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Banned Books Week

Starting October 1-7, 2023 during the national Banned Books Week initiative and continuing throughout the month of October, the DC Public Library offers a variety of special programs and activities that celebrate the public library’s role as a space of intellectual and creative freedom. The theme of this year’s Banned Books Week is Freedom is Not Guaranteed a phrase taken from a large-scale billboard artwork by renowned artist Xaviera Simmons displayed on the 9th and G corner of the MLK Library this fall. Simmons’ work pushes us to consider the true meaning of freedom and repair in a country where those freedoms continue to be taken away.

This truth is shown by the alarming increase in book challenges and bans across the United States. In 2022, there was a record increase in challenges to library materials, particularly those related to LGBTQIA+ subjects or concerning communities of color. 2,571 unique titles were targeted, reflecting a 38% rise from the previous year. This rise in censorship attempts threatens intellectual freedom and diversity of thought.  

The DC Public Library's celebration of Banned Books Week is made possible in part by the generous support of the DC Public Library Foundation.

About the Artwork: Freedom is Not Guaranteed

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Installation in progress, Freedom is Not Guaranteed by Xaviera Simmons, MLK Library

The phrase “Freedom is Not Guaranteed,” is taken from the title of a large-scale artwork by renowned artist Xaviera Simmons displayed on the 9th and G corner of the MLK Library this fall courtesy of the DC Public Library Foundation. Simmons’ artwork is part of a series of photographs investigating the contemporary political landscape. In the photographs, a figure, wearing all black, silhouetted against a golden landscape, points commandingly beyond the horizon. Written in bold lettering across the image, the phrase ‘FREEDOM IS NOT GUARANTEED’ references a multitude of allusions; some of which are Indigenous sovereignty, the institution of slavery, the legacies of colonialism, white supremacy, and American empire building. This message takes on renewed urgency at a time when book bans are on the rise nationwide, in particular titles that address racially based inequalities or that center on LGBTQ themes.

Learn more about Xaviera Simmons’ artwork

Image: Installation in progress, Freedom is Not Guaranteed, MLK Library, September 2023

Uncensored Scavenger Hunt

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Uncensored DC Illustration of snakes in the grass

Starting Monday, Oct. 2, hundreds of books by banned authors will be hidden at various locations around the city. The theme for this year's scavenger hunt, sponsored by the DC Public Library Foundation is "Freedom is Not Guaranteed,"  featuring literature authored by some of America’s leading champions in the fight to amplify diverse voices and reckon with historical injustice.

Each book will have a special edition cover and spine artwork by local designer Dian Holton featuring a quote from the author and the motif of a snake in the grass–a quiet, unseen threat that could strike at any time: a powerful metaphor for censorship, incidents of which have been rising precipitously around the nation in recent years. Hunters who collect all six books will discover a composite design on the spines.

This year’s scavenger hunt features books by authors whose books have been challenged or censored–in some cases, multiple times. Hundreds of copies of six books will be hidden around the District at libraries, coffee shops, museums, bookstores and bars. The titles include "All Boys Aren’t Blue" by George M Johnson, "How the Word is Passed" by Clint Smith, "With The Fire on High" by Elizabeth Acevedo, "The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America" by Richard Rothstein, "The Color Purple" by Alice Walker, and "A Snake Falls to Earth" by Darcie Little Badger.

How it works:

  1. Location clues will be announced every day from Oct. 2 - 31. You can see the clues on this page and follow along on our social media platforms using #UncensoredDC. Daily clues will be posted to:
  2. Win awesome prizes just for finding books! In addition to keeping the discovered books, participants can win prizes such as a Phillips Collection membership, gift certificates to local restaurants, free tickets to DC Public Library Foundation's Battle of the Banned, and so much more. All you have to do is a post a photo of the discovered book to social media using #UncensoredDC

Week 1 Clues | Oct. 2 - 8

Monday, Oct. 2

In the heart of the Library named for King, Banned Books Week events will get into swing. Show up, take a peek, check under your seat…Books by two authors you’ll need if you want to compete!

RSVP for Freedom is Not Guaranteed

 

Tuesday, Oct. 3

Deep inside of this workshop hotel...explore the halls and find a place to feel well.

 

Wednesday, Oct. 4

What's loud and silent at the same time? Join us for a #BannedBooks read-a-thon to ponder this rhyme.

Head to Mt. Pleasant for their Read-A-Thon

 

Thursday, Oct. 5

Today: if you happen by Trinity Washington U, our Library on the Go-Go Truck will bring #UncensoredDC books to YOU!

 

Friday, Oct. 6

Langston and Clint might have a lot in common; books left in this bookstore & cafe shouldn't be forgotten!

