Vonnegut Memorial Library locking up university libraries dean for Banned Books Week

"To hell with the censors!"

By Andrew V. Pestano
Vonnegut Memorial Library locking up university libraries dean for Banned Books Week
Hugh Vandivier, a "former inmate" of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library when he was imprisoned in 2013. Banned Books Week kicks off nationwide on Sunday to celebrate "The Freedom to Read." Photo courtesy of Julia A. Whitehead/Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library

INDIANAPOLIS, Sept. 27 (UPI) -- Banned Books Week begins Sunday, and the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in Indianapolis will celebrate "The Freedom to Read" in a way that could make the eccentric author proud: imprisoning a devout reader.

Rick Provine, dean of libraries at DePauw University, will be spending most of the week within a banned book "prison." People will be able to peer through the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library's plate-glass windows in Indianapolis' historic Emelie Building to observe Provine. Banned Books Week is a yearly pro-readership, anti-censorship event that will focus on celebrating young adult literature this year.


"The reality of spending a week in the window of a small library is starting to set in, but I think it'll be a great event. I'm actually really looking forward to it," Provine said in a recent interview with UPI. "As a librarian, we celebrate Banned Books Week every year... it's something very important and near and dear to all librarians."


Vonnegut, late writer of revered novels including Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat's Cradle, was no stranger to his books being banned. A native of Indianapolis, he was a controversial figure whose satirical writing often confronted censorship directly.

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"To hell with the censors!" Vonnegut famously said. "Give me knowledge or give me death!"

Provine, a long-time Vonnegut aficionado, said he wants to use whatever clout he has as the DePauw University's libraries dean to raise awareness for Banned Books Week and for the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, where events will be held throughout the week including nighttime readings from previously banned or challenged books.

"He really thought arts could make the world a better place... and I agree with that completely," Provine said. "I think a lot of the way I think and feel about the world came from reading Kurt Vonnegut at an early age."

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According to Provine, banning books limits ideas, which in turn limits innovation and progress. Provine, whose favorite Vonnegut title is Breakfast of Champions, said the power of writing and of the arts allows people to see reality in the perspective of the artist, which allows readers, or art consumers, to develop ideas they may otherwise never attain.


"It's important that everyone has access to all the ideas, and Banned Books Weeks I think gets it exactly at the heart... let's make sure we have the potential to use everything... to make things better," Provine said. "I think people should be parents. There are probably some things you don't want your children to read at certain ages and that's fine, but that's very different from telling everyone that they can't have this book,"

"If you don't want your child to read it... don't let your child read it, but that doesn't mean you get to decide what my children read," Provine added.

More than 11,300 books have been threatened with censorship in the United States since 1982, the first year Banned Books Week was launched in response to a surge in censorship pursuits. In 2014, 311 ban attempts were reported to the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom.

The most challenged books last year include Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner, Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower and, the most challenged, Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, accused of being "anti-family, culturally insensitive, sexually explicit," among other reasons.


During Banned Books Weeks, there is a special sticking-it-to-The-Man atmosphere surrounding the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, where participants of all races, ages and backgrounds often gather to discuss their favorite authors and banned books, said Julia Whitehead, the library's founder and executive director.

"It's so fun. It's the best week of the year," Whitehead told UPI. "It's a celebration of the freedom to read."

The event creates enthusiasm for literature. The library receives more attendance during the week than at any other time during the year and the community also becomes involved, according to Whitehead.

The Indiana Repertory Theatre will present a rendition of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, once a challenged book itself, and the Indy Eleven professional soccer team will promote the joys of reading to children and offer free tickets to a game.

Provine will also be provided with Vonnegut-themed food from several local eateries.

Throughout the week, guest speakers, including Vonnegut's daughter Nanette, will give readings and discuss authors and books. Art auctions will be held to sell redesigned covers of challenged or banned books.

The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library's involvement in combating censorship began in 2011, the same year it was founded.


Four years ago, the school board of the Republic High School in Missouri decided to ban Slaughterhouse-Five. In response, the library adopted the mantra, "What would Vonnegut do?"

The library decided to give away up to 150 copies of Slaughterhouse-Five to students of the high school to promote First Amendment rights.

"We tried to think of a uniquely Vonnegut way of responding," Whitehead said. "We thought sending free books out to students would be a very Vonnegut way of representing our thoughts on this issue."

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