Narratives are the stories that exist within society to help us contextualise and understand the world around us. However, when someone or something appears to challenge these narratives, upset and sometimes even chaos ensues. 

One World’s Chris Jackson and Elizabeth Méndez Berry, alongside a host of guest speakers discussed this upset in the form of banned books during their event, ‘Ideas & Action: Banned Books Week’.

Méndez Berry explained that the US lives in a narrative of glorious progress, heroism and innocence. A narrative that she believes to not necessarily be true, and that it is those whose work complicates the narrative, and invites voices that have historically been excluded, that are seeing their writing being restricted and censored. 

Banning books in the US has been around for centuries and it is the hope of One World and the many more who partake in Banned Books Weekthat in drawing attention to these attempts to remove or restrict access to books and highlighting how harmful this censorship is, that this will come to an end.

You might be asking yourself, well why is banning books such a bad thing? 

Surely these works that are being banned are being done so for a reason, that they are being removed from schools and libraries with just cause? 

Well, the authors and guest speakers at this event beg to differ. 

Riva Lehrer, author of Golem Girldiscussed that as a body variant, LGBTQIA+ person, in censoring the information that tells different versions of histories and challenges societal conventions, this is preventing people like herself from having freedom to access the knowledge of who they are and who they can be. Not only that, Ta-Nehisi Coates of Between The World and Me, voiced that it is stopping people from being able to understand the world that they live in and taking away their choice in how they view it. 

Pulitzer Prize winner Nikole Hannah-Jones, furthered this when she expressed that entire histories have been erased through not teaching them and that in banning the books that tell those stories, we are putting across a message that only some histories are worth learning. She believes this is born out of fear. Fear of losing power and control over the narrative, but also fear of the ‘liberating bomb of knowledge’.

‘No society can truly be free if it bans ideas.’

Nikole Hannah-Jones, Pulitzer Prize winning reporter.

Bryan Stevenson of Just Mercystated similarly that this has come from ‘decades’ of fear and anger and that there is a need to commit to an ‘era of justice’. For it is in the books that are banned, that understanding is found and in continuing with this censorship, we are cultivating a society of ignorance.

It is clear that in this battle of narrative power, these authors alongside the rest of the attendees, feel strongly that we should continue to fight for the freedom of learning and stand behind the power of literature. As it is in these books that we can not only discover more about the world, but also more about ourselves. 

For as attendee Janai Nelson, Associate Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund said, ‘There’s no way that we would be where we are today if we did not teach and tell those stories’, and I personally, couldn’t agree more. Do you?