Banned Books Week, which runs from September 30 through October 6, is celebrating its 30th year of fighting censorship. In honor of the occasion, the legendary City Lights bookstore in San Francisco — which was charged with obscenity for publishing Allen Ginsberg’s Howl — will feature Banned Books events for all of October. Authors John Waters, devorah major, Jack Hirschman, Beth Lisick, Stephen Elliott, and bookstore owner Lawrence Ferlinghetti will each share an excerpt from a favorite banned book in a video on the City Lights blog.
City Lights Bookstore will feature a special section of Banned Books, many from the authors’ reading lists, and many of the videos will be shared on the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression’s website as well.
Banned Books Week gives City Lights a chance to revisit an important part of its own history — Ferlinghetti’s 1957 obscenity trial for publishing Howl and Other Poems. At Ferlinghetti’s trial, the judge ruled that the poem was not obscene, stating “I do not believe that Howl is without even ‘the slightest redeeming social importance.” This precedent of “redeeming social importance” allowed other books that had been considered obscene, including Lady Chatterly’s Lover and Tropic of Cancer, to be published in the following decade.
For more about how the Beat poets changed society, read “Howl of Resistance” by poet Stephen Mooney, explaining why we need the Beats’ example of resistance to conformity more than ever. You’ll find it, and more about literature, on our Art and Buddhism Spotlight Page.