16 Quotes from Great Authors for Banned Books Week

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Editor's Note:

Who doesn’t love a good quote? For more like this, check out our quotations archive.

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression,” or so says the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. “This right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Those frontiers are being tested more than ever, as we see the very definitions of words themselves being twisted to include (or exclude) entirely new meanings. As Banned Books Week approaches, it’s important to remember what we do when we censor: we not only restrict the freedoms of the present, we commit violence against the freedoms of the past.

Below are quotes by authors reaching out from the past, in hopes of inspiring us to speak and read freely, confronting our own prejudices as well as others’. After all, most censorship requires us to misunderstand the creative impulse on a fundamental level. Or, as Ice-T put it, “If you believe that I’m a cop killer, you believe David Bowie is an astronaut.”

Mildred D. Taylor, The Land, 2001
“Although there are those who wish to ban my books because I have used language that is painful, I have chosen to use the language that was spoken during the period, for I refuse to whitewash history. The language was painful and life was painful for many African Americans, including my family.
I remember the pain.”

Katherine Paterson, from a speech to the American Library Association, 1995
“All of us can think of a book … that we hope none of our children or any other children have taken off the shelf. But if I have the right to remove that book from the shelf – that work I abhor – then you also have exactly the same right and so does everyone else. And then we have no books left on the shelf for any of us.”

Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, 1953
“There must be something in books, something we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.”

Henry Louis Gates Jr. “2 Live Crew, Decoded,” 1990
“Censorship is to art as lynching is to justice.”

Mark Twain, Pudd’nhead Wilson, 1894
“Adam was but human – this explains it all. He did not want the apple for the apple’s sake, he wanted it only because it was forbidden. The mistake was in not forbidding the serpent; then he would have eaten the serpent.”

Lemony Snicket, The Penultimate Peril, 2005
“When someone is burning a book, they are showing utter contempt for all of the thinking that produced its ideas, all of the labor that went into its words and sentences, and all of the trouble that befell the author …”

Golda Meir, My Life, 1975
“One cannot and must not try to erase the past merely because it does not fit the present.”

Robert A. Heinlein, Time Enough for Love, 1973
“A society that gets rid of all its troublemakers goes downhill.”

Anaïs Nin, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 4, 1977
“The important task of literature is to free man, not to censor him, and that is why Puritanism was the most destructive and evil force which ever oppressed people and their literature: It created hypocrisy, perversion, fears, sterility.”

Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, 1976
“Calling sex by its name thereafter [the 17th c.] became more difficult and more costly. As if in order to gain mastery of it in reality, it had first been necessary to subjugate it at the level of language, control its free circulation in speech, expunge it from the things that were said, and extinguish the words that rendered it too visibly present. ”

Judy Blume, in a speech for Virtual Read Out, 2011
“Censors never go after books unless kids already like them. I don’t even think they know to go after books until they know that children are interested in reading this book, therefore there must be something in it that’s wrong.”

Peggy Noonan, Patriotic Grace: What It Is and Why We Need It Now, 2008
“I should say here, because some in Washington like to dream up ways to control the Internet, that we don’t need to ‘control’ free speech, we need to control ourselves.”

Vito Russo, The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies, 1981
“American society has willfully deleted the fact of homosexual behavior from its mind, laundering things as they come along, in order to maintain a more comfortable illusion. The censors removed it; the critics said, ‘Well, look! It isn’t there’; and anyone who still saw it was labeled a pervert”

Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran, 2003
“We were thirsty for some form of beauty, even in an incomprehensible, overintellectual, abstract film with no subtitles and censored out of recognition. There was a sense of wonder at being in a public place for the first time in years without fear or anger, being in a place with a crowd of strangers that was not a demonstration, a protest rally, a breadline or a public execution … For a brief time we experienced collectively the kind of awful beauty that can only be grasped at through extreme anguish and expressed through art.”

Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, 1984
“In a society run by terror, no statements whatsoever can be taken seriously. They are all forced, and it is the duty of every honest man to ignore them.”

Allen Ginsberg, Journals: Early Fifties, Early Sixties, 1977
“They censor words not the things they denote:
It would create less of a stir to drop a piece of shit on Grant’s tomb
than to write it out in white paint.
Because people recognize that’s what memorials are for – old bums and dogs to shit on.”