September 20, 2013

North Carolina School District bans Invisible Man


This week in irony: A school board in North Carolina has decided to erase Ralph Ellison‘s Invisible Man from its reading lists and library shelves following a parental complaint which claimed, among other things, that the book was not “innocent” enough for “young children.”

The book appeared on a summer reading list for 11th graders at Randleman High School in Randolph County, where the legal driving age is 16 and the teen pregnancy rate is double the national average. In a heroic effort to counteract the ever-encroaching evils of adulthood on its wholesome teenagers, the Randolph County School Board issued its 5-2 decision to ban the book from the curriculum.

This came despite recommendations to keep the book on the curriculum by committees at the school and district level, who cited its 1953 National Book Award for fiction among other honors.

Board member Gary Mason stated that he “didn’t find any literary value” in the book, while the board chair, Tommy McDonald, simply said, “It was a hard read.” If those reasons aren’t compelling enough for you, the full text of the parent complaint, which can be read here, ends with the argument, “Lastly, this novel should not be in your library therefore it should be removed immediately.”

Hopefully the swift backlash that inevitably follows the banning of a cherished work of literature combined with good old fashioned teen rebellion will pique students’ interest in Ellison’s work until the board reconsiders its decision.

Last year neighboring Guilford County attempted to ban Margaret Atwood‘s The Handmaid’s Tale, claiming the book is “detrimental to Christian values.” The decision in that case was 5-2 in favor of keeping the book.


Amy Conchie is assistant to the publisher at Melville House.