What Authors Have Said About Their Most Controversial Books



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While recent years have seen an uptick in book bans across America, the concept isn't new. Forward-thinking authors have been fighting for their books to be in schools and libraries for decades, and they're certainly not slowing down in their efforts to protect their books. 

Authors from all genres find themselves battling people who disagree with their messages - from beloved children's author Judy Blume to some of the twentieth century's most esteemed authors, like Harper Lee and Kurt Vonnegut. 

Authors have different responses to these attempts (sometimes successful) at prohibiting their books. Most view the censorship as repulsive. Others see it as exciting - proof they're successfully pushing society's buttons (which can fuel book sales). 

But don't take our word for it - read what the authors said firsthand about their most controversial books, and the responses they've ignited around the world. 

  • To Kill a Mockingbird is hailed as a classic in American literature. Yet since it was written in 1960, it has been battling those who would rather not have its themes of racism explored. 

    In 1966, a Virginia school board voted to ban the book based on its “immoral” nature. In response, the author Harper Lee wrote a fiery letter that would put just about anyone in their place:

    Surely it is plain to the simplest intelligence that To Kill a Mockingbird spells out in words of seldom more than two syllables a code of honor and conduct, Christian in its ethic, that is the heritage of all Southerners. To hear that the novel is “immoral” has made me count the years between now and 1984, for I have yet to come across a better example of doublethink. I feel, however, that the problem is one of illiteracy, not Marxism. Therefore I enclose a small contribution to the Beadle Bumble Fund that I hope will be used to enroll the Hanover County School Board in any first grade of its choice.

    634 votes
  • It's incredibly ironic that a book about the dangers of banning books, Fahrenheit 451, has fallen victim to the practice. Even more, the book has been censored and changed by its publishers.

    Well, when the author Ray Bradbury found this out, he was irate. So upset that he wrote a Coda to the 1979 Del Rey edition. In it, he speaks to the people who censor books

    There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people run­ning about with lit matches. Every minority, be it Baptist / Unitarian, Irish / Italian / Octogenarian / Zen Buddhist, Zionist / ​Seventh‐​day Adventist, Women’s Lib / ​Republican, Mattachine / ​Four Square Gospel feels it has the will, the right, the duty to douse the kerosene, light the fuse. Every dimwit editor who sees himself as the source of all dreary blanc‐​mange plain porridge unleavened literature, licks his guillotine and eyes the neck of any author who dares to speak above a whisper or write above a nursery rhyme.

    Bradbury continued by saying:

    For it is a mad world and it will get madder if we allow the minorities, be they dwarf or giant, orangu­tan or dolphin, nuclear‐​head or water‐​conversation­ist, pro‐​computerologist or Neo‐​Luddite, simpleton or sage, to interfere with aesthetics. The real world is the playing ground for each and every group, to make or unmake laws. 

    534 votes
  • Slaughterhouse-Five has become a staple in American literature. The 1969 semi-autobiographical novel, written by Kurt Vonnegut, details a soldier's experience in World War II. 

    To keep the reality of what it was like to be in war, Vonnegut used some harsh language throughout the novel. This has been one of the primary reasons that people have cited for wanting to ban the book. 

    Cut to 1973, when a teacher in North Dakota decided to use Slaughterhouse-Five as a teaching aid. When the head of the school board found out, he demanded that all 32 copies be thrown in the school's furnace. 

    Upon hearing of this literal book burning, Vonnegut sent a private letter to the school board member - making sure to emphasize that he wasn't publicizing this barbaric act to get more book sales. The whole letter is well worth a read, but below is a small snippet of it:

    After I have said all this, I am sure you are still ready to respond, in effect, “Yes, yes— but it still remains our right and our responsibility to decide what books our children are going to be made to read in our community.” This is surely so. But it is also true that if you exercise that right and fulfill that responsibility in an ignorant, harsh, un-American manner, then people are entitled to call you bad citizens and fools. Even your own children are entitled to call you that.


    Perhaps you will learn from this that books are sacred to free men for very good reasons, and that wars have been fought against nations which hate books and burn them. If you are an American, you must allow all ideas to circulate freely in your community, not merely your own.

    577 votes
  • Stephen King, one of the most popular authors of his generation, is no stranger to book bans. His first book, Carrie, has been banned by schools for its discussion of sex and periods. 

    Seemingly fed up with the uptick in book bans as of late, King took to Twitter in January 2023, saying: 

    Hey, kids! It's your old buddy Steve King telling you that if they ban a book in your school, haul your *ss to the nearest bookstore or library ASAP and find out what they don't want you to read.

    This isn't a new idea for King. Some 20 years prior to this tweet, King gave his two cents on the kind of people who lead book bans at the 1999 Vermont Library Conference’s Annual Meeting:

    I don’t trust people who look back on high school with fondness; too many of them were part of the overclass, those who were taunters instead of tauntees. […] They are also the ones most likely to suggest that books such as Carrie and The Catcher in the Rye and A Separate Peace be removed from libraries. I submit to you that these people have less interest in reducing the atmosphere of violence in schools than they may have in forgetting how badly some people - they themselves, in some cases - may have behaved while there.

    632 votes
  • Salman Rushdie Said People Thought The Controversy Over 'The Satanic Verses' Would Be Resolved In Days - Not Decades
    Photo: Andrew Lih / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0
    351 VOTES

    Salman Rushdie Said People Thought The Controversy Over 'The Satanic Verses' Would Be Resolved In Days - Not Decades

    You may have heard the author Salman Rushdie's name in recent years not because of his work, but for the brutal attack on his life. In August 2022, Rushdie was giving a lecture when a man jumped on stage and stabbed the author repeatedly. Rushdie survived the attack, but has since lost use of one of his eyes and one of his hands. 

    This is not the first time Rushdie has experienced an attempt on his life. In 1989, Iran's leader publicly put a million-dollar bounty on the author's head. Even today, the assassination order has not officially been withdrawn. 

    So why is there so much animosity against this now 75-year-old author? It comes down to a book he wrote in 1988 called The Satanic Verses. The novel depicted a reimagining of the prophet Muhammad's life, following two Muslim men who live in England. 

    This creative take on the religious figure was hated by some members of the Islam faith, who began starting riots and burning bookshops who sold the book. For his own safety, Rushdie went into hiding. But as he said, it wasn't for the time frame anyone had anticipated:

    One of the strangest aspects of it is that nobody thought that this was going to last very long. They said, “Just lie low for a few days and let the diplomats and politicians do their work, and this will be resolved.” Instead, in the end, it took almost 12 years.

    351 votes
  • Khaled Hosseini's book The Kite Runner was a huge critical success. Following the childhoods of two boys growing up in Afghanistan, the novel covers important topics of war and refugeeism. 

    Despite this, people have been fighting to ban the books from schools - citing there is too much religious subtext or a scene is too sexually graphic. 

    When asked what he wanted to say to book banners, Hosseini had a thoughtful response:

    Books remain our most powerful teachers of empathy. They allow us into the lives of others and open our eyes to realities far different from our own. I have a literal mountain of letters from students from all over the U.S., collected over a span of nearly 20 years, and to a fault, every last one of them felt The Kite Runner enriched their understanding of Afghanistan, of displaced people, and of victims of war and persecution. High school students are far more sophisticated thinkers than these parent groups give them credit for. We should be encouraging our students to take the opportunity to grow and develop empathy for others, instead of of imposing our own biases and insecurities on them. Banning books like The Kite Runner is a tragic, misguided disservice to students, and I applaud all those fighting for the freedom to read and learn.

    457 votes