The Battle of Banned Books

by Alexandra Levy, staff writer

October 2021 – Banned Book Week helps students and readers to defy the censorship of literature; during the designated week, organizations promote books that have been prohibited by numerous institutions.

Banned Book Week was Sept. 26 through Oct. 2 2021. The week was created by Library Activist Judith Krug to encourage people to read books that have been banned or challenged for a variety of reasons. Krug argued that many of the banned books were unfairly challenged and still deserved adequate exposure. 

Throughout Banned Book Week, a list of that year’s challenged and banned books is publicly released through the American Library Association’s (ALA) website. Participants in Banned Book Week pick one or more books from the list and read it within the week. According to the ALA, the majority of books are challenged by public schools and school libraries. 

Tenth-Grade English teacher, Ms. Tracie McFerren, defended students’ right to read banned books. “I have never agreed with the banned book list. I have taught many great works in my 13 years of teaching that have either been challenged or banned, such as ‘The Great Gatsby,’ ‘1984,’ ‘Of Mice and Men,’ ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God,’ ‘A Separate Peace,’ and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’ Where would we be without these great pieces of literature?” 

Pictured is a banned book sign outside of Ms. Bates’s classroom. The poster features books such as “The Hunger Games,” “The Color Purple,” and “The Kite Runner.”

“Sensitive topics in historical literature should be addressed. They should not be ignored but instead discussed and analyzed so we as a society can understand why things happen and how to change for the better,” expressed McFerren. 

McFerren is currently teaching “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. The book tells the story of a white lawyer defending a Black man that has been falsely accused of rape. Hanover County, VA School district banned the book shortly after its release in 1966, claiming that the issues the book addressed were “immoral.”

The criteria for a book to be banned is allegedly undefined. The looseness of criteria has allowed books to be banned for representing members of the LGBTQ+ community and people of color. Feminism, the practice of advocating for equal rights, was another reason that books were challenged or banned this year. 

Later this school year, Ms. Jenna Bates, 11th grade English teacher, will  teach another banned book, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” by Margaret Atwood. The novel depicts a future-dystopian society that treats women as property of the state. The setting of the novel was used to demonstrate the importance of women’s rights. The Canadian Broadcast Company (CBC) has reported that numerous public schools have challenged “The Handmaid’s Tale” on the account of “vulgar and sexual overtones.”

“I think ‘banned’ is a very strong word,” explained Bates. “Generally speaking, I’m against banning any subject. But I do think that teachers should exercise their professional judgment about the topics that they teach, [and] make them age appropriate, present them in a way that is academic, and in a way that students can understand.”

“Vulgar language” was the reason for banning hundreds of books. Both of the aforementioned books, “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “To Kill a Mockingbird,” have been banned for profane phrases. The purpose was to “shield” students from mature language. 

Teachers felt that the language could help students understand the context and historical time period. However, they understood students’ discomfort towards certain words. 

“When quoting literature, I do ask that students censor offensive language as I don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable in my classroom. I discuss the offensive language in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ in advance with my classes and explain how it demonstrates the time period and the racism,” McFerren noted. Her classroom policy discourages repeating harmful language in quotes.

However, classroom policies are varied, causing students to often question how they should write quotes from texts with obscene language. 

Sophomore Irene Scherer commented, “I feel like if [profanity is] not hurting anyone it should be quoted directly. If it is used to purposefully hurt or attack someone, then it should not be written word-for-word.”

Bates concluded, “I would never teach a book just because it was banned. If it is a book that has significant value, either because it has historical value, it’s beautiful, [or] its themes are universal, and it also happens to be banned, I’m not going to back off from a book simply because it was banned.”

Further information about Banned Book Week can be found here.

Arts & Culture Uncategorized

Akron ArtWalk: Art on Display

by Randall Hatfield, staff writer

Pictured is the exterior side of the Artspace leading down South Summit Street. Summit Artspace is located in the heart of downtown Akron, and allows local artists to convene and display their work. Photo by Alyssa Cocchiola, associate editor.

OCTOBER 2021 – The afternoon of September 10th was a busy day for the Summit artspace. Multiple artists making chalk works were lined up on the sidewalk, as an audience watched them work under the Artspace’s large, colorful entrance. It was time for the Artspace’s most recent Artwalk, titled “Chalk Fest.”

