I find it difficult to believe that anyone would want to be known for book burning. This is a story of one of my favorite authors’ reaction to such.
This is taken from Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac:
On this day in 1973, school officials in Drake, North Dakota, burned copies of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse-Five. Kurt Vonnegut (books by this author) had served in WWII, and he was captured by the Germans and held as a prisoner in Dresden when the Allies bombed the city. For years, he tried to find a way to tell his story. Meanwhile, he went to graduate school in anthropology, worked at General Electric, got married and had three kids and adopted three more, and struggled to find his voice as a writer. His stories kept falling flat â€” too serious and straightforward. But finally he wrote his masterpiece, Slaughterhouse-Five, which was published in 1969. It was extremely popular and for the most part it got great reviews, but it has been banned many times, for being obscene, violent, and for its unpatriotic description of the war.
In 1973, a 26-year-old high school English teacher assigned Slaughterhouse-Five to his students, and most of them loved it, thought it was the best book they had read in a long time. But one student complained to her mom about the obscene language, and that mom took it to the principal, and the school board voted that it should be not only confiscated from the students (who were only a third of their way through the book), but also burned. Many of the students didn’t want to give up their books, so the school searched all their lockers and took them, and then threw the books into the school’s burner. While the school board was at it, they decided to burn Deliverance by James Dickey and a short-story anthology.
Kurt Vonnegut wrote a letter to one of the members of the school board, and he said:
Dear Mr. McCarthy:
I am writing to you in your capacity as chairman of the Drake School Board. I am among those American writers whose books have been destroyed in the now famous furnace of your school. [â€¦]
If you were to bother to read my books, to behave as educated persons would, you would learn that they are not sexy, and do not argue in favor of wildness of any kind. They beg that people be kinder and more responsible than they often are. It is true that some of the characters speak coarsely. That is because people speak coarsely in real life. [â€¦]
If you and your board are now determined to show that you in fact have wisdom and maturity when you exercise your powers over the education of your young, then you should acknowledge that it was a rotten lesson you taught young people in a free society when you denounced and then burned books â€” books you hadn’t even read. You should also resolve to expose your children to all sorts of opinions and information, in order that they will be better equipped to make decisions and to survive.
Again: you have insulted me, and I am a good citizen, and I am very real.
In recent years, several churches across the United States have organized public burnings of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.