As promised, some of our volunteers have devised a list of some of the books that have been banned/censored and contested written by women over the years, all over the world. We know this list is not exhaustive and we are aware that there may be books that are missing from this list.
We’ve tried to ensure that all the information contained in this list is correct, however we are aware that there could be errors. If anyone spots anything that they think is a glaring false account, please do let us know and we will alter it. A number of these books are contained in our catalogue, which you can access here so please do come and browse if you can and check them out. We hope you find this interesting and that it provokes some interesting discussions and insights. Any feedback or comments are most welcome.
Find out more about Nottingham Women’s Library here.
The Library Team.
|Book Title and (first) publication||Author||Banned/censorship/contested (past and present)|
|Harry Potter (series), first published 1997||J.K. Rowling||Banned for promoting the occult and paganism therefore it is seen as anti-Christian. However, Witchcraft is also deemed an officially recognised religion in the U.S. and so to teach it in school would violate the separation of church and state. |
|The Bluest Eye, 1970||Toni Morrison||This was banned from (US) schools and libraries due to its sexual content, racism, incest, and child molestation. It was the second most challenged book in the US in 2013.|
|Forever, 1975||Judy Blume||Banned and challenged for detailed descriptions of sex, the implied homosexuality of a character and the use of birth control. It is also disliked for using swear words. The fact that monogamy is also not promoted but disobedience to parents is added to the case against this novel.|
|The Colour Purple, 1982||Alice Walker||Challenged due to the sexual explicitness, race relations, ideas around god, African History and social ideas it contains. All this and the violence depicted meant it was banned in U.S. schools from 1984, and still contested today.|
|To Kill a Mockingbird, 1960||Harper Lee||This has a long history with censorship in the USA. The racial slurs, the bad language used by the children in the book and the subject matter of rape all deemed too much for children.|
|Beloved, 1987||Toni Morrison||The passages about ghosts as well as the racial themes, sexual content and graphic sexual violence are not considered suitable for teenagers, so it is banned in some schools in the US. In others it requires parental consent for it to be taught to an individual student.|
|Blubber, 1974||Judy Blume||Given that (spoiler alert…) the bullies prevail in the end it was banned in schools. The language was also an issue particularly the use of the word “bitch” about a teacher. For other schools In the USA the general opinion that it lacked social and literary value meant it was restricted to parental permission only.|
|I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, 1969||Maya Angelou||In Alabama it was banned in 1983 because it incited “bitterness and hatred towards white people” It was also objected to because of the sexually explicit violence contained in the recounting of Angelou’s experiences. There were also calls that it encouraged homosexuality.|
|Gossip Girl (series), 2002||Cecily von Ziegesar||Challenged by U.S. religious groups for its sexual explicitness and offensive language. It was removed from school library shelves. It also contains drug uses and scandals not deemed correct for the age group it is aimed at.|
|The Diary of a Young Girl, 1952 (in English)||Anne Frank||Banned in the Virginia School system in 2010 due to complaints that it had sexual content in Anne discussing her genitalia and homosexual themes.|
|The Giver, 1993||Lois Lowry||Again, another text that is controversial in the U.S. school system with violence being the main citation for banning or censoring its use.|
|The Handmaid’s Tale, 1985||Margaret Atwood||Banned for its use of: graphic violence, sex, profanity, for defamatory statements concerning minorities, god, women, the disabled and Christians. Disliked for the lack of hope and the vulgarity it is considered to display.
