SANTA CRUZ -- The Santa Cruz way of celebrating national Banned Books Week is to stand on a stage in front of a literary savvy audience and read aloud excerpts from some of history's most controversial novels.
Santa Cruz Public Libraries collaborated with other local reader groups such as Santa Cruz Writes and Santa Cruz Reads to show support for books that have been shunned from bookstores, libraries and schools in other cities and states for violence, sex, racism or religious view points.
A panel that included elected leaders, local actors and poets gathered Thursday in the Santa Cruz High School auditorium to read mostly mild passages from classics such as "To Kill A Mockingbird" by Harper Lee, Jack London's "The Call of the Wild," and "All the King's Men" by Robert Penn Warren.
An audience of more than 70 avid readers listened raptly as favorite lines were read.
"We want to remind people that some communities, gratefully not ours, restrict what people can read," said Janis O'Driscoll of Santa Cruz Public Libraries. "This is about intellectual freedom and freedom to read."
Avondina Wills, an actor, read from Alice Walker's "The Color Purple," a book about a black woman's abusive life in the South in the 1930s, which was banned from an Oakland high school honors class in 1984.
Former Santa Cruz Mayor Cynthia Mathews read from two books written around 1915-25 -- "An American Tragedy" and "The Woman Rebel" -- that were censored for their references to birth control.
"Man's law is bitter cruel," Mathews read from Margaret Sanger's "The Woman Rebel," about a mother of three who wanted to end her fourth pregnancy.
Former state Assemblyman John Laird, a Santa Cruz resident, read bits from "The Call of the Wild" and Richard Wright's "Native Son."
UC Santa Cruz graduate student Pedro Regueiro said it's surprising that book prohibition exists in the U.S.
"It was pretty interesting to hear what had been banned and what is still being prohibited," the 26-year-old said. "I favor the freedom of speech and writing."
The nationwide Banned Book Week was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries.
More than 11,300 books have been challenged or censored in the past 30 years, according to the American Library Association.
There were 326 challenges reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom in 2011, including the highly popular "The Hunger Games" trilogy by Suzanne Collins for nudity and sexually explicit writing.
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