 

Saturday, Oct. 7

A Friends Book Sale during Open Streets is where you and your next Scavenger Hunt Book might meet! #UncensoredDC

 

Sunday, Oct. 8

Your Aunt invites you to read this clue and then find the book where the color isn't blue.

 

 

Week 2 Clues | Oct. 9 - 15

Monday, Oct. 9

On Indigenous People's Day, we find our way,
To honor their wisdom in a special display.
With words that ignite, like a fire in our hearts,
We'll read Darcie Little Badger's works, where art meets smarts.
With eight libraries open, hunt around…
MLK, Southwest, Mt. Pleasant… more books may be found.

 

Tuesday, Oct. 10

Two #UncensoredDC locations on Upshur Street are partnering for a special feat. Read #bannedbooks (or any books!) & get a free sweet treat.

 

Wednesday, Oct. 11

Beneath the streets, a hidden gem by far,
Craft cocktails, secrets, like a shooting star,
A banned book waits in the speakeasy lair,
Sip a martini special, if you dare.

 

Thursday, Oct. 12

In an artspace where treasures abound, Kinetic Membership, where art is found. Three months to borrow, before you decide, To purchase a piece for your artistic pride. Amidst this creative and vibrant space, A clue to uncover, a hidden embrace. Seek out a banned book, art's secret delight, In this gallery's depths, hidden from sight.

 

Friday, Oct. 13

It's hard to be silent when you're surrounded by these guys! Show up at this full-service music store today for a chance at a prize! #UncensoredDC

Week 3 Clues | Oct. 16 - 22

Monday, Oct. 16

The world is your oyster, or so they say - here at the bar with #bannedbooks and bivalves is where you'll want to stay.

 

Tuesday, Oct. 17

This bistro has been in the West End since 2009; their cheeseburger and cookies are just divine!

 

Wednesday, Oct. 18

A museum without a permanent home joins the library for a Black Feminist Book Club that will roam.

Register for the Black Feminist Futures x Black Feminist Book Club

 

Thursday, Oct. 19

Once a plumbing supply building, art now finds its place, 
Open Thursday through Saturday, at an artist-driven pace. 
Amongst the shelves, our #bannedbooks leave a trace.

 

Friday, Oct. 20

From his early days in DC’s slam poetry zone to a prize-winning, bestselling, nonfiction tome
This author has appeared 4 times on MLK’s stage with THIS beloved bookseller, both loyal and sage. #UncensoredDC

 

Saturday, Oct. 21

Jacob Lawrence, Mark Rothko, Pierre-Auguste Renoir: these are the artists you'll find at this Dupont Circle home; take a look around, stop by their cafe, grab a banned book - it's well worth the roam. 

 

Sunday, Oct. 22

At the museum of words, where pages unfurl, 
A birthday celebration, a knowledge-filled swirl. 
In a little free library, a banned book's delight, 
Hidden with care, under the stars' gentle light.

Week 4 Clues | Oct. 23-29

Monday, Oct. 23

DowntownDC is where it's at - this park's recent renovation makes it quite a lovely spot; find a banned book and a seat on a bench and you'll feel like you hit the jackpot!

 

Tuesday, Oct. 24

October marks a special event in this street's place, where Queens, Kings and all sorts of people lineup to race!

 

Wednesday, Oct. 25

At Lincoln's dwelling, secrets veiled in ink, 
In the visitor center, take a closer think. 
Among exhibits and history displayed, 
The banned book's secret, there it's laid.

 

Thursday, Oct. 26

This book sheds light on discrimination by many states and the District; this bookstore will do you a solid to be sure you haven't missed it.

 

Friday, Oct. 27

In this museum, their valor on display, Over 200,000 strong, they paved the way. A banned book hidden, a truth to revive, Find it here where their stories come alive.

 

Saturday, Oct. 28

In D.C.'s heart, where hops and yeast align, 
This brewery's tale, an age-old sign. 
On Bladensburg Road, where flavors flow, 
A banned book hides, in this brewery's glow.

 

Sunday, Oct. 29

The restaurant is one of the finest in Northeast D.C., it's true. The robot out front can tell you - he (like the boys) also isn't blue!

Week 5 Clues | Oct. 30 & 31

Monday, Oct. 30

"To Live and Breathe" at this museum is an exhibit you shouldn't skip - if you find an #UncensoredDC book too, it's well worth the trip!

About the Artwork: Snake in the Grass

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Uncensored DC, Illustration of Book lining up

About the Artist

Dian Holton is an art director at AARP, the U.S.'s largest nonprofit, where she oversees creative for TheGirlfriend.com and Sistersletter.com. She routinely contributes designs to AARP The Magazine and specifically cover stories. Her background includes book design, branding, retail installation, styling and footwear design. Her passions include education, philanthropy, fashion and travel.
 
