Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Milwaukee ACLU Celebrates Banned Books

The scoop on the ACLU of Wisconsin's October 14th Banned Books event in Milwaukee - written by our office manager and resident literature and poetry enthusiast, Angie Trudell Vasquez:

In 2007, the ACLU of Wisconsin organized a Banned Book Event in Madison but not in Milwaukee. The event in Madison was well-attended and we really wanted to do one here. This year I joined the Woodland Pattern Book Center Board of Directors and during one of my early meetings, I suggested we do a joint collaboration between the bookstore and the ACLU of Wisconsin. The culmination of brainstorming meetings and research resulted in one of the highlights of my tenure at my job with the ACLU of Wisconsin...

But “let me begin at the beginning” to quote Rudolfo A. Anaya’s “Bless me, Ultima,” #78 of the American Library Association’s 100 most frequently challenged books between 1990 to 1999.

I am a poet, a social poet. I found Woodland Pattern Book Center when I first moved to Milwaukee from Seattle in 2005 and I participated in their annual Poetry Marathon in the midnight hour. I knew Woodland Pattern would be a perfect place for a live reading and working with staffers Chuck Stebelton and Anne Kingsbury was easy. I also serve on the Riverwest Coop and Café finance committee and was able to secure a donation of the most heavenly pastries this side of the Rocky Mountains for our event. While my job at the ACLU of Wisconsin staffer usually involves financials and organizing, working on the details of a Banned Books Week event could combine my love of literature, my community involvement and our work to fight censorship.

With food, libations and location secured, now we had to come up with some readers who would bring the banned books to life. We agreed to approach a previous poet laureate Peggy Hong, local Alderman Nik Kovac, artist and renaissance woman Kiki Anderson, and the ACLU Student Alliance at UW-Milwaukee President Angela Lang. Woodland Pattern Executive Director Anne Kingsbury was to be a reader as well as myself. Our MC for the evening would be the ACLU of Wisconsin's Emilio De Torre reading his original poem on banned books - check out the pictures on the Ode to a Banned Book blog post.

Now to the books! It wasn’t hard for anyone to decide what to read as the best books have been banned or challenged at one time or another. Peggy read from the "Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas" by Gertrude Stein.

Nik read from James Baldwin's "Go Tell It on the Mountain."

And Kiki is shown below sharing the pictures from the "Night Kitchen" children's book.

Angela chose to read from 1984, particularly in light of current controversies with government blanket surveillance since 9/11.

Mark Peterson, UW-Washington County Professor, blogger of The Motley Cow, among many other of his current endeavors, came and opened the event with his own true life experience with censorship (pictured below in Beatnik style to honor poets like Allen Ginsberg).

He delighted us with his anecdotes, grounded our event in the present, and reminded all 45 of us of that book burnings aren’t as far fetched as we may think they are in the 21st century.

I would advise readers to check out the American Library Association’s Banned Book page and see if one of their favorites is on the list and start their own Banned Book Club readings around the state or join us next year.

- Angie Trudell Vasquez