I have a weak spot for bookstores. Put me in one and more than likely, I'm walking out with a book. Every city or town I go to, my husband Robert and I are searching for where the nearest bookstore is. We've been in small and large shops, new and old ones, used and fresh off the press ones. I could recommend a bookstore in Brattleboro, VT and in Baltimore, MD. We even went to a used bookstore in Torrington, CT that was housed in a garage. Needless to say, I am acquiring quite the collection and my 'to read' list seems to get longer and longer. As a child, I was called a number of names by other kids but my favorite was bookworm. I can barely count it as an insult. Reading was one of my favorite things to do. The way it opens the mind, carries the imagination, excavates the soul.
Anyway, there's a play that I'm in called SIDES opening this month and in the process of production, the cast was asked to check our bookshelves to see if we had any banned books. Say less! I immediately thought I have plenty of those, I'm sure. So I went looking online for banned book lists and corresponding titles to those in my collection. Turns out I like banned books and I cannot lie! Sorry, not sorry. Some I already knew would show up like Push by Sapphire or The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. Honestly, Morrison makes a fairly regular appearance on banned book lists but I wasn't expecting to see the Lord of the Rings trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien or The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo on a banned book list. I also learned that Pennsylvania is among the top three states with the most bans. Less surprising to me is that most books that are banned have something to do with sexuality or the lead character is one of color or the book illuminates the reality of racism.
All this research has me back at the helm of my bookshelves. I feel a sense of urgency to read them all lest we descend into an abyss where there's an ordinance to burn them all. Maybe that's a little dark but maybe it isn't in the current political atmosphere we're living in. As the saying goes, knowledge is power. I remember the first time I read The Bluest Eye and for the first time understanding something about the intersection of my blackness and girlhood that I hadn't understood before. It gave me an opportunity to see myself in literature and perspective on my identity. That's powerful. Without books, I would know less of who I am. I dare say, I wouldn't even be a poet.
I have a new goal to read all the books on my bookshelves whether I'm reading them for the first time or visiting them again. Here's a list of 10 to get me started (...to my knowledge, none of them are banned but who knows? I haven't exhausted every list):
Everyday Mojo Songs by Yusef Komunyakaa
Just Us: An American Conversation by Claudia Rankine
Black Girl, Call Home by Jasmine Mans
Wild Beauty: New and Selected Poems by Ntozake Shange
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom by August Wilson
James Baldwin: A Biography by David Leeming
God Is a Black Woman by Cristena Cleveland, PhD
Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge
Dear Haiti, Love Alaine by Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite
Collected Poems: 1974-2004 by Rita Dove
If you're interested in finding out more about banned book lists, here are a few of the sources I found:
Hope you find some gems on these lists. Hope your shelves are full whether the books are banned or not. I hope for growth in the power of our minds. Read rebelliously, Read insatiably. Read like a feverish dance in summer rain. Like words are falling from the sky and this is the day to catch them all. Knowledge is power. All power to all the people.
D. Colin (she/her)
M.A. Africana Studies