Arts » Written + Spoken Word

Banned Books week

We chatted with New York Times best seller Dan Wakefield about his own close calls and controversial titles. And we found the 3 most controversial books in Indiana.


Dan Wakefield - FILE PHOTO
  • file photo
  • Dan Wakefield

NUVO: Have any of your books been banned?

Dan Wakefield: No. I am disappointed. I thought Going All the Way would have been. I think it's a great thing to have Banned Books week. And you know, I went a couple of years ago and I read something from The Great Gatsby. What I was most struck by, Judy O'Bannon the wife of the former governor, Frank O'Bannon read from To Kill A Mockingbird. She read from the part that had been banned, and all it was was the girl Scout talking to a neighbor woman. The neighbor woman said something and said "to hell with it." That's all. The word hell.

NUVO: Has any of your writing received an exceptional amount of flak or critique for being controversial?

Wakefield: Are you kidding? When Going All the Way came out, I had one death threat — two guys were going to come to Boston and beat the hell out of me. A woman that I didn't really know — I just knew her name to say hello in the halls of high school — she said I had ruined her marriage because she thought she was one of the characters.

Here's the weirdest one. I had done a book tour, and the publisher said, "Listen, we have an author from a TV station in Indianapolis, they will pay your way, pay you to stay." I said no "I don't want to do it.' He said 'oh, come on." So I was living in Boston. So I went down to New York, I was staying in a hotel and the next day I was supposed to go. The Delacourt PR woman came over to the hotel with my plane ticket. It was an awful rainy day, and I said, "Gee I really don't want to do this thing." She said, "No, no, don't be silly. It's just for a day and night." ... But when the PR woman came over and said "Ernest Scott, our sales manager told me to give you this page from the New York Post." And I looked at it, it was the front page of the New York Post. And it was about a woman accused of murder. There was a photograph of her coming out of her apartment and she had her arm over her face. And I thought, what does this have to do with me? And I looked and she is carrying in her arm a copy of Going All the Way. I said to Carol in PR, "Look this is too many bad omens." She said "come on, don't be silly."

A screen shot from Going All the Way, that was filmed in Indianapolis - SUBMITTED
  • submitted
  • A screen shot from Going All the Way, that was filmed in Indianapolis

So I go ... it's a TWA plane going to Indianapolis, Kansas City and San Fransisco. We get on the plane and we are up about 20 minutes, and the pilot says, "We have to make an emergency landing in Pittsburgh." I look back and one of the flight attendants yells to another one in the plane ... and you could tell she was panicked ... we land in this emergency airfield in Pittsburgh. And there's cops, fire engines lined up. And we're pushing each other to get off the plane, and we are going to this block house. People are standing around saying, "what happened? What was it?" The pilot or co-polite said ... somebody phoned in a bomb threat. And they said that plane will never get to Indianapolis. So I am thinking, it didn't say it wouldn't get to Kansas City or San Francisco ... I turned a woman next to me and said, "This is going to sound crazy, but," and I poured out my whole story about Going All the Way ... and she says "well, Mr. Wakefield, I am from Bloomington, and if I were you I would go back to New York." And I did.

NUVO: Do you think they were calling in the bomb threat for you?

Wakefield: All I know is there were too many bad omens. I'll never know ... I didn't officially come back here — well, I would come in under cover of night and see my parents. But ... I didn't come back here publicly until 1987. And I was invited by a woman at the Central Library, named Ophilia Roupe ... and said, "we would like for you to come back and speak at the library." I said, "do you think it's safe now?" And she said, "Oh come on, everyone is over that. We use Going All the Way in books clubs at the library and really everybody would love to have you come back." She convinced me. She wanted me to write something for the newsletter saying I was coming back ... and I remember the first sentence was "I come in peace."

Kurt Vonnegut books.
  • Kurt Vonnegut books.

NUVO: Have you and Vonnegut ever discussed banned books or Slaughterhouse Five?

Wakefield: In the letters book there is this great letter that he wrote to the head of the school board in Drake, North Dakota — where they had not only banned his book but they burned the book in the high school library. That letter, that says it all. Do you know that letter?

NUVO: I am not familiar.

Wakefield: Do you have the letters book? Or just look up the letter to the chairman of the school board in Drake North Dakota.

NUVO: What is your summary or your favorite line in it?

Wakefield: One of the things he says in it is none of his books ever advocated ... about sex or violence. And they tried to tell people to be more kind to one another. He said the reason he used certain words were because soldiers used those words — Slaughterhouse Five — working men used those words. And he said, besides words never hurt us when we were children. It was evil deeds and lies that hurt us. It was very inspiring to read it.

NUVO: Do you agree with that?

Wakefield: Oh yeah, gosh. You know with the whole banned books thing, I was once at a conference at Calvin College in Michigan ... I was on a panel discussion with great people including Annie Dillard, Madeleine L'Engle — who wrote A Wrinkle in Time. ... We started talking about all of the great books [that had been banned] ... There was an audience of teachers, and they said 'how do we get our kids to read? I said just give them banned books. That will do it.


3 of the most controversial books in Indiana

2008 Todd Tucker's Notre Dame vs. the Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan. IUPUI administrators said that a student-employee was guilty of racial harassment because he was reading the book in a public area. He contacted the ACLU and received a letter of apology from IUPUI.

2008 Erin Gruwell's The Freedom Writers Diary.  Gruwell's piece was taken out of Perry Meridian High School English classes. The book remains in the school's library.

2010 Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon. Concerns were raised by parents about Morrison's famous novel, but it was ultimately kept in the Franklin Central High School's Advanced Placement English curriculum.

* These were drawn from cases documented by The American Library Association and the Kids' Right to Read Project. The ALA also put its stamp of approval on it. 


This Week's Flyers

Around the Web