About the Concept
The illustration concept of a snake hiding in the grass serves as a powerful metaphor. The snake, concealed amidst the lush greenery, symbolizes hidden threats to freedom with a society. Just as a snake remains concealed, lurking even, the erosion of freedom often occurs behind the scenes, unbeknownst to many. Xaivera Simmons' "Freedom is not guaranteed" art work challenges viewers to contemplate the essence of freedom in a nation where these liberties are increasingly restricted. It highlights the notion that freedom can be fragile, easily obscured, and must be protected, encouraging readers to delve deeper into the complexities of a world where the very concept of freedom is under scrutiny.

Most Banned Books of 2022

1. "Gender Queer" by Maia Kobabe

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Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe

Started as a way to explain to eir family what it means to be nonbinary and asexual, Gender Queer is more than a personal story: it is a useful and touching guide on gender identity--what it means and how to think about it--for advocates, friends, and humans everywhere

Number of Challenges

151

Reasons for Challenge

Banned, challenged, and restricted for LGBTQIA+ content, and because it was considered to have sexually explicit images.

Check Out  Gender Queer

2. "All Boys Aren’t Blue" by George M. Johnson

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All Boys Aren't Blue by George M. Johnson

In a series of personal essays, prominent journalist and LGBTQIA+ activist George M. Johnson explores his childhood, adolescence, and college years in New Jersey and Virginia

Number of Challenges

86

Reasons for Challenge

Banned and challenged for LGBTQIA+ content, profanity, and because it was considered to be sexually explicit.

Check Out  All Boys Aren't Blue

3. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

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The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Pecola Breedlove, a young eleven-year-old black girl, prays every day for beauty. Mocked by other children for the dark skin, curly hair, and brown eyes that set her apart, she yearns for the blond hair and blue eyes that she believes will allow her to finally fit in. Yet as her dreams grow more fervent, her life slowly starts to disintegrate in the face of adversity and strife. A powerful examination of our obsession with beauty and conformity.

Number of Challenges

73

Reasons for Challenge

Banned and challenged because it depicts child sexual abuse and was considered sexually explicit.

Check Out The Bluest Eye

4. "Flamer" by Mike Curato

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Flamer, Mike Curato

It's the summer between middle school and high school, and Aiden Navarro is away at camp. Everyone's going though changes--but for Aiden, the stakes feel higher. As he navigates friendships, deals with bullies, and spends time with Elias (a boy he can't stop thinking about), he finds himself on a path of self-discovery and acceptance. Award-winning author, artst, and Eagle Scout Mike Curato draws on his own experiences in his debut graphic novel, telling a difficult story with humor, compassion, and love.

Number of Challenges

62

Reasons for Challenge

Banned and challenged for LGBTQIA+ content and was claimed to be sexually explicit.

Check Out Flamer

5. (Tie) "Looking for Alaska" by John Green

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Looking for Alaska by John Green

Miles Halter is fascinated by famous last words—and tired of his safe life at home. He leaves for boarding school to seek what the dying poet François Rabelais called the “Great Perhaps.” Much awaits Miles at Culver Creek, including Alaska Young, who will pull Miles into her labyrinth and catapult him into the Great Perhaps. Looking for Alaska brilliantly chronicles the indelible impact one life can have on another.

Number of Challenges

55

Reasons for Challenge

Banned and challenged for LGBTQIA+ content and was claimed to be sexually explicit.

Check out Looking for Alaska

5. (Tie) "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" by Stephen Chbosky

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The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor. This is the story of what it's like to grow up in high school. More intimate than a diary, Charlie's letters are singular and unique, hilarious and devastating. We may not know where he lives. We may not know to whom he is writing. All we know is the world he shares. Through Charlie, Stephen Chbosky has created a deeply affecting coming-of-age story, a powerful novel that will spirit you back to those wild and poignant roller coaster days known as growing up.

Number of Challenges

55

Reasons for Challenge

Banned and challenged for the depiction of sexual abuse, LGBTQIA+ content, drug use, profanity and was claimed to be sexually explicit.

Check Out The Perks of Being a Wallflower

7. "Lawn Boy" by Jonathan Evison

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Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison

In this funny, biting, touching, and ultimately inspiring novel, bestselling author Jonathan Evison takes the reader into the heart and mind of a young man determined to achieve the American dream of happiness and prosperity--who just so happens to find himself along the way.

Number of Challenges

54

Reasons for Challenge

Banned and challenged for LGBTQIA+ content and because it was considered to be sexually explicit.

