later conversion to Islam. In 1994, the Jacksonville library in Florida attempted to limit access to this book due to “anti-white racism”. If there was an award for “most ironic book ban ever”, Jacksonville would win it hands down.
Beloved — Toni Morrison, 1987
Morrison tells the tale of Sethe, an ex-slave living in the Reconstruction-era South. While trying to raise her daughter Denver, Sethe is haunted by her memories and must reckon with the figurative and literal ghosts of her past. Parents of Salem High School in Michigan challenged “Beloved” for its depictions of sex, infanticide and bestiality. Luckily, the ban was overturned.