Chapel Hill celebrates Banned Books Week through trading card exhibit, other events

Chapel Hill Public Library is celebrating Banned Books Week for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic through a partnership with Chapel Hill Community Arts & Culture.

This year the week runs from September 18th to 24th. The week was first celebrated 40 years ago in 1982.

Susan Brown, director of Chapel Hill Public Library and executive director of Chapel Hill Community Arts & Culture, said she decided to bring back the competition because she’d been following news about challenges for books in public libraries and schools on issues like racial justice and LGBTQ+ Subjects.

The Chapel Hill Public Library has launched a week of events beginning on Friday, September 16th with the opening of the Banned Books trading card exhibition and artist reception.

Brown was responsible for implementing trading cards into the library’s Banned Books Week celebration.

“This idea came to me over my morning coffee one day,” she said at the exhibition.

This year, the national theme of the celebration is “Books Connect Us. Censorship divides us.” Chapel Hill artists were invited to submit visual art of their favorite banned books, and a selection committee selected seven of the works for the trading cards.

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This year artists created 74 entries depicting banned books such as EB White’s ‘Charlotte’s Web’ and George Orwell’s ‘1984’.

Hollis Chatelain, an attendee at the event, said she was shocked that Charlotte’s Web was included on the banned books list.

Brown explained the censorship of the children’s book, saying it was challenged because it has talking animals and some people see it as “blasphemous” and “against God.”

The trading cards have on the front the winning artwork, an excerpt of the artist and the reason the book was challenged or banned.

Amelia Brinson, a senior at Chapel Hill High School, created a depiction of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, who was selected as one of the winners of the competition. The book has been controversial for its inclusion of sex, violence, and explicit language.

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Brinson said she combined the book’s themes and characters with the ideas of censorship. She decided to portray the book’s characters as criminals. Brinson added that every mark the characters hold in the art contains the indictment of the reason the book was banned.

“I think censorship is a really big thing because being a banned book means that book has been removed and censored and a very important topic isn’t being talked about,” she said. “I think it’s reflected in people questioning things they’re afraid of and I feel like it challenges the narrative of what they’re seeing.”

The judges selected Brinson’s piece to be among the group of entries that became trading cards that community members can obtain at the library anytime through Friday, September 30th.

Books have been banned throughout history for a variety of reasons, but the causes behind this form of censorship have remained relatively similar, Brown said. She described them as “fearing the other” and “maintaining the status quo”.

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CJ Suitt, Chapel Hill’s first Poet Laureate and a judge for this year’s Banned Books Trading Cards, said he believes that in order for a book to be banned, it must challenge people with a sense of control.

“I think to some extent it has to speak to a reality that someone in power doesn’t live or want to acknowledge exists in the world,” they said.

The exhibition will remain on view in the public library until Friday 30 September. Other events related to Banned Books Week include a talk about censorship with Carolina Public Humanities on Thursday and a reading from the Banned Books Community on September 29.


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