Check Out Lawn Boy

8. "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" by Sherman Alexie

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Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.

Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author's own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by Ellen Forney that reflect the character's art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.

Number of Challenges

52

Reasons for Challenge

Banned and challenged for profanity, sexual references and use of a derogatory term.

Check Out The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

9. "Out of Darkness" by Ashley Hope Perez

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Out of Darkness

"This is East Texas, and there's lines. Lines you cross, lines you don't cross. That clear?"

New London, Texas. 1937. Naomi Vargas and Wash Fuller know about the lines in East Texas as well as anyone. They know the signs that mark them. They know the people who enforce them. But sometimes the attraction between two people is so powerful it breaks through even the most entrenched color lines. And the consequences can be explosive.

Ashley Hope Pérez takes the facts of the 1937 New London school explosion―the worst school disaster in American history―as a backdrop for a riveting novel about segregation, love, family, and the forces that destroy people.

Number of Challenges

50

Reasons for Challenge
Banned, challenged, and restricted for depictions of abuse and because it was considered to be sexually explicit.

Check Out Out of Darkness

10. (tie) "A Court of Mist and Fury" by Sarah J. Maas

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A Court of Mist and Fury

Though Feyre now has the powers of the High Fae, her heart remains human, but as she navigates the feared Night Court's dark web of politics, passion, and dazzling power, a greater evil looms--and she might be key to stopping it.

Feyre survived Amarantha's clutches to return to the Spring Court--but at a steep cost. Though she now has the powers of the High Fae, her heart remains human, and it can't forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin's people. Nor has Feyre forgotten her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court. As Feyre navigates its dark web of politics, passion, and dazzling power, a greater evil looms--and she might be key to stopping it. But only if she can harness her harrowing gifts, heal her fractured soul, and decide how she wishes to shape her future--and the future of a world cleaved in two

Number of Challenges

48

Reasons for Challenge

Claimed to be sexually explicit

Check Out A Court of Mist and Fury

10. (tie) "Crank" by Ellen Hopkins

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Crank

Kristina Georgia Snow is the perfect daughter, gifted high school junior, quiet, never any trouble. But on a trip to visit her absentee father, Kristina disappears and Bree takes her place. Bree is the exact opposite of Kristina. Through a boy, Bree meets the monster: crank. And what begins as a wild ecstatic ride turns into a struggle through hell for her mind, her soul - her life.

Number of challenges

48

Reasons for Challenged

Drug use, claimed to be sexually explicit

Check Out Crank

10. (tie) "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" by Jesse Andrews

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Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

This is the funniest book you'll ever read about death.
 
It is a universally acknowledged truth that high school sucks. But on the first day of his senior year, Greg Gaines thinks he's figured it out. The answer to the basic existential question: How is it possible to exist in a place that sucks so bad? His strategy: remain at the periphery at all times. Keep an insanely low profile. Make mediocre films with the one person who is even sort of his friend, Earl.
 
This plan works for exactly eight hours. Then Greg's mom forces him to become friends with a girl who has cancer. This brings about the destruction of Greg's entire life.
 
Fiercely funny, honest, heart-breaking--this is an unforgettable novel from a bright talent, now also a film that critics are calling "a touchstone for its generation" and "an instant classic."

Number of Challenges

48

Reasons for Challenge

Profanity, claimed to be sexually explicit

Check Out Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

10. (tie) "This Book Is Gay" by Juno Dawson

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This Book Is Gay

Lesbian. Bisexual. Queer. Transgender. Straight. Curious. This book is for everyone, regardless of gender or sexual preference. This book is for anyone who's ever dared to wonder. This book is for YOU.

There's a long-running joke that, after "coming out," a lesbian, gay guy, bisexual, or trans person should receive a membership card and instruction manual. THIS IS THAT INSTRUCTION MANUAL. You're welcome.

Inside you'll find the answers to all the questions you ever wanted to ask: from sex to politics, hooking up to stereotypes, coming out and more. This candid, funny, and uncensored exploration of sexuality and what it's like to grow up LGBT also includes real stories from people across the gender and sexual spectrums, not to mention hilarious illustrations.

You will be entertained. You will be informed. But most importantly, you will know that however you identify (or don't) and whomever you love, you are exceptional. You matter. And so does this book.

Number of Challenges

48

Reasons for Challenge

LGBTQIA+ content, providing sexual education, claimed to be sexually explicit

Check Out This Book is Gay

Banned Books Week Author Talks Streaming on Demand

Stream recorded conversations with banned and challenged authors and journalists who discuss their work, grapple with what it means to lose intellectual freedom and how they are raising awareness of the importance of access to diverse stories.