|The Hunger Games (series), 2008||Suzanne Collins||There are a myriad of reasons for these being challenged including; anti-ethnic, anti-family, occult/satanic concerns, violence, religious viewpoints and sexuality.|
|Bridge to Terebithia, 1977||Katherine Paterson||One of the most frequently banned books in the U.S. Mostly because of its referencing witchcraft and atheism. There is also deemed to be a lot of swearing.|
|Frankenstein, 1818||Mary Shelley||This was banned in 1955 in South African Apartheid for being considered obscene and objectionable.|
|The Well of Loneliness, 1928||Radclyffe Hall||This was riled against in some parts of the British press, and the Home Secretary mobilised the law. Given that it contains nothing against lesbianism which was considered a vice magistrates had the book destroyed. The US reacted differently given that it had not an obscene word in it, this was after the publisher was arrested and copies seized at customs.|
|The Proof of the Honey, 2007||Salwa al-Neimi||Banned in Oman and the other Arab states for depicting an Arab woman’s sexual encounters and thoughts on love.|
|The Country Girls, 1960||Edna O’Brien||Publicly burned by a parish priest, banned by the Irish censor for being sexually explicit and highlighting women’s sexuality. O’Brien herself was the recipient of threatening letters.|
|Black Beauty, 1877||Anna Sewell||*Banned in South African during the Apartheid era because it disliked the title placing the words ‘black’ and ‘beauty’ together. * this may or may not be a myth.|
|Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging, 1999||Louise Rennison||Parental consent needed in some US schools due to sexual content of the book.|
|Letters from Burma, 1997||Aung San Suu Kyi||This view of daily life in Burma doesn’t shy away from showing the political and human rights abuses, leading to it being banned by the regime.|
|The Awakening, 1899||Kate Chopin||Reception deemed it to be “morbid”, “vulgar” and “feeble”. But it was banned only once that can be verified- from a public library in Evanston Illinois.|
|Wild Swans, 1991||Jung Chan||Banned in China (still) for challenging China’s version of its history.|
|Borderlife, 2014||Dorit Rabinyan||Banned by the Israeli government for the love affair between a Jewish woman and a Palestinian man it portrays. It was feared it would encourage intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews.|
|Uncle Tom’s Cabin, 1852||Harrier Beecher Stowe||It was banned in the Southern States of the U.S. for being anti-slavery. There is also a rumour that it was banned in Imperial Russia for the parallels that could be seen between their system of serfdom.|
|One Girl’s War, 1945||Joan Miller||The Attorney General of the United Kingdom tried to get this banned through the courts on the basis that it would cause “irreparable damage” to the security services in Britain.|
|Poetry collection, (work from 1912-25, then 1936 until her death in 1966)||Anna Akhmatova||Her work was subject to censorship and outright condemnation by the Stalinist authorities as it was viewed as anti-revolutionary in 1946. Nonetheless she didn’t shy away from tackling the difficult subjects of life under the regime. To avoid retribution, she learned her poems by heart and then burned them. Should she be arrested and/or executed she ensured their survival by teaching them to her closest female friends. Her work was published again in 1956.|
|Twilight (series), 2005||Stephanie Meyer||Banned for being considered inappropriately sexually explicit for the age group it is aimed at. It is also deemed to have a religious bias often attributed to Meyer’s being a Mormon.
|Their Eyes were Watching God, 1937||Zora Neale Hurston||It has been criticised for not depicting the African American experience in a political way rather than a personal story of the main protagonist. It has also been disliked by the same community for her use of a dialect that made the characters sound uneducated. Alice Walker rediscovered her neglected work in 1970s it has been on some curriculums but still received complaints about many things from the lightness of Janie’s skin to the fact that a feminist book shouldn’t feature a woman who stays with her abusive husband.|
|Despised and Rejected, 1918||Rose Allatini||This 1918 work deals with both pacifism and homosexuality with its main character, a homosexual composer, refusing conscription on the grounds of pacifism. It was banned under the Defence of the Realm Act by the British on the basis that it could prejudice the recruitment drive of the armed forces. It has just become a Persephone book in 2018.|
|Forever Amber, 1944||Kathleen Winsor||A work deemed to be overly sexualised and without literary merit. The scandal of such subject matter as sex, abortion and impotence meant that it was banned in Australia in 1945. It was removed from the Commonwealth list of prohibited books in 1958.|
|Poetry collection, 1946||Kurihara Sadako||Politically unpopular because of her criticism of the Japanese government over their censorship of the truth about the Second World War. Vastly affected by the results of the A Bomb drop becoming involved in the antinuclear movement. In 1990 she received the third annual Kiyoshi Tanimoto Peace Prize.|
|Poetry and plays, 1902||Else Lasker-Schuler||When Hitler came to power her works were banned and burned including this play which had Hebraic themes. Lasker-Schuler herself was physically attacked in the Spring of 1933 at the age of 64 prompting her to flee to Switzerland. She never returned to Germany leaving her unable to visit the graves of her parents and her only son Paul.|
|A body of more than 50 works, at least 10 of which were made into Hollywood films. Considered one of the first modern bestselling author.||Vicki Baum||Some of her early work was published under husband’s name. She took up boxing in the late 1920s in Berlin mastering training routines thought more fit for a man to do. Her works were denigrated as sensationalist and amoral by the Third Reich who banned them. She became an American citizen in 1938.|
|Various works including her essays at Radcliffe College, letters and Addresses have been collected in a collection called Out of The Dark.
