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'Wielding the Red Pen': Library presents censorship exhibit

By Melissa Norris

What level of public danger or offensiveness justifies censorship? And what does censorship mean for ideals of free speech, the Bill of Rights and artistic expression?

Wielding the Red Pen

Many people have some notion of limits on what should be made widely available to the public. Where people have drawn the line is explored in the exhibit, "Censored: Wielding the Red Pen," on display Sept. 29 through Jan. 13 in the McGregor Room of Alderman Library.

Censorship can take many forms and affect many mediums. The exhibition addresses censorship of children's and adult literature, film, art, music, science, correspondence to and from soldiers during wartime, and more. It presents some of the justifications for censoring, as well as the reactions of those censored.

"Books, films, music, artwork, and even ideas and speech can be banned, suppressed, altered, bleeped, blackened, cut, and burned," says Melinda Baumann, a reference librarian who curated the exhibit. "A writer or artist may be imprisoned, fined, fired, or silenced." To witness some of the various forms of censorship, visitors to the exhibition can read portions of once-censored works, listen to censored music and watch censored film clips.

Some of the highlights of the exhibition include:

Walt Whitman's personal copy of his 1855 book of poetry, Leaves of Grass. Whitman lost his job with the U.S. Government when his supervisor found the annotated book among his possessions. The book, now an American classic, was deemed obscene and too sensual due to its frank portrayal of sexuality with obvious homoerotic overtones. Leaves of Grass was legally banned in Boston in the 1880s and libraries throughout the country refused to buy it.

The Diderot Encyclopédie, one of the most brilliant literary enterprises of the 18th century, was heavily censored by its editors who did not agree with French philosopher Denis Diderot's and other contributors' articles about science, religion and other topics. The publisher was forbidden to sell or to distribute the encyclopedia. The Diderot Encyclopédie is a 35-volume compilation of learning that was considered radical for its time. The set belonging to U.Va. contains an additional volume with over 300 original proof pages of articles with corrections in Diderot's hand.

Popular children's literature often receives the greatest amount of scrutiny. Some items on display are editions of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling, Little Red Riding Hood, and The Stupids Have a Ball by Harry Allard, all of which have been challenged by various groups at one time or another.

Music has the power to greatly affect people and thus is often censored. In the 1950s, Elvis scandalized America with his sexy hip-shaking as he sang. When he appeared on "The Ed Sullivan Show," the cameras did not show him from the waist down. In the 1980s, rap music became phenomenally popular and the subject of controversy. Certain artists are thought to incite violence against police, women and society. Also in the exhibition will be music banned by the Nazis before and during World War II.

The exhibition is open Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For information, call 924-4966.

"Censored: Wielding the Red Pen" is opening in conjunction with the American Library Association's annual Banned Books Week, which runs Sept. 23-30 and aims to educate the public about banned and challenged books. Visit the ALA's Banned Books Week Web site at




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