Newswise — "Banned Books" at SVC: New English Class Examines Forbidden Literature

What makes a banned book controversial—and sometimes truly great? Students at Southern Vermont College in Bennington, Vt., will seek answers this fall as part of the college's newest English course: "Banned Books." In the class, to be offered for the first time at SVC in September, students will explore the nature of censorship while studying more than a dozen banned works of literature, their authors and their relevance to issues in history.

Taught by Catherine Burns, an English department faculty member who recently created the course to appeal to the general student population at SVC, "Banned Books" has attracted students from a variety of majors. In fact, of the 16 students already enrolled, only five are English majors.

Readings will include: J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye; Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury; Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses; Native Son by Richard Wright; Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird; Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut; Katherine Paterson's Bridge to Terabithia; and Aristophanes' anti-war drama Lysistrata.

In addition, students will work on individual projects, where they will research other notably banned books—stripped from bookshelves by governments, communities, school districts, religious groups or political leaders—like Huckleberry Finn, Harry Potter and various Judy Blume books, among others.

Burns says the books represent a good mix of issues: political, social, religious and coming-of-age. "The children's books included really show just how varied banned books can be," she notes.

"Studying banned books is relevant today, as it will open our students' minds to general issues of censorship," she says. "This is an important issue of awareness for them, and I hope the class helps them reflect on this, better understand some of the issues raised in the books and figure out individually where they stand."

With many students today interested in issues of security, free speech and the government, they will recognize that these themes have been explored repeatedly for many years through literature, says Burns. She explains that the class will also examine the issues that resulted in specific books being banned. "Students will look at what governments, religious leaders and other have been afraid of," she says, "and what made them concerned enough to ban certain books."

Burns adds: "I hope to help those enrolled in the class reflect on historic and contemporary books alike, and help our students come up with their own conclusions."

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