In a state where the response to any controversial or unpopular idea is usually to try to make it go away, Jerry Rapier has decided to go in a different direction. At least for one evening, he wants to show you as many controversial and unpopular ideas as he possibly can.
The artistic director for Plan-B Theatre Company, Rapier had a notion for an out-of-the-ordinary fundraiser for his arts organization—“something that was unique and didn’t involve terrible food,” he says. So he gathered a committee to pore over the history of literature that has been yanked from schools, public libraries and bookstores around the country and around the world.
The result of their efforts is And the Banned Played On, a showcase of works that has gotten somebody’s panties in a bunch at some point. That includes novels like Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita and John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men; scientific texts like Darwin’s On the Origin of Species; and children’s fiction like Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It’s a regular “who’s who” of “what were they thinking?”
In support of this effort, Rapier was able to put together an all-star team of individuals eager to participate. Joining several professional actors as readers of the banned texts will be Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson; Utah ACLU executive director Dani Eyer; political cartoonist Pat Bagley; ABC 4 reporter Chris Vanocur; and state representatives David Litvack and Jackie Biskupski. KUER’s Doug Fabrizio will act as emcee, introducing the texts as well as the context in which each one was deemed inappropriate.
“Nobody said no that was asked,” Rapier says. “A lot of times people want to be involved in events like this because of the prestige factor ... but these people are really committed to the concept of encouraging people to make decisions for themselves.
“What’s been really interesting is that we haven’t done the first year yet, and we’re being approached by people pretty regularly asking to be on the list of potential people for next year or asking why they weren’t included [this year].”
ACLU of Utah’s Eyer, who will be reading from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, felt that her entire history made it important to participate. “My recent incarnation as director of ACLU of Utah, combined with my past life as a bookseller, high school social studies teacher and attorney couldn’t have inculcated in my consciousness more sensitivity to issues of censorship and banned books. Developing one’s own critical thinking skills—as opposed to being told what to think—is an important concept to me.”
The process of selecting the specific texts to be included was a challenging one for Rapier and his fellow committee members, but an effort was made to give the program a sense of local history with literary censorship. Heather Has Two Mommies was held up as a tool to challenge the proposed hate crimes bill in the most recent legislative session. Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun was deemed “pornographic” by the Ogden School District in 1979. And the sacred LDS text Doctrine and Covenants is included in a section of readings from religious texts.
Rapier hopes to turn And the Banned Played On into an annual event, perhaps even one that will move beyond just books to include dance, theater or film works that have been banned. And sadly, there’s no lack of material to choose from if that turns out to be the case—especially in a world where even The Diary of Anne Frank can be considered threatening by someone.
“When people realize that something close to them has been banned by someone else, it changes the whole mind-set about the process of telling someone they can’t read something,” says Rapier. “If I’m going to question one piece, I have to be open to somebody questioning something that I hold dear myself.”