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What It’s Like to Go on DC’s Banned Books Scavenger Hunt

Check out the books we found!
What It’s Like to Go on DC’s Banned Books Scavenger Hunt
Kurt Vonnegut's "just plain filthy" Slaughterhouse 5. All photos taken by Evy Mages.

To celebrate September’s Banned Books Week, DC Public Library created a monthlong scavenger hunt across the city. Book lovers can visit local businesses to find (and keep) hundreds of American classics that have been wrapped in black book covers. This year’s theme is “Diversity,” important because an estimate of over half of banned books in history have been written by or about people of color. There are six scandalous novels that you can find.

Banned book found in Upshur Street Books.
Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut was called “just plain filthy.”

Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5 published in 1969 was challenged, banned, and burned across the country from 1973-1998. In Owensboro, Kentucky the high school library objected to the sentence: “The gun made a ripping sound like the opening of the fly of God Almighty.”

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was deemed "pornographic."
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey was deemed “pornographic.”

The Ken Kesey classic infuriated parents, particularly in California in 2000 when they claimed teachers “can choose the best books, but they keep choosing this garbage over and over again.” Published in 1962, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was censored and removed from reading lists from 1971 through 2000.

Richard Wright's Native Sun was deemed "profane and sexually explicit."
Richard Wright’s Native Sun was labeled “profane and sexually explicit.”

Native Son was published in 1940; even after 54 years, it provoked a five month debate on what reading was appropriate for high-schoolers in Washington state. From coast to coast, Richard Wright’s novel was challenged in 8 states up until 1998.

J.D. Salinger's memorable Catcher in the Rye was called "anti-white."
J.D. Salinger’s memorable Catcher in the Rye was called “anti-white.”

More of a rant than a novel, Catcher in the Rye has been removed from multiple libraries and reading lists since its publication in 1951 through 2001. In 1993, it was challenged in a California district for being “centered around negative activity.”

We didn’t find all of them. Also hidden are The Color Purple by Alice Walker and A Separate Piece by John Knowles. You can find banned books at these suggested locations in the city.

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Rosa joined Washingtonian as an editorial fellow in fall 2016. She likes to write about race, culture, music, and politics. She graduated from Mount Holyoke College with a degree in International Relations and French with a minor in Journalism. When she can, she performs with her family’s Puerto Rican folkloric music ensemble based in Jersey City. She lives in Adams Morgan.