Banned books battle: author of book on “to be destroyed” list visits Rapid City

RAPID CITY, S.D. —  Earlier this month, five books were placed on the Rapid City Area Schools surplus property list to be destroyed.

In a statement, the district said it was because the books contained “inappropriate, explicit sexual content.” Those opposed say it’s a group of people trying to legislate morality.

Students, teachers and parents have spoken out since, saying these books were not required reading and their removal is a blatant attempt at limiting diversity.

“As a senior myself, I felt really, just, disrespected that I was getting told what I can and can’t read because it might be too mature for my age,” said Colton Porter, a senior at Central High School. “I just got mad, just upset, because it became clear the people who were advocating for these books to be destroyed, they didn’t understand in which capacity these books were being read.”

Porter says he could see where “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic” might be questionable – based on district policy – but that he’s confused why the other four are objectionable.

Many gathered outside Mitzi’s Books in the Shops at Main Street Square Monday night for a community conversation. The event was standing room only. Several students spoke about the impact these books have had on them, making them feel less alone and learning more about themselves in this pivotal point in the human experience.

“Just in general, books teach us about the world; teach us just different aspects of the world, about different people, about different things that people are going through,” says Nancy Swanson, chair of the South Dakota Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee. “That’s just so eye-opening.”

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The five books marked to be destroyed: “The Circle,” “The Perks of Being a Wallflower, “Girl, Woman, Other,” “How Beautiful We Were,” and “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic”

Others said that as young adults, on the verge of being released into the world, that it was important they be as prepared as possible for the challenges that lie ahead.

Some were asking why people are trying to legislate discomfort.

“Everyone honestly will probably be able to walk into a library and find something that offends them,” says South Dakota Library Association President Shari Theroux. “But, you know, you have the option not to read it, and everyone has the freedom to read what they want to read.”

One of the authors whose book is being removed says there’s nothing more anti-American than the destruction of literature.

“This is a country founded on freedom of thought and intellectual freedom for all,” says author Dave Eggers, whose book, “The Circle,” is on the list to be destroyed. “As we’re standing 25 minutes from Mount Rushmore, those four heads carved out of stone would be weeping knowing that books were being not only pulled from shelves – depriving young adults – but being destroyed.”

The school district says they’re still investigating, but Porter says the books are gone from the library.

Reporter: “Do you think you would feel differently if they were being banned versus being destroyed?”

“To me, there’s no difference. Because either way, no matter the outcome, I can’t read them,” Porter says.

Porter and many others – including Shari Theroux and Nancy Swanson – agree that the decision to read or not to read a title should be a family matter. Porter says that one group of people shouldn’t be coming to the board to “unilaterally ban” titles just because they themselves don’t agree.

Proving that the action taken to remove these titles might be having the opposite effect.

“When you’re challenging books, that’s typically going to get into the news and that sort of thing,” Swanson says. “Really what that does is that just draws more attention to those conversations that we should probably be having anyway.”

Eggers also read letters from other authors whose books are being pulled. One wrote, “What society has benefitted from the burning of books? As a student of history, I can tell you there are none.” 

Eggers himself saying, “You don’t want to be in the company of book burners.”

The Rapid City Area Schools Community Relations Manager, Caitlin Pierson, said in a statement that the district’s attorneys are “investigating the content of these books” to see if they can be sold or destroyed.

The item does not appear for discussion on Tuesday night’s school board meeting agenda.

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