qA banned book by the Nobel laureate Toni Morrison will be available again to high school students in a district in St Louis, Missouri, after the Wentzville school board reversed its decision to ban The Bluest Eye, in the face of criticism and a class-action lawsuit.
The board made national news last month when it voted 4-3 to remove the book from school libraries, citing themes of racism, incest and child molestation.
Morrison’s 1970 debut novel is one of several titles, including Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe and L8R, G8R by Lauren Myracle, to have gained the attention of school boards in conservative US areas.
The Wentzville ban was imposed after a challenge by a parent exercising the right to request titles not be available to their children. Backlash was swift, critics saying the board had violated first amendment rights.
In a letter of protest, the Intellectual Freedom Committee of the Missouri Library Association said: “We encourage you to reexamine the depth of your commitment to education in the truest sense, and to find your courage in the face of baseless political grandstanding at the expense of educators and students in your district.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri sued the district on behalf of two students.
According to the St Louis Post-Dispatch, the board accepted a review committee’s recommendation to retain Morrison’s book, voting 5-2 on Friday to rescind the ban.
An ACLU official, Anthony Rothert, welcomed the news but warned that books remain suppressed, including All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M Johnson, Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, Heavy by Kiese Laymon and Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison.
Challenges against two other books had been withdrawn, the Post-Dispatch reported.
The board also approved the retention of Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero, which faced challenges regarding language and depiction of rape.
“Wentzville’s policies still make it easy for any community member to force any book from the shelves even when they shamelessly target books by and about communities of color, LGBTQ people and other marginalized groups,” said Rothert.
“Access to The Bluest Eye was taken from students for three months just because a community member did not think they should have access to Toni Morrison’s story.”
Many library associations argue that parents of minors should be able to control their own children’s reading but should not make books unavailable to others.
Opponents of Morrison’s book, including conservative lawmakers, urged the school board to maintain its ban. After the decision, board member Sandy Garber claimed that The Bluest Eye “doesn’t offer anything to our children”.
According to the American Library Association, which monitors challenges to books, calls for bans are increasing.
“It’s a volume of challenges I’ve never seen in my time at the ALA – the last 20 years,” the director of the ALA office of intellectual freedom, Deborah Caldwell-Stone, told the Guardian in November.
“We’ve never had a time when we’ve gotten four or five reports a day for days on end, sometimes as many as eight in a day.
“Social media is amplifying local challenges and they’re going viral, but we’ve also been observing a number of organisations activating local members to go to school board meetings and challenge books. We’re seeing what appears to be a campaign to remove books, particularly books dealing with LGBTQ+ themes and books dealing with racism.”
According to the ALA, the most common grounds for challenges are LGBTQ+ content, sexual references, religious viewpoints, content that addresses racism and police brutality, and profanity.
“We’re seeing a disregard for policy and a kind of a moral panic over a number of novels and graphic novels that are in school libraries that are intended for adolescents to access and read,” said Caldwell-Stone.
“We’re seeing censorship to impose particular agendas, representing particular political or religious beliefs. It’s really disheartening.”