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April is National Poerty Month
—after the painting by Diego Velàzquez, ca. 1619
She is the vessels on the table before her: the copper pot tipped toward us, the white pitcher clutched in her hand, the black one edged in red and upside down. Bent over, she is the mortar and the pestle at rest in the mortar—still angled in its posture of use. She is the stack of bowls and the bulb of garlic beside it, the basket hung by a nail on the wall and the white cloth bundled in it, the rag in the foreground recalling her hand. She's the stain on the wall the size of her shadow— the color of blood, the shape of a thumb. She is echo of Jesus at table, framed in the scene behind her: his white corona, her white cap. Listening, she leans into what she knows. Light falls on half her face.- See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/22865#sthash.XkTyetgj.dpuf
“Censorship is the enemy of truth, even more that a lie. A lie can be exposed; censorship can prevent us from knowing the difference.”
(title quote from Bill Moyers, on http://bannedbooksweek.org/node/301)
Ida Craddock was 45 years old when she took her own life in 1902. Anthony Comstock was a post office employee and mail inspector for which the Comstock Law is named. This law had made it a federal crime to send “obscene, lewd, and/or lascivious” materials through the US mail. (See his reasoning in his own words here).Ms. Craddock had one year previous written an account of a mystical-erotic experience she had on which Comstock arranged for her to be arrested and prosecuted. The lawyer who appeared on Ms. Craddock’s behalf defended her by saying “no woman in her right mind would write such a book.”
Books about sex, dealing with sexual feelings or behavior, or acknowledging the existence anatomical differences have drawn the most challenges and bans, particularity public and school libraries. It is the number one reason that books have been challenged. America’s long history in the suppression of materials that were deemed offensive, inappropriate, indecent, corrupting, or “filthy” are rooted in Anglo-American and Protestant Christian culture but carry consequences, apparent in the sad case of Ida Craddock, that are born out of fear, control, and prejudice.
While many of these challenges and bans may seem quaint, extreme, or just plain silly, this way of thinking and course of action continues to this day. Church groups and “concerned parents” still rally against what is and isn’t OK for others to be exposed to. This was most recently seen in the burning of the Koran in Florida which resulted in the deaths of nine people in Afghanistan. We also see very strong pushes to censor music lyrics and videos, films, and the internet. State and federal government continue to be involved in tracking and investigating images and films deemed to be obscene, many of which however involve minors and the internet file sharing.
While practically no one will disagree that individuals who harmfully exploit others for their own pleasure or profitable gain should not be punished, the rub comes between the rule of law and the regulation of morality. Throughout American history this has materialized in alcohol prohibition, access to legalized abortion and reproduction services, and the criminalization of homosexuality. But the key issue here is about censorship and access to information. Librarians and others are committed to allowing citizens to access materials on any topic one wishes to explore. It is only by opening up an honest discussion that we may understand each other and the world around us.
In honor of Banned Books Week we ask that you take advantage of the wealth of information that is available to keep you informed and aware and, of course, enthralled. We need people like Margaret Sanger and Malcolm X to shine a light on our shared experience and we need people like Alice Walker and John Steinbeck to tell our stories. For more about fiction and why literature is important, check out what some contemporary authors have had to say.
You can watch others and participate yourself in the Virtual Read-Out and check out a complete list of frequently challenged books here. Which books have you read? And which books will you be reading?
“[T]his Juneteenth offers another opportunity to reflect on how far we’ve come as a nation. And it’s also a chance to recommit ourselves to the ongoing work of guaranteeing liberty and equal rights for all Americans.”
(title quote: President Barack Obama, June 19. 2012)
June 19 is marks what is known as Juneteenth, the day that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States in 1865. While we have been taught to believe the Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery in 1863, in Texas, there were few Union soldiers to enforce the new law and thus the society of gross inequality carried on.
