A conversation with author Dr. Emily Knox – Albion Pleade College Online

Dr. Emily JM Knox spoke at The Goodrich Chapel a week before Banned Books. Banned Books Week is an annual campaign to raise awareness of banned books and celebrate the power of literature.

To kick off the programming for Banned Books Week, Dr. Emily J.M. Knox, at Albion College on Thursday, spoke in depth about the censorship speech.

The anti-book ban movement took off in 1982, due to mounting challenges towards books. Knox, who was six at the time, first heard about it from her mother, a 32-year-old librarian. Her love of reading and books and her curiosity about book bans eventually led to a career in the study of book ban patterns.

“I really like to think ‘Why do we bother reading?'” Why do we care what other people read? “How we think about public institutions, how they are supported and their purpose.”

Knox, associate professor in the School of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign, grew up in Columbia, Maryland. As a child, she participated in various activities ranging from ballet to playing the piano, all while reading avidly. After perusing the lists of books her mother brought home, her fascination with banned books only increased.

“I remember my mom bringing me the list and I’m going on and saying I read this book, I didn’t read this book, I read this book, I didn’t read this book, and I really want to read this book,” Knox said. “I remember doing this almost every year and was intrigued by the causes people gave, and [thinking] Was this a book you’ve already read [or] Oh, I should go to the library and get this book.”

After the lecture, she took the time to sit down with Knox for a chance to learn more about her journey. Below are edited excerpts from our conversation.


Can you talk a little more about the influence of other ideas and cultures regarding books and taboo literature?

So, the way I think of books is that they are a way to travel without leaving and can open up a world you don’t know very well. For example – I was talking about networking and translation – I’m currently reading Japanese puzzles which is a genre I didn’t even know but appeared in one of the many newsletters about books, and it looks like there was a whole golden age of puzzles in Japan. I’ve already read a lot of Golden Age puzzles from the UK so I have an entry because I really like puzzles. I’m really excited that I can read a literary genre from a completely different culture and a genre that I really enjoy, along with the metaphors of that genre, you get to see in a different world. You can also get to know the characters and you can know that you are leading yourself on a good path I read this person, now let me try this other person, let me see what other people are talking about in Goodreads.

How has your liberal arts education and degree affected you?

[My degree] He was in religious studies. I did not [have a minor]. I took Music 101, History of Music and I took Part 2 of it and it was so hard I couldn’t bring myself to do it. This is one of the main reasons for my regret that the minor was not terminated. You learn about many different things when you have a liberal arts education so we can take all kinds of classes. Take an English class and focus on it [on] City. We just read a bunch of novels about the city and I still have those. I remember taking the class. I wasn’t a minor in music but I did take a bunch of music lessons and do shows. I think it’s just exposure that matters. I was exposed to a lot of new ideas. I would say the best class I took was an introduction to the sociology class. This was the one that really helped me think more clearly about American society.

When you think about the future of the type of work you do, what gives you a sense of hope?

I really hope your generation and generations will be that [are] The next coming is really going to work for a better future. We will go through whatever we are going through now. It’s so hard, sometimes it’s scary, scary, [we] I don’t know what’s coming. But I really hope our life, our world is different, [and] It would be more fair. If we could show people how the world could be different – and books do – we would have a fairer world.

How have banned book trends changed over the years?

In what we call the free speech community, we’ve never seen anything quite like this. The only thing that came close to it was in the ’80s like a demonic panic but that’s beyond that and nothing has touched this. Not only against books but against the institutions themselves, as well as against schools and libraries. It’s very worrying, we don’t know what’s going to happen.

How has the pandemic affected such trends?

I actually think the reason we see all these books being challenged is because school is back home. All those parents, school is a right black box, you send your kid away, and he comes back. Who knows what happens there? Covid meant school was on the dining room table and I think a lot of parents have been surprised at what their kids are learning. They had never seen school in their 20s or 30s.

What’s next for you in your work, what are you looking forward to?

my next book [Foundations of Intellectual Freedom] going out in december [and I’m] So excited about it. I’m working on a few different articles – on the “Maus” ban and the geography of censorship and prison censorship. I hope to receive a grant from a member of my research team, Shannon Altman, to obtain a scholarship to study the book ban that is now in progress.

National Banned Books Week began on Sunday. Albion College will host an inclusive policy and practice advocacy event on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. on the main floor of the Mudd Library.

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