The building contains galleries, studios, and shops for local artists to display their work. Several organizations are also headquartered there, such as the Summit Choral Society and The Devil Strip. The building often holds exhibitions in its galleries, showcasing the individual works of one or more artists. Exhibitions like these allow local artists to present the work to an audience who may not have heard of them otherwise.

In addition to the exhibitions, the Artspace’s ArtWalk is another good way for community members to meet local artists and discover their unique styles. ArtWalk is an afternoon event hosted every three months. During ArtWalk, the entire Artspace opens up, allowing guests to visit its galleries and studios. Many local artists are present at the event creating, displaying, or selling their work.

Each ArtWalk has its own theme, represented in some of the featured pieces at the ArtWalk. One example of a past theme was “mothers,” a celebration of maternity and parental care through art.

The first floor was a bustle of activity. Many of the space’s larger galleries could be found on this floor, and they were filled with many different types of artwork. The first floor also had a booth run by The Devil Strip, a newspaper focused on covering events in the Akron area. “The Devil Strip exists to help more people care more about Akron and all its residents,” states the newspaper on its website/.

At their booth, members of The Devil Strip staff sold promotional stickers and other merchandise, and dispensed the latest edition of their newspaper.

The Artspace’s second floor mixed the galleries of the first floor with a larger group of vendors. A DJ was set up at a table in the corner, playing music for all who would listen. More works on display peppered the room, around some artists’ booths.

One of the art booths present was that of P31 Art and Design, a local art company. Kyla Decatur, the company representative at the P31 booth, explained the story behind the company’s founding. “My mom – she’s the artist — she started painting around August of 2020,” she said. P31 became an official limited liability company (LLC) in March of 2021.

Decatur explained her mother’s artstyle, saying, “she likes to reach out to just anyone, mostly her artwork is about wishes, dreams, we have some that go for mothers [as well].” More information about P31 Art & Design can be found at their website, www.p31art.com.

Many of the rooms off the side of the main space also contained individual spaces and displays for other artists. In one gallery, local artists Abby Cipar and Kim Wengerd had set up their wares on a group of large tables.

Abby Cipar is a multimedia artist working out of Akron. Working out of their studio within the artspace, Cipar has created numerous paintings and sculptures based on their experience growing up queer, and their connection to nature.

They had been creating art all their life, but began seriously pursuing it their junior year of high school.  “If [my work] inspires anyone at all, it’s worth it,” Cipar stated.

Their website, https://sites.google.com/view/abbycipar/home, has more information on their art and exhibitions.

Another artist at the ArtWalk was Kim Wengerd, a designer and illustrator living and working in Akron. Her designs integrate simplicity and story through vibrant colors and contrasts. “I started making art for fun [when] I was a small child, but professionally, five years ago,” Wengerd said. “I like the idea of being a local artist, you know? Finding people in the community, seeing them over and over again, I just want to develop more relationships in the Akron community.”

Her work is displayed on her website, https://kimwengerd.com/. Wengerd is also a member of the Akron-based design collective Midwest Subset, a group of local artists dedicated to furthering their skills.

The Artspace’s third floor was the most densely-packed with vendors, featuring a number of smaller galleries around the venue. These galleries contained a wide variety of styles. Some contained intricately sculpted pottery, while others contained colorful abstract work. One gallery housed Christopher Hoot’s Simplexcities, geometric, layered images creating the impression of a bustling, transcendent city. The amount of art and booths made the third floor an activity hub for vendors and visitors alike.

In the building’s stairwell was one more open studio. Artist April Couch sat at the back of the room, surrounded by various zentangle wood carvings, plant pots, and knit designs. Couch had been creating art for as long as she could remember, but started making it professionally under the name Totally Tangled Creations in 2014. “My goal is to make art accessible to everyone, that’s why you will see my art on many different things; from a $3.50 card all the way up to a $5,000 piece,” she said.

“I want that little kid who comes in and they’re excited about seeing something. I want their parents to say ‘Oh yeah, that’s $3.50, you can buy that.’” Couch hopes to introduce art to children, and help grow their passion for it.

Outside the Artspace, many visitors lined up outside the food at the various food trucks parked outside. The chalk artists were still working diligently on their pieces. Despite the rain, remnants of the chalk pieces remain in front of the artspace, highlighting its artistic potential and the thriving culture of Akron.

The next Akron ArtWalk will take place Friday Dec. 10. Its theme is currently unknown. More info on ArtWalk can be found on the Summit Artspace’s website, https://www.summitartspace.org/akron-ArtWalk/.

Arts & Culture