Juneteenth is an important celebration in the African American community and has been artistically interpreted in literature, verse, song and more. Listen to Gladys Bentley’s 1907 song “Juneteenth Jamboree”, read Kamau Daaood’s poem here, or have Ralph Ellison’s novel downloaded on to Library Kindle. Explore even more about African American history and cultulre in our database The African American Experience!
“Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather in which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressingown, ungridled, was sustained gently behind him by the mild morning air. He held the bowl aloft and intoned: “INTROIBO AD ALTARE DEI.”
This is the opening of Ulysses, a novel that follows the protagonist, Leopold Bloom, through his hometown of Dublin, Ireland on June 16, 1904.
The novel is adapted and follows the same structure as Homer’s Odyssey. Critics who discovered this were able to draw correlations between the two works and aided to work against obscenity charges and lift a ten year ban placed on the book in the US and UK. This edition of Ulysses available at the library offers the forward by Hon. John Woolsey, the district judge who deemed the novel not pornographic.
While enjoying the claim held by many that Ulysses is the greatest novel of the twentieth century, it is by no means an easy read. Joyce, in quite an ingenious way, borrows and builds on much of the history of Western literature to produce this fascinating and complex work. A prime example of modern literature, it falls into the subcategory of stream of consciousness writing also seen in such famous authors as William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf. But Joyce is unique in his own right, inventing language, ignoring grammar, inserting jokes and, particularly, for centering his character in Ireland. Perhaps you may want to check out the film version of Ulysses to see the plot line played out more directly. The Library offers Joyce’s other works as well including an audio version of The Dubliners and Joyce himself reading “Anna Livia Plurabelle” from Finnegan’s Wake.
Bloomsday as an annual June celebration was conceived by Joyce himself. Rather it was a group of friend as Joyce lovers that set out to reenact the scenes of the book at various places in Dublin. Today the celebrations take place in many English speaking cities around the world, but in Hungary and Italy as well. Beginning in the morning hours, volunteers read aloud chapters of the book, either in pubs, universities, or street corners, depending on the cities’ connection to the novel. As can be expected, Dublin holds the most lavish of celebrations with food, music, and dancing.
Pittsburgh too celebrated Bloomsday each June 16th. Pick up your copy of Ulysses, check out the events and wait “for what the sky would drop in the way of drink”.
“Advertising is based on one thing, happiness. And you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of the road that screams reassurance that whatever you are doing is okay. You are okay.”
(title quote: Don Draper, Mad Men.)
Tonight is the season premiere of Mad Men! Television event of the year! Ok, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but the entertainment world couldn’t be more excited. Newsweek not only gives the show its cover story but revamps the design and features stories and ads that ran in the 1960s. You can read about the editorial and creative decisions here. And it seems show creator Matthew Weiner has been very secretive about season 5’s place in time- as in how many years how passed since season 4 closed in 1965. It has been a year and half for the audience; perhaps the show will follow this timeline as well?
Since 2007 when the show premiered, Mad Men has been a huge success. The show has great writing: the stories and the characters are what keep you coming back, but it also engrosses you in the time period. From the beautiful costumes* and sets, to the tone of the character’s voices, to casual sexism and racism, Mad Men captures a way of American life that dazzles some and gives pangs of nostalgia to others. The show wraps itself up the world of advertising. Like so many things in the 1960s, advertising was changing. We see the motivation behind the ads and the manipulation and artistry that goes into them. We see deals and careers made and lost.
We see office politics at play and we see how work and home life affect one another. While Don Draper may be the lead character in the show, his story does not overshadow that of the other characters. In my opinion, what makes the show so powerful is that each of the major characters is three-dimensional and played by the actors with such nuance and conviction that you become emotionally invested. (I felt this way about the series Six Feet Under as well, but that can be another post).
In case you are unfamiliar with Mad Men you can get acquainted with the show’s “premise” and have fun doing it with Mad Men: The Game. If you are an advertising major, check out the collection, including print copies of Adweek and Advertising Age, and our online journals.
Fun Fact: Mad Men has a Pittsburgh connection! Aaron Stanton, who plays Ken Cosgrove, attended CMU’s drama school.