Collection of essays ; How I Became a Socialist
|Helen Keller||The deaf blind girl of the famed image grew into a strong suffragette who used her hands to loudly voice her ideals to the world even it is rumoured to have given several U.S. Presidents grounds for worry. She learned Latin, French, German and Greek. She wrote about disabilities, capitalism, poverty and ignorance. On May 10th 1933 her collection of essays -as part of Hitler’s list of “degenerate” books -was burned. Keller published an open letter in the New York Times to the Nazi students|
|Reading Lolita in Tehran, 2003||Azar Nafisi||The western classics read by Nafisi’s clandestine book group were banned in Iran. Her own refusal to wear a veil forced her resignation from her University post.|
|Burger’s Daughter, 1979||Nadine Gordimer||It’s depiction of white anti-apartheid activists unsurprisingly caused it to be banned in South Africa allegedly for spreading Communist opinions and for working in opposition to law and order in the state.|
|Fifty Shades (trilogy), 2011||E L James||Banned from libraries in some U.S states on the grounds of its sexual content, though Florida replaced it due to public demand. In Malaysia the trilogy were banned as works of sadism and for threatening morality.|
|July’s People, 1981||Nadine Gordimer||Set in a near future depiction of a South Africa where Apartheid has been ended by civil war it was banned by the South African regime. It was later temporarily banned from schools in the Gauteng Province under the post-Apartheid government for being patronising, racist and superior.|
|Lajja, 1993||Taslima Nasrin||With the subject matter of the attack on Hindus by Muslim fundamentalists this work served as an uncomfortable reminder to the Bangladesh of its failure to protect them.|
|A World of Strangers, 1958||Nadine Gordimer||The subject matter is again the Apartheid in South Africa and the social divides inherent in it leading to it being banned for 12 years.|
|The Famous Five, 1942||Enid Blyton||Her books were banned by the BBC for nearly 30 years because it was felt that her work lacked literary value and was second-rate.|
|Jane Eyre, 1847||Charlotte Bronte||As soon as the author was discovered to be a woman, the book was considered ‘coarse” and immoral. Aspersions were cast at Charlotte herself as a loose woman without morals. There is also the added sin that Jane has a mind and a voice of her own.
|The House of the Spirits, 1986||Isabel Allende||Made the top 100 banned/challenge books in the US between 2000-2009. Before that, first challenge in 1994 in the US due to accounts of sexual encounters and violence. Other reasons for challenge include; ‘defames’ the Catholic faith, immoral, graphic content and sexually depraved.|
|Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood, 2000||Marjane Satrapi||The book and film are banned in Iran. It is a graphic memoir of growing up during the Iranian Revolution. It was also banned in Chicago schools in 2013 for children from the seventh grade for graphic language and images. This prompted widespread criticism and protests and the move was later backtracked on. However, although it is sanctioned for school libraries, it is not for the lower grades. The exact reason for the ban does remain unclear (teachers can still use the book though apparently only with special training).|
|A Wrinkle in Time, 1962||Madeleine L’Engle||Has spent the last few decades in the top 100 banned/challenged books in America. Campaigns against the book have been mainly from conservative Christian groups which focus on it containing magical elements, its depiction of religion and that it attempts to undermine religious beliefs.|
|A Day in the Life of Marion Bundo, 2018||Jill Twiss||Number two in the 2018 top challenged books in America. It is a children’s illustrated book which has been banned and challenged for including LGBTQ+ content, political and religious viewpoints.|
|The Hate U Give, 2017||Angie Thomas||Number four in the 2018 top (and one of the top in 2017) challenged books in America. This is a young adult novel, written in reaction to the shooting of Oscar Grant. Deemed anti-cop and challenge for profanity, drug use and sexual references.|