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Let Freedom Read:
ACLU, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and WYEP Celebrate Banned Books Week

Bruce Boni,
Vice-President of Programming & Public Education

To raise awareness regarding the censorship of books, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, WYEP-FM and the Pittsburgh Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will commemorate National Banned Books Week, September 21-28. Banned Books Week 2002 has the theme "Let Freedom Read: Read a Banned Book," and is sponsored by a coalition of libraries, booksellers and First Amendment organizations. Pittsburgh's Seventh Annual Celebrity Readings program, featuring local celebrities reading from their favorite banned or challenged book, will take place Wednesday, September 25, at 7 p.m. in the Lecture Hall of the Carnegie Library's Oakland-based Main Library. The event is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be served.

Local celebrities scheduled to read include Lynn Cullen, popular WPTT radio talk show host; Terrance Hayes, noted poet and Carnegie Mellon University Professor; Melissa Martin, critically acclaimed writer/director of the Pittsburgh film The Bread, My Sweet; Joe Kennedy, a member of the comedy troupe Absolute Pitts; Crystal St. Clair, 2001 Miss A Pleasant Present; and Josh Pollock, former Pittsburgh teenage mayoral candidate. WYEP-radio personality Dinah Denmark will emcee the program.

The ACLU believes that this year's event is especially important because the USA Patriot Act, signed last October by President Bush, authorizes the FBI to check the reading records of people it considers suspect. The process by which the FBI gains access to once confidential library records is quick and mostly secret under the Patriot Act. "The ability to read, speak, think and express ourselves freely are core American values," said Bruce Boni, ACLU Vice-President for Programming and Public Education. "We hope our annual read-out will help remind everyone of the importance of our freedom at a time when freedoms are being eroded in the United States. Now more than ever-we must let freedom read."

Each year hundreds of books are challenged and/or removed from public schools and libraries. A "challenge" is defined as a formal, written complaint filed with a library or school about a book's content or appropriateness. Each challenge represents an effort to remove books from school curricula, library shelves and in some cases bookstores. According to the American Library Association (ALA), which tracks official challenges, the popular "Harry Potter" series of fantasy books for children by J.K. Rowling has consistently remained the most challenged book since 1999. Although educators and librarians have praised Harry Potter for bringing children back to reading, the series drew complaints from individuals who believe the books promote witchcraft to children.

The ALA has recorded more than 6,500 book challenges since 1990, including 448 in 2001. Books many parents and teachers consider American classics, including The Grapes of Wrath, The Lord of the Flies, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Great Gatsby, and A Farewell to Arms are among the most frequently challenged books of the past decade. The ACLU stressed that the purpose of Banned Books Week is not to force "controversial" books on readers but to celebrate the freedom of readers to make their own choices without government interference. "Not every book will be right for every reader, but the freedom to choose for ourselves from a full array of possibilities is a hard-won right that we must not take for granted in this country," said Mr. Boni.

Reservations for this year's read-out are not necessary. Note: the ACLU will provide a sign language interpreter if the request is made before September 20. Special needs requests and questions about the event should be directed to the ACLU office at 412/681-7736.

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