Banned Books Week: Celebrating with Literature

Amber JurgensenAmber Jurgensen
Southern Region Student Representative
Rho Gamma Chapter
Louisiana Tech University, Ruston, LA

As another school year begins and students file into classrooms, many instructors look forward to using classic and modern literature to educate, entertain, and foster discussion. After all, the English classroom is where most people encounter and discover a love for the written word; however, an unexpected enemy thwarts teachers and librarians in educational facilities across the nation. Even in today’s more enlightened and tolerant society, banning and censoring books is a serious issue.

Banned Books WeekBanned Books Week (BBW) was created in 1982 to raise awareness of this important area of literary contention. Sponsored by such organizations as the American Library Association (ALA), Association of American Publishers, and the National Council of Teachers of English, the event celebrates the written word and the freedom to enjoy it, while highlighting the very real problems posed by challenging the availability of certain books in our schools. Many colleges and universities contribute to BBW by hosting read-outs of popular and beloved books that have fallen prey to censorship. This year, BBW takes place from September 27 to October 3, and focuses on young adult books.

So, why do parents and schools attempt to challenge and suppress certain books? According to the ALA, the answer usually is “to protect others, frequently children, from difficult ideas and information…‘inappropriate’ sexual content or ‘offensive’ language.” Last year’s most attacked books include Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, and Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower. These novels and others like them are faced with a barrage of requests for removal from school curriculums because of language or content. In some cases, these books’ opponents succeed in preventing important thematic discussions because of personal bias.

If you or your Sigma Tau Delta chapter wishes to contribute to the BBW celebration, a good place to start is the official website. You also can participate in this year’s Virtual Read-Out by creating and submitting a video, which could be featured on the official Banned Books Week YouTube channel. When you plan your event, consider sharing your ideas with your Sigma Tau Delta regional Facebook page for feedback and support. As members of Sigma Tau Delta, let’s work together to speak out against the censorship of literature and celebrate the written word.

Hot Damn and Academic Accolades

Micah Dean HicksMicah Dean Hicks
Rho Epsilon Chapter
Florida State University
Tallahassee, FL

Winning a Sigma Tau Delta scholarship felt amazing. It also felt surreal. I remember hearing my name announced, and people clapped, and people looked at me, and I sort of felt like I was watching it happen to some other guy, squinting at him in the distance and thinking, “Hey, he sort of looks like me. Good for him.”

It’s hard to measure all the small ways the award, the money, and the recognition helped me arrive here, at the end of a Ph.D. program.

Part of what it gave me was validation. I’ve always been pretty confident about my fiction writing, but less so about my critical work. The academic essay is a form I struggle with. It always demands more. Whatever you think you have to say, it’s never enough. You have to say more, to make it matter, to convince people (and yourself) that what you’re saying is important. I found it exhausting, like clawing a tunnel through stone with my fingernails and just burying myself in a rockslide. When I teach critical essay writing, I see my students confused and frustrated like I was. I know how they feel.

So I worked pretty hard on this essay, for the class where I wrote it (thank you, Dr. Tucker). And then I worked on it again, hours or days or forever, for the scholarship competition. Winning wasn’t just the prize or the money, it was assurance that I could beat this form if I clawed at it long enough.

scholarship-picNot to say the money wasn’t appreciated. For one thing, it was something my extended family could understand. Dollar amounts translate in ways that other kinds of academic accolades just don’t. The difference between an “Oh, that’s nice” and a “Hot damn, son.”

And at the time, I needed it. I’d applied to seven graduate schools, at a cost of around $100 each. The place I ended up, a master’s program in teaching, was great in a lot of ways and I still draw on those tools (thank you, Dr. Dee), but it wasn’t where I wanted to be. So a few months later, I applied to schools again, twice as many this time, to finally end up in a master’s program in creative writing in Mississippi.

Having worked on the essay for the award helped me later, in a way I wouldn’t have expected. When it was time to apply to Ph.D. programs and I needed a good critical sample to send with my fiction, I looked at the work I had done as a master’s student and wasn’t happy with any of it. I’d learned enough to be frustrated with what I had produced. So I broke out my essay from a couple of years ago, the one that at least had been vetted by the award, and sent it to one of my graduate professors for feedback. She went back and forth with me on it for a week (thank you, Dr. Gehlawat). And now I’m here, finishing my dissertation, having relied on that essay all along the way.

Which reminds me. Thank you, Sigma Tau Delta.

Start your scholarship essay now. The Sigma Tau Delta deadline for the following scholarships is November 10. 

Scholarships Open to Undergraduate Students
Junior Scholarships
Senior Scholarships
William C. Johnson Distinguished Scholarship
Part-Time Undergraduate Scholarship
P.C. Somerville Awards for Future Teachers
Study Abroad Scholarships

Scholarships Open to Graduate Students
Graduate Scholarships
William C. Johnson Distinguished Scholarship

Scholarships Open to Alumni Epsilon Chapter Members
Alumni Epsilon Scholarship

Benefits of Studying Literary Theory

Emily Traylorby Emily Traylor
Southern Region Associate Student Representative, 2013-2014
Rho Gamma Chapter
Louisiana Tech University, Ruston, LA

Truthfully, when I first walked into my undergraduate contemporary theory class, I was terrified. It sounds so intimidating and foreign, and it’s not at all like other literature. My theory anthology and I spent a lot of quality time together, mostly consisting of me reading the same passages over and over, hoping that it would all finally fall into place if I read it enough. With a lot of patience, faithful attendance in class, and a dedicated professor, most of the ideas started to click for me.

Literary Theory book coverStill, I’ll warn that this isn’t the type of subject matter that you can passively approach. It’s imperative to take notes, write down questions, ask them in class, discuss the theories, and ultimately apply them in your work, in order for the theories to really become a useful part of your education. I’ll admit, I probably couldn’t discuss, on demand, the finer points of Saussurian linguistics, but I noticed immediately that my theory background helped me when I read fiction. Even if you can’t explain every way that a literary work relates to a theory, studying theory gives you a sturdy background for research.

Generally, theory is remarkably dense and a bit esoteric at times. I was lucky enough to have Dr. Dorothy Robbins as a professor, who happens to be a theory enthusiast, and the class turned out to be my favorite as an undergraduate. Personally, I’ve had the best time writing papers after my theory class and trying out different approaches to see which genre of theory works best for me (feminism and gender theory are my favorites—so fun!).

At the very least, maybe one day at a cocktail party, someone will discuss the differences between Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis; it will be your time to shine!