The clock strikes thirteen – it’s Banned Books week!

It’s Banned Books Week and I am reminded of events in Turkey earlier this year. On 17 June, Erdem Gunduz stood silently in Taksim Square for eight hours with his hands in his pockets. His strong but peaceful act of resistance made international headlines and inspired hundreds of others to do the same. Then, a group of protesters took Gunduz’s action a step further: they began to read… in the middle of the square … for hours on end. 

The Taksim Square Book Club combines non-violent resistance with empowerment through learning. Photos of this simple act spread quickly all over the world. They show protestors silently reading works from Gabriel García Márquez  to Albert Camus. However, one book in particular keeps popping up. In this dystopian story, the government has control of all reading material, language and even thoughts in the ultimate censored society: George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. 

It is a world feared and passionately fought against by those who cherish human rights everywhere. 

This is why reading banned books is important and why I will be celebrating Banned Books Week with some diverse reading. In case you need some inspiration, here are a few titles from authors and work read at our Imprisoned Writers Series at the Edinburgh International Book Festival last month. Many of these are cases are not simply of banned books, but of banned people: 

Sophia Parnok’s Poems – 19th century Russian poet censored for her openly lesbian voice. Also, check out Diana Burgin's Sophia Parnok: The Life and Work of Russia's Sappho.

Ken Saro Wiwa's A Month and a Day: A Detention Diary – Nigerian poet executed for his activism against the pollution of the Niger Delta. 

Anna Politkovskaya’s A Russian Diary: A Journalist's Final Account of Life, Corruption, and Death in Putin's Russia – posthumously published work of journalist Anna Politkovskaya who was murdered in Moscow for her integrity in reporting on the Chechen conflict and other human rights violations in Putin’s Russia. 

Reinaldo Arenas’ Before Night Falls – The autobiography of the Cuban writer who was persecuted and imprisoned for his openly gay lifestyle and writing. 

Pablo Neruda’s Canto General – This work was banned in Chile and the poet forced into exile for his political and artistic convictions.   

Poems from Guantanamo: The Detainees Speak – The voices of Guantanamo inmates imprisoned and tortured for years without trial. 

And if you are in the Glasgow area on Wednesday, check out the Banned Books Week event at Glasgow Women’s Library.

Finally, I’d like to share a quote from a letter Charles Bukowski wrote to a library in Holland that had banned one of his books: 

“Censorship is the tool of those who have the need to hide actualities from themselves and from others. Their fear is only their inability to face what is real, and I can't vent any anger against them. I only feel this appalling sadness. Somewhere, in their upbringing, they were shielded against the total facts of our existence. They were only taught to look one way when many ways exist.” 

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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