Index on Censorship celebrates freedom of expression with Banned Books Week

[London- 6 September 2019]: Index on Censorship is proud to announce the return of Banned Books Week (22-28 September 2019), the nationwide campaign that celebrates radical and rebellious readers and the freedom to read, write, think.Banned Books Week aims to engage with a UK-wide audience, inspiring people of all ages and backgrounds to “celebrate the freedom to read”, while at the same time educating and informing about key issues relating to book censorship – from outright banning of books to more subtler forms of silencing, such as a lack of diversity in the publishing industry or taboo topics.

As part of the week, Index is partnering with freedom of expression advocates – publishers, booksellers, librarians, educators, journalists, readers – to organise events and make some noise about why we must defend the freedom to read and write. Confirmed partners include: Booksellers Association, British Library, English PEN, Free Word, Islington Library and Heritage Services, Libraries Connected, Publishers Association, Royal Society of Literature, Hachette UK, and VINTAGE.

Events taking place in bookshops, libraries, and festivals during Banned Books Week include:

Banned Book Club at Foyles bookshop (Charing Cross, London) on 26 September (7pm – 8pm)

Subverting the traditional book club format, a panel of special guests—chaired by CEO of Index on Censorship Jodie Ginsberg and including editor of Sex+ magazine Kim Loliya and novelist and playwright Courttia Newland—will go head-to-head, pitching their favourite banned book to the audience and opening up on the themes that saw them banned in the first place.

A Banned Book at Bedtime webcast with the Museum of Witchcraft & Magic (Boscastle, Cornwall) available online between 22-28 September (10pm)
The Museum of Witchcraft & Magic in Cornwall present A Banned Book at Bedtime – nightly webcasts from the MWM Library. From the Grimoire to the Bodice Ripper; discover ancient magical texts subverted as evidence in witch trials, unpublished transcriptions of conversations with spirits, alchemic formulae, works of occult philosophy and novels so racy and depraved they were banned from sale on the Paris Metro! With special guest Dr Thomas Waters, whose book Cursed Britain is published by Yale University Press.

Walled In at The British Library (King’s Cross, London) on 23 September (7pm – 8.30pm)

30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, playwright and filmmaker David Hare and poet Ben Okri consider walls in literature and in our lives. With the resurgence of interest in the boundaries and borders of nations across the world, is the symbol of that wall still potent in 2019? Do walls and censorship go hand-in-hand? And are there places where a wall could mean safety rather than segregation? The event is chaired by Samira Ahmed.

John Osborne’s Under Plain Cover at The British Library on 23 September (7.15pm – 8.30pm)

A reading and discussion of the 1962 play by John Osborne, which miraculously avoided a ban at a time when attitudes towards sexual behaviour were just turning. How differently would the play’s themes of privacy and public morality be received today?

Truly Uncensored? LGBTQ+ Young Adult Literature at The British Library on 26 September (7pm – 8.30pm)

The UK has no official censorship – but does that make us too complacent? Robin Stevens, author of the Murder Most Unladylike Mysteries series, and poet Dean Atta explore the challenges facing LGBTQ+ Young Adult literature. How do editors, publishers, teachers, librarians, parents or even authors contribute to unofficial censorship around LGBTQ+ issues? 

1984 at 70 – How Has Orwell’s Vision Aged? at Wigtown Festival (Wigtown) on 28 September (12pm – 2pm)

It is 70 years since George Orwell published 1984. So how do our political and personal landscapes today compare to Orwell’s dystopia? And can the book shed light on today’s data-driven security and surveillance society? Featuring: Dorian Lynskey, author of The Ministry of Truth, an acclaimed new biography of 1984; award-winning foreign affairs writer David Pratt; and Julia Farrington of Index on Censorship. Chaired by Magnus Linklater.

A number of authors have demonstrated support for Banned Books Week, from Index Patron Margaret Atwood, as well as Damian Barr, Sarah Perry, Dorian Lynskey and Lara Prescott.

Lara Prescott, author of The Secrets We Kept, said: “When a school, library, or any organisation, bans or challenges a book, what they’re saying to readers is that the book will confuse us, hurt us, or somehow lead us astray. They’re saying that a book is something to be afraid of, something not to touch. They’re wrong about that. But what they’re right about is that books have the power to change the world, and to those who don’t want us to question the status quo, that indeed is a dangerous thing.”

To celebrate the publication of Margaret Atwood’s highly anticipated book The Testaments (sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale), Index on Censorship and VINTAGE are coordinating a nationwide series of publication day celebrations at independent bookshops across the UK. Rogan’s Books (Bedford) and Red Lion Books (Colchester) were the winners of a competition to fund launch events in celebration of The Testaments’ publication day. The winning indies will be holding midnight launches, testament readings, lantern-lit parades and much more. Many other independent bookshops across the country are planning midnight openings, window displays and street processions.

In 2018 (the first year of the campaign), Banned Books Week hosted 11 events, engaging over 40 independent bookshops and 65 library authorities across the UK.

For further updates, please visit and follow Banned Books Week on social media: @BannedWeekUK #BannedBooksWeek

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