PEN America Urges Missouri Schools to Keep the Holocaust Graphic Novel ‘Maus’ on Shelves
Nixa, Missouri, is Third District to Consider Banning Maus Under New Law About Sexually Explicit Materials
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LINK to PEN America’s full interview with Art Spiegelman
(NEW YORK) – PEN America on Wednesday urged school officials in Nixa, Missouri, to retain Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel Maus and two other books that were flagged by school officials under a new law that makes it illegal to provide minors with sexually explicit material.
Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust was flagged by an internal review by employees, potentially because of an illustration shows his mother naked in a bathtub after she committed suicide. In an interview, Spiegelman told PEN America: “There’s nothing there that could possibly titillate. Even if you’re a sadist, you wouldn’t go to that one for the picture, to see a dead body. And so I was offended just like they were, but I was offended by describing a naked corpse as a nude woman.”
The book will be reviewed by the school board in Nixa along with a graphic adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Blankets, an illustrated novel by Craig Thompson. At its June 20 meeting, the Nixa school board will also consider appeals to restrict or remove four books challenged this school year that review committees already voted to retain in school libraries. Since the start of the 2021-22 school year, Nixa schools restricted 16 books, including Blankets, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing, and John Green’s Looking for Alaska. Parents now must sign a permission slip if their child wants to read those or seven other books.
“Vague laws that threaten teachers and librarians create a climate of fear that primarily hurts students by restricting what they can read about and learn,” said Kasey Meehan, PEN America’s Freedom to Read program director. “We know that individual school leaders feel pressure to remove books with anything that might be interpreted as ‘sexual content,’ which often targets books that otherwise have educational or historical value.”
PEN America is encouraging people concerned over this latest ban to urge the Nixa, MO school district to keep Maus on its school library shelves. Sign the PEN America petition here.
A Tennessee school district banned Maus last year and this is the third Missouri school districts to review it this year, over concerns raised by a new law that makes it illegal to provide minors with sexually explicit material. In one district, Maus was eventually returned to shelves. In another, it was permanently removed. A third, in Nixa, will vote next week.
There’s obvious symbolism in the banning of Maus, even more so when you consider that the book was thrown into a bonfire in Nashville. Book burning was an early maneuver for the Nazis, and Spiegelman notes they particularly targeted the queer and transgender community.
“We haven’t learned much from the past, but there’s some things you should be able to figure out,” Spiegelman told PEN America. “Book burning leads to people burning. So it’s something that needs to be fought against. It’s a very dangerous tendency.”
PEN America has been at the forefront of documenting and defending against the unprecedented rise of school book bans nationwide as well as the spread of educational censorship legislation to nearly half of all states. Collectively, these bills attempt to put certain ideas and concepts out of bounds in K-12 classrooms, and even in college classrooms. Texas, Florida, and Missouri lead with the most books banned.
Depriving students of literary works flies in the face of basic constitutional freedoms, and PEN America is suing Escambia County, Florida, over its book bans. Black and LGBTQ+ authors and books about race, racism, and LGBTQ identities have been disproportionately affected in the book bans documented by PEN America in the last year and a half. The wave of book banning is worse than anything seen in decades, with PEN America counting more than 4,000 book bans since the fall of 2021.—
About PEN America
PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.
Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057