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Chapel Hill celebrates Banned Books Week through trading card exhibit, other events

Chapel Hill Public Library pictured on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022.

The Chapel Hill Public Library is celebrating Banned Books Week through a partnership with Chapel Hill Community Arts & Culture for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year, the week will last from Sept. 18 to Sept. 24. The week was first celebrated 40 years ago in 1982. 

Susan Brown, the director of Chapel Hill Public Library and executive director of Chapel Hill Community Arts & Culture, said she decided to bring the competition back because she has been following news about challenges to books throughout public libraries and schools around topics such as racial justice and LGBTQ+ issues.

Chapel Hill Public Library has created a week of events, which began with the Banned Books Trading Card Exhibit Launch + Artist Reception on Friday, Sept.16. 

Brown was responsible for implementing the trading cards into the library's Banned Books Week celebration.

“This idea just came to me with my morning coffee one day,” she said at the exhibit.

This year, the national theme of the celebration is “Books unite us. Censorship divides us". Chapel Hill artists were invited to submit visual art of their favorite banned books, and a selection committee chose seven of the works for the trading cards. 

This year, artists created 74 submissions portraying banned books such as "Charlotte’s Web" by E.B. White and "1984" by George Orwell.

Hollis Chatelain, an attendee of the event, said she was shocked that Charlotte's Web was included on the list of banned books. 

Brown explained the censorship of the children’s book and said it has been challenged because it has talking animals and some people view that as “blasphemous” and “against God.”

The trading cards have the winning artwork on the front, an excerpt from the artist and the reason the book was challenged or banned.

Amelia Brinson, a senior at Chapel Hill High School, created a portrayal of "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald that was selected as one of the competition's winners. The book is controversial because of its inclusion of sex, violence and explicit language.

Brinson said she combined the themes and characters of the book with the ideas of censorship. She decided to portray the characters of the book as criminals. Brinson added that each sign the characters hold in the art says the charges for the reason the book was banned. 

"I think censorship is a really big thing in this because being a banned book means this book has been taken off and it's been censored and a very important issue isn't being talked about," she said. "I think it reflects onto people challenging things that they're afraid and I feel like it challenges the narrative of what they see."

The judges selected Brinson's piece to be among the group of submissions-turned-trading cards that community members can get at the library anytime through Friday, Sept. 30.

Books have been banned for various reasons throughout history, but the root causes behind this form of censorship have remained relatively similar, Brown said. She described them as "fear of the other” and the “maintenance of the status quo.” 

CJ Suitt, the first poet laureate of Chapel Hill and a judge for this year’s Banned Books Trading Cards, said he believes that for a book to be banned, it has to challenge people with a sense of control. 

"I think to a certain degree, it has to speak to a reality that someone in power does not live or does not want to acknowledge exists in the world," they said.

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The exhibit remains on display at the public library until Friday, Sept. 30. Other events relating to Banned Books Week include a Conversation on Censorship with Carolina Public Humanities on Thursday and a Banned Books Community Read Aloud on Sept. 29. 


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