February 20, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

North Carolina School Board Retains ‘The Color Purple’

colorpurpleNorth Carolina’s Brunswick County School District has voted to retain Alice Walker’s award-winning epistolary novel The Color Purple in its school libraries and classrooms, following a series of unofficial challenges that began in October.

However, the school board also agreed to meet again on January 21 to review its policies and to consider restricting the book’s access in the future, StarNews Media has reported.

The Color Purple (Harcourt, 1982), which has won both a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, is included in the Advanced Placement high school English curriculum recommended by the College Board, and frequently appears on the AP exam.

Though it is an acclaimed work of American literature praised for its literary merit and exploration of important themes, it is one of the nation’s 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books—frequently due to its language—according to the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.

In October, a relative of a high school junior at West Brunswick High School—not his parent—raised concerns about the book, which the student had read for his AP English class. School board member Catherine Cook then raised her own objections at a school board meeting on November 5. During that event, parents, teachers, and other community members both voiced their concerns and spoke out in support of the book and keeping it accessible to students.

Although there was no official challenge from a parent, the board then agreed to review its book challenge policies in a meeting on November 26.

But on December 1, Brunswick County Commissioner Patricia Sykes wrote personally to the board to ask for removal of the book, calling its content and language “filth,” “immoral,” and “profane.” After a subsequent review by a committee at West Brunswick High School, County Superintendent Edward Pruden agreed to retain the book. Sykes immediately appealed that decision, rallying some community members and other commissioners to her cause.

These community efforts to ban the book caught the attention of the National Coalition Against Censorship, who wrote to the school board to protest any attempt to ban the book.

The board’s decision January 3 to retain the book means it will remain accessible to all students in the district—at least until January 21. At that time, the board may decide to restrict the book’s library access to students in the eleventh and twelfth grades, and classroom access to only students whose parents have signed consent forms. Acccording to StarNews Media, the board may also consider setting up a parent advisory council to review curriculum materials.

Several other novels have faced challenges in North Carolina recently, including Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Review of Allende’s novel is ongoing, while the latter two books have been retained.

Karyn M. Peterson About Karyn M. Peterson

Karyn M. Peterson (kpeterson@mediasourceinc.com) is a former News Editor ofSLJ.

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