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Invisible Man: Book Back After Being Banned in North Carolina

5122AE-RQQL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_“I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allen Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie extoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids—and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination—indeed, everything and anything except me.”
”• Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man is on my personal top 25 novels of all time. It’s powerful and poignant, and the prose is beautifully constructed. And I’m not alone in my esteem for this novel that was originally published by Random House in 1952. In 1953, Invisible Man won the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction. The Modern Library ranked it as number 19 in their list of 100 best novels. Time magazine included it in their list of the 100 most important novels of all time.

But the school board in Randolph County, North Carolina doesn’t share my view, not the views of the U.S. National Book Award group and Time magazine. Last week — in the midst of Banned Book Week — the school board voted 5-to-2 to remove all copies of Invisible Man from their shelves, with one board member saying, “I didn’t find any literary value [in the book].” What? No literary value in what is considered to be an American masterpiece?

“Everywhere I’ve turned somebody has wanted to sacrifice me for my own good—only /they/ were the ones who benefited. And now we start on the old sacrificial merry-go-round. At what point do we stop?”
”• Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

The issue arose when the book was assigned as a summer reading option for a local high school. One parent reportedly complained saying the novel was “too much for teenagers.” Yes, ONE parent objected. A vote was called and the book was banned. But that is not the end of the story or the end of Invisible Man. People found out about the battle against the classic, and there was a “national outcry.” News sites picked up the story, the ban was opposed by the NAACP, and a local bookstore gave free copies of the book to any and all high school students. The school board had to go into damage control mode. They held a special meeting with a new vote, which resulted in 6-1 to keep the book on the shelves. The board shared their feelings about changing their votes with several citing that it shouldn’t be their choice what books students read but that it should be up to the parents. One board member posed the question, “What trumps, a child’s First Amendment right or my perspective?”

Here’s the thing. Invisible Man may be a “hard read,” but that doesn’t mean it should be made invisible itself, dismissed like the protagonist of the book. Students (and parents) may feel challenged by the book, and they should ALL have the option to read it.

I’ll leave you with one more quote from the book.

“The world is a possibility if only you’ll discover it.”
”• Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

Photo Source: Amazon – Book available for $4.85

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