During Banned Books Week we celebrate freedom of speech and freedom to read. Over the years books, paintings, and movies have been banned, and their creators have been imprisoned, tortured, or exiled in attempting to silence or obliterate them. Libraries are bastions and defenders of diverse and multifarious viewpoints. It is the mission and responsibility of libraries to do this, and it is why the American Library Association, in union with other organizations, supports Banned Books Week.
Loud and Clear: Writers and Others Who Found Ways to Express Themselves
For his outspoken criticism of modern China, contemporary artist and activist Ai Weiwei was followed, beaten, put in prison, and finally was able to leave his homeland and now lives in Berlin.
Dalton Trumbo was one of the Hollywood Ten who opposed and refused to answer questions before HUAC. He lived in exile but continued to be a ghostwriter for Hollywood. In 1993, he received his long overdue Academy Award for The Brave One, and later a posthumous Academy Award for Roman Holiday, 1953.
Baptist minister, civil rights and nonviolent activist, Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested for unlawful political protests against racial segregation. On April 16, 1963, he wrote an open letter to the world, stating there is a moral obligation to break unjust laws, in nonviolent ways, instead of waiting forever for justice to come through the legal system.
In 1945, fighting in East Prussia, Alexander Solzhenitsyn was arrested and sentenced to prison for anti-Soviet propaganda for criticising Stalin’s war plans and the need for a new regime. He spent 8 eight years in prisons and labor camps, but continued to write.
In 1937 Picasso created a huge mural painting (11’ 5” by 25’ 6”) in shades of gray, black and white to protest the Nazi German and Italian bombings of Guernica, a village in Basque Spain. The painting was a political and humanitarian protest, and its journey to different countries became a protest in itself. There are two reputed comments made by Picasso, one in response to being shown a photograph of the painting by a German officer, who said, “Did you do that?” Picasso responded, “No, you did.” In response to being asked about his political views, Picasso pointed to the large mural.
Malala was a young girl who would not be denied an education, despite being threatened by the Taliban, who shot her in the head. She lives in exile and continues to speak out for justice and human rights. In 2014, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Kirk Douglas provides the tumultuous backstory to the making of the film Spartacus, begun during the Hollywood blacklist. The film was based on the work of two writers, Howard Fast and Dalton Trumbo, who were jailed for refusing to testify before HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee).
Czech dissident and playwright Vaclav Havel was sentenced to three years in prison for political dissent and human rights activities. He was permitted to write one letter a week to his wife. He later became President of Czechoslovakia, and of the Czech Republic.
In 2006 while visiting her mother in Tehran, Iran, Haleh Esfandiari, the American Director of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Middle East Program, was suddenly imprisoned and interrogated for nearly eight months. Part of the time she was in solitary confinement in the notorious Evin Prison.
Arrested in 1962 for anti-apartheid activities in South Africa, Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison. He was the first democratically elected president of South Africa, 1994-1999, and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.
Iranian lawyer, judge and human rights activist, was threatened, jailed, and suspended from practicing law. In exile from Iran, Shirin Ebadi lives in the United Kingdom, and in 2003 was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. She continues to openly criticize injustice in Iran and elsewhere.
The following watchdog organizations provide continuous information about writers and others who are being censored, tortured, jailed or exiled. You can stay informed by subscribing to their emails.