On Wednesday, May 20, the Matanuska-Susitna (Mat-Su) Borough School District in Palmer, Alaska, voted 6-1 to rescind its removal of five classic books from the reading list for 11th grade English classes. The board had previously voted 5-2 to remove the books on April 22.
The five books the board initially voted to remove are:
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
- Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
- Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
The initial removal caught the attention of organizations across the country. The American Booksellers for Free Expression (ABFE) signed two letters, with the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) and with the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (ALA OIF), condemning the school board’s decision and urging the school district board to reinstate the books.
Prior to the board’s vote to rescind the removal, Mat-Su Superintendent Monica Goyette and Board Vice President Jim Hart had an exchange centered on Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Hart claimed that the “sexual content,” referring to the portion of the book in which Angelou describes her childhood rape, is inappropriate.
Hart said, “This is one of the most banned books, and I mean banned, removed books in the country and precisely for this content.”
Goyette took issue with Hart taking the section of the book out of context.
The board meeting drew members of the community protesting outside and holding signs saying, “I read banned books.”
Only one board member, Ryan Ponder, voted to not rescind the removal, saying “...it went nationwide that we banned these books. The school board did not ban the five books not listed on the recommended reading list.” He continued, “Just as the curriculum council did not ban the hundreds of books left off their proposed list.”