Occidental College > LibrarySpecial Collections > Online Exhibits > Banned Books

The "Chandos" portrait
                of William Shakespeare, attributed to John Taylor, and
                part of National Portrait Gallery in London


Banned Books Week FAQ

Censored Works of Shakespeare

Famous Quotes

Additional Resources



Other Exhibits in Special Collections

Banned Books: Shakespeare Censored!

An online exhibition of the works of William Shakespeare that have been censored, challenged, and banned around the world.

Banned Books Week Frequently Asked Questions

What is Banned Books Week?

Banned Books Week, first observed in 1982, is an annual event during the last week of September initiated in part by the American Library Association (ALA).

According to the ALA Banned Books Week website, "Banned Books Week (BBW) celebrates the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one’s opinion even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular and stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of those unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read them."

The message of Banned Books Week is more than the freedom to choose, or the freedom to express one's opinion even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular. The essential message of Banned Books Week is the importance of ensuring the availability of those unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read them.

Return to Top

What is the difference between a challenge and a banning?

The term "challenged book" refers to a book that has, for whatever reason, been considered by one of more people to be inappropriate, and its removal from library shelves has been requested. A "banned book" on the other hand is a challenged book that has actually been removed from the shelves.

Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view. Rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others.

Return to Top

Why are books challenged or banned?

Books are often challenged or banned due to an individual or group of individuals considering the book to be controversial, immoral, inappropriate, sexually explicit, divisive, corrupt, vulgar, violent, or even wicked. Unfortunately, challenged and banned books are often valuable, classic works of literature. William Shakespeare's plays, among many other great works of literature, have often been targets of challenges and bannings.

Between 1990 and 2000, of the 6,364 challenges reported to or recorded by the Office for Intellectual Freedom:

  • 1,607 were challenges to “sexually explicit” material (up 161 since 1999);

  • 1,427 to material considered to use “offensive language”; (up 165 since 1999)

  • 1,256 to material considered “unsuited to age group”; (up 89 since 1999)

  • 842 to material with an “occult theme or promoting the occult or Satanism,”; (up 69 since 1999)

  • 737 to material considered to be “violent”; (up 107 since 1999)

  • 515 to material with a homosexual theme or “promoting homosexuality,” (up 18 since 1999)

  • 419 to material “promoting a religious viewpoint.” (up 22 since 1999)

Return to Top

Who is doing the banning?

Throughout history, more and different kinds of people and groups of all persuasions than you might first suppose, who, for all sorts of reasons, have attempted—and continue to attempt—to suppress anything that conflicts with or anyone who disagrees with their own beliefs.

The following is a list of prominent people and organizations in the United States that have been responsible for book banning and censorship:

  • The Anti-Defamation League

  • Barnes and Noble, bookseller, San Diego, California
  • Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
  • Christian Voters League
  • Columbus Metropolitan Library
  • Comstock, Anthony - special agent for the U.S. Post Office
  • Concerned Women for America - Beverly LaHay, president
  • Drake, North Dakota - school board
  • Dworkin, Andrea - feminist writer
  • Educational Research Analysts - Mel & Norma Gabler, founders
  • Graves County, Kentucky school board
  • Lake Lanier Regional Library system in Gwinnett County, Georgia
  • MacKinnon, Catherine - feminist
  • Marion High School, Foxworth, Missippi
  • McCarthy, Joseph R. - U.S. Senator
  • Meese Commission
  • National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored Peole (NAACP)
  • National Assn. of Christian Educators (Robert Simonds, founder)
  • National Federation of Decency (Rev. Donald Wildmon, exec. dir.)
  • National Security Agency (NSA)
  • New England Watch and Ward Society
  • Olathe, Kansas - school system
  • Parade Magazine - national magazine
  • Rafferty, Max - CA superintendent of public instruction (1963)
  • Rib Lake, Wisconsin - school board
  • Roberts, Cokie - ABC News Commentator
  • Roman Catholic Church - Index of Prohibited Books
  • Sixty Minutes, CBS News Program Feature Story on Internet
  • Stahl, Leslie - 60 Minutes News Commentator
  • Talmadge, Eugene - governor of Georgia (1941)
  • U.S. Bureau of Customs
  • U.S. Food and Drug Administration
  • U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service
  • U.S. Information Agency (USIA)
  • U.S. Justice Department
  • U.S. Postal Service
  • U.S. Treasury Department
  • West Marion High School in Foxworth, Mississippi by School Superintendent
Return to Top

What books have been banned or challenged recently?

The “10 Most Challenged Books of 2007” reflect a range of themes, and consist of the following titles:

1) “And Tango Makes Three,” by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell

Reasons: Anti-Ethnic, Sexism, Homosexuality, Anti-Family, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group

2) The Chocolate War,” by Robert Cormier

Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Violence

3) “Olive’s Ocean,” by Kevin Henkes

Reasons: Sexually Explicit and Offensive Language

4) “The Golden Compass,” by Philip Pullman

Reasons: Religious Viewpoint

5) “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” by Mark Twain

Reasons: Racism

6) “The Color Purple,” by Alice Walker

Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language,

7) "TTYL,” by Lauren Myracle

Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

8) "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” by Maya Angelou

Reasons: Sexually Explicit

9) “It’s Perfectly Normal,” by Robie Harris

Reasons: Sex Education, Sexually Explicit

10) "The Perks of Being A Wallflower,” by Stephen Chbosky

Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

Please see the American Library Association's website for more information.



"Art made tongue-tied by authority."

-William Shakespeare, Sonnet 66

Page last edited by on 03/04/2013.
Occidental College Library Special Collections & College Archives
© 2011 Occidental College