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Listen: Banned Books Week 2016

  • By Lora Christy
  • 19th December 2016
Why do books get censored? Hear writers and journalists explore this issue in novels, non-fiction and comics during Banned Books Week 2016, and ask what this means for free speech.

What makes people want to ban books, and what does this mean for democracy, free speech and self-expression? During Banned Books Week 2016 we celebrated the freedom to read with two events – one focused on novels and non-fiction, and the other on comics – and invited writers and journalists to share their thoughts.

Further Reading / References


Censorship and the Author, 22 September 2016 at the British Library

Writer Melvin Burgess was in conversation with writer and journalist Matthew Carr to discuss why books are censored and sometimes banned, even in the present day. In particular, they spoke about Melvin’s series of acclaimed but controversial novels for young adults (Junk, Lady: My Life as a Bitch, and Doing It) dealing with subjects such as heroin addiction and teenage sex. The event was chaired by Jo Glanville, Director of English PEN.

Listen now

Speakers at this event included:

Melvin Burgess is the author of a series of acclaimed but controversial novels for young adults that deal with subjects such as drug addiction, homelessness, teenage sex and cosmetic surgery. Further award-winning novels include the fantasy Bloodtide and the controversial Doing It which dealt with teenage sex. His most recent novel Hunger was published in 2014.

Matthew Carr is a writer and journalist who has written for a range of publications including Esquire, the New York Times, History Today, the Observer, the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian. He is the author of  five non-fiction books and his first novel, The Devils of Cardona, was published in June 2016 by Penguin Random House in the US.

Jo Glanville is the Director of English PEN, and was formerly an award-winning editor at Index on Censorship. She was a BBC current affairs producer for eight years and appears regularly in the media as a commentator on culture and freedom of expression, including in the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph and the London Review of Books.


Who is Afraid of Comics?, 27 September 2016 at Free Word Centre

From 50s horror comics to the Oz and Nasty Tales trials, to today’s fears about manga and webcomics – comics have been the targets of censorship, moral panics, police raids, strict codes of content, controversial obscenity prosecutions, and even an Act of Parliament that’s still in force. Journalist and co-Director of Comica.London festival, Paul Gravett, explored the history of censorship in comics and how comic creators and readers have fought back against it.

Listen now

Speakers at this event included:

Paul Gravett is a London-based freelance journalist, curator, lecturer, writer and broadcaster. He is co-Director of Comica.London festival and the publishing house Escape Books. In 2016 he co-curated Comix Creatrix: 100 Women Making Comics at House of Illustration, London, and The Story of British Comics So Far… Cor! By Gum! Zarjaz! at The Lightbox, Woking.


Islington Library and Heritage Services, along with the British Library and Free Word, celebrated Banned Books Week 2016. We aimed to draw attention to censorship and free speech and worked alongside the American Library Association (ALA).

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