For more than two decades, UToledo students, faculty, staff and the Toledo community have joined together annually in a celebration of the right to read and think freely.
Thursday, Sept. 22, marks the 25th anniversary of the University’s Banned Books Week Vigil. Dr. Paulette D. Kilmer, Communication Department professor and coordinator of the UToledo Banned Books Coalition, said this year’s Banned Books Vigil is as relevant as when it started.
“In 2021, book banning incidents increased and state legislatures spread across the country wrote laws to prevent libraries and bookstores from giving people access to controversial novels,” Kilmer said. “Over the past quarter of a century, a legion of speakers has shown us the ways that censorship threatens our personal freedom and our democracy.”
The American Library Association’s Banned Books Week, which was launched in 1982, inspired UToledo’s celebration. The ALA sets aside a week to reflect on the power of books and reading to inspire, educate and challenge us, she said.
In that year, a record number of books, including classics like John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” and Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” were banned. As time passed, LBGTQ+ and race motivated many challenges. For example, these recent titles are frequently restricted: Alex Gino’s “Melissa’s Story (George),” which focuses on a transgender girl, and Angie Thomas’ “The Hate U Give,” about a 16-year-old Black girl who sees a white police officer fatally shoot her best friend during a traffic stop.
“The dictionary, all the holy books, and “Winnie the Pooh” were banned because they offended someone,” Kilmer said. “A library that offends nobody will consist of empty shelves because pleasing everyone is impossible.
The celebration begins at 9 a.m. in the Health and Human Services Multipurpose Room 1711B, with a welcome from Dr. Ben Myers, Department of Communication chair.
This year’s program features these presenters:
• 9:30 a.m. — “Don’t Say ‘Genocide’” by Barbara Mann, professor in the Jesup Scott Honors College.
• 10 a.m. — “They Banned My Book, so I Wrote Another,” by Aya Khalil, award-winning Ohio children’s book author.
• 10:30 a.m. — “‘Gentle Reader’: Examining Charlotte Brontë’s ‘Jane Eyre’ and the Ethics of Trigger Warnings,” by Jodi Jameson, professor and nursing librarian at the Mulford Library.
• 11 a.m. — “Banning Books and Chilling Conversations: Ohio HB 616 ‘Regarding Promoting and Teaching Divisive or Inherently Racist Concepts in Public Schools,’” by Dr. Lynne Hamer, professor of social and philosophical foundations in the Judith Herb College of Education.
• 11:30 a.m. — “Banned while Black,” by Professor Angela Siner, director of the Africana Studies Program and director of the Anthropology Program.
• Noon — Dr. Linda Smith Lecture: “The History of the War against Women.” by Warren Woodberry, Toledo author, playwright and youth chess coach.
• 1 p.m. — “The ‘Ugly’ Experiences of African American Girls—The Bluest Eye,” by Kyndra Gaines, African American initiatives coordinator in the Office of Multicultural Student Success.
• 1:30 p.m. — “A Profound Fear of Poetic Imagery,” by Jonie McIntire, Poet Laureate of Lucas County.
• 2 p.m. — “Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill & Other Educational Gag Orders,” by Dr. Sharon Barnes, associate professor and chair of the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies.
• 2:30 p.m. — Banned Books Jeopardy!
• 3 p.m. — “Censoring Words from Headscarves to Internationally Acclaimed Publications,” Dr. Asma Abdel Halim, professor of women’s and gender studies.
• 3:30 p.m. — “Sister Eileen and Her Boyz: An Excerpt from HIV in the Rust Belt,” by Holly Hey, professor of film.
• 4 p.m. — “Reading and Writing in Prison from the Inside Out and the Outside In,” Dr. Renee Heberle, professor of political science, co-director of the Program in Law and Social Thought and coordinator of the Inside/Out Prison Exchange Project.
• 4:30 p.m. — “The Clear Channel Memorandum,” by Risa Cohen, creative director of Sing into Reading.
Free books, door prizes and light refreshments will be offered all day, as well as extra credit vouchers for classes.
“It’s the best day of the year,” Kilmer said. “We laugh a lot, and yet, the speakers raise our awareness of the shadow censorship casts over free expression. They show us how reading expands our horizons and kindles empathy, inspiring us to make the world a better place.”
A free banned-book trivia competition also is scheduled from 2 to 4 p.m. Friday, Sept. 23, in Carlson Library Room 1005.
“Derek Wilmott and Saadia Farooq organized our trivia match, and we think it’s a great fun way to end our 25th year,” Kilmer added. “We will give a few books and some door prizes. We also offer Smarties candy, which is appropriate for a game requiring thinking.”