Adam Serwer: Books Behind Bars

2 May

Fantastic piece from The (fantastic) American Prospect‘s fantastic Adam Serwer on censorship in jail and prison libraries. He mentions Ulysses, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and Prison Legal News as targets of various DOC’s censorship efforts, as well as a novel by Walter Mosley. The latter really bugs me, because I led a book group at a Milwaukee men’s jail in which the guys were moved and impressed by Mosley’s Socrates Fortlow stories–they strike me as great rehabilitative tools and good stories to boot.

From my own family’s experience (my father-in-law is imprisoned in Texas), I know that The Great Gatsby, Ken Follet’s World Without End, the photographs of Annie Liebowitz, and the paintings of Mary Casatt (!) are all unwelcome in that state’s prisons. Texas DOC officials also sent us back a copy of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, citing Rushdie’s use of the adjective “niggardly” (which comes from Old Norse, was used in English hundreds of years before the invention of the word “Negro” or its pejorative little cousin, and has nothing to do with race) as a “racial slur.” My wife then wrote to her father, quoting the offending paragraph; this got through, resulting in a situation where the only part of Rushdie’s deeply overrated novel that my father-in-law was allowed to read was the part that ostensibly got it banned. (Random thought: It’s wonderful to think that Texas prison officials have suddenly decided they care so much about racism. Maybe next they’ll do something about sentence disparities, white-supremacist guards, and other, you know, things that actually matter.)

Do any readers of this blog have any wonderfully-absurd stories of prison censorship? Send ’em to philipchristman [at] gmail [dot] com and I’ll post ’em.

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