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Chris Abani's 'Graceland' removed from Florida reading list

Abani_gracelandA parent's complaint has removed Chris Abani's novel "Graceland" from the summer reading list for 10th-graders at Mandarin High School in Jacksonville, Fla.

Abani's book, about a Nigerian boy and his transformation to city-tough Elvis impersonator, won the PEN/Hemingway Award and the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award; it was a finalist for the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Africa, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

"Graceland" includes passages of brutal violence, but it is the sexual content of a torture scene that the Florida mother found objectionable.

She was "outraged," JAX-4 TV reported. The television station received an e-mail requesting that it investigate; the mother making the complaint did not appear in the report.

The book was one of three on the standard reading list for 10-graders, along with "Runner" by Carl Deuker and "Purple Hibiscus" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, coming-of-age stories set in Seattle and Nigeria, respectively. Students were instructed to read two of the three books over the summer. Honors students had a slightly different list; Abani's book appeared there as well.

Now Abani's "Graceland" has been pulled from the reading lists by Duval County public school officials.

Abani was born in Nigeria; more than once, his writing and work in the theater had him thrown in prison there. He is now a professor of creative writing at UC Riverside.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

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This is unacceptable. One person's "outrage" should not dictate the reading material of a public school, or other people's children. Her child had a choice between this book and two others -if she had a problem with the content of the book, her child could have read the other two books, and there would have been no problem. To deny children the right to read literature because of one person's dislike of a single scene is pathetic pandering to a puritanical mindset -no individual should have control over the rights of others. Her right to control what other people read ends where their rights to read begin. This school district should be embarrassed, and so should that woman.

As a young person, knowing that one person can change what my peers are able to read is nearly sickening. We need to have the ability to read a variety of literary works. "Graceland" is moving and stunningly beautiful...Abani's work is a coming-of-age story about identity and family, and though violent, it is honest. Teachers and administrators who select books for reading lists are smart and know what students should and should not read. To allow a single person to jeopardize that is terrible.

Chris Abani is the kind of writer that our high school students should be reading, because his work is both masterful and important. He does not celebrate violence in this novel; he employs his considerable skills as a writer (look for him online, reading his poetry at the Dodge Poetry Festival and elsewhere) in depicting it as the human horror that it is. Ask yourself how much of what any teenager or other U.S. citizen sees every day presents violent images, and how much of it does so as honestly as Chris Abani's writing; go see "Salt" or play the latest version of Halo and think about it.

This incident is one more reason, as if we need another, to watch for and support any and all events that champion the Freedom to Read in our communities during the American Library Association's "Banned Books Week" at the end of September.

I love how anonymous cowards are allowed to force policy decisions on our communities.

We are now letting the uneducated control education!

Does anyone have an email for the Duval County schools to send our outrage to?????

Peace & Clarity

There is a lot of faux-outrage here.

The book was removed from a summer reading list. It's a silly thing for the district to do over one email complaint.

But ... One person did not change what the teens are able to read. No one was denied the right to read literature. No one exerted control over what anyone else could read. We don't know that the woman who complained was puritanical, much less an anonymous coward.

Anybody else sense the irony in the fact that the Los Angeles Times found it necessary to spare the sensibilities of it's more impressionable readers by failing to provide even a cursory description of the "sexual content of a torture scene" to which the parent objected?

Thanks to this craven act of self-censorship, it is impossible to glean from the article whether the book's content was appropriate for a tenth-grader or not.

One can pick up almost any book and find something that either offends them or disturbs them. By reading we are able to learn more about the world and more about ourselves. This seems to be essential for all of us, and especially our youth. I vaguely remember the portion of the book that the mother must be referring to. There should be outrage, not for what is reported in the book, but for the fact that these things really do happen to human beings. In 2006 I read the book and set it aside and my oldest grandson, read it, which is something that he rarely does. If this parent doesn't want her child to read the book, then that's fine with me, but the selection of that book was not an accident. It was selected because it was worth reading and I shudder when I think of a world where books like Graceland are "shunned".
Jim Hill


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