Alaska school board bans 5 ‘controversial’ books, including Maya Angelou work

A school board in southern Alaska voted to remove five classic books from an approved list for high school English teachers this fall, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

Last week, the Matanuska-Susitna School Board in Palmer, Alaska, voted 5-2 to ban the books, which include “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison; “Catch-22” by Joseph Heller; “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien; “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou; and “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, according to the outlet.

Angelou’s work was banned because of a graphic description she wrote about being molested as a child and for “anti-white” messaging.

“The Things They Carried,” about the Vietnam War, was cited for profanity and sexual references, while “Catch-22” was banned for racist attitudes, misogyny and violence.

As for “The Great Gatsby,” it was reportedly removed for language and sexual references, and “Invisible Man,” a story of race and identity in a pre-civil rights era America, was nixed for language and depictions of rape and incest.

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Written in 1969, Angelou’s book won the Literarian, an honorary National Book Award, in 2013. “Invisible Man” won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1953 and "The Things They Carried" was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1991.

The books are all used in the nearby Anchorage District, some as required reading, the Daily News reported.

Board member Jeff Taylor described the controversial content as “things that are pretty serious problems, especially in our teenage world.”

“Is there a reason that we include books that we even label as controversial in our curriculum?" he asked the Daily News rhetorically. “I would prefer these were gone.”

Board member Jim Hart said if he read Angelou’s description of her childhood molestation “in a professional environment at my office, I would be dragged to the equal opportunity office.”

The owner of Fireside Books in Palmer told KTUU-TV the bookstore is getting between five and six calls an hour over the ban and that they sold out of all of the books within hours.

The decision also created a backlash on social media, according to the Anchorage Daily News.

Board member Kelsey Trimmer, who voted against the ban, said it reminded him of the movie “Footloose,” where decisions were made by the “old white man’s club.”

Board member Sarah Welton, who also voted against the ban, told the Daily News she believes “the controversial book subjects as reviewed by parents is…beneficial to our students. I think we might be doing a disservice to not provide that.”

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The books have a history of being banned in various places throughout the years.