SARATOGA SPRINGS — The stage at Caffe Lena has long been a home for musicians, storytellers and poets looking to share new work and ideas. Starting this week, the cafe will also house a library of banned books.
In its courtyard, the place has installed a Little Liberty Library, intended to circulate banned books. From 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, as part of a library presentation program, a dozen local authors will read excerpts from their favorite banned books. There will also be a performance by Dan Berggren.
The event comes as book bans grab headlines across the country.
Last week, the New York Times reported that a school district in Texas had removed the Bible, a graphic novel adaptation of Anne Frank’s ‘Diary of a Young Girl’, among other books challenged by parents. and members of the community while under review. treat.
It is not the only school in the country to have done so recently. Book bans took place in 86 school districts in 26 states between July 1, 2021 and March 31, 2022, according to PEN America, a nonprofit that advocates for free speech. There were 1,586 cases of books banned from schools during the same period.
The organization defines a school book ban as “any action taken against a book based on its content and as a result of parental or community challenges, administrative decisions, or in response to direct or threatened action by legislators or other government officials, which leads to a previously accessible book being either completely removed from student availability or when access to a book is restricted or diminished.
Beyond book bans, the recent stabbing of author Salman Rushdie at an event at the Chautauqua institution has also spurred conversations about free speech.
While organizers began making plans for the Little Liberty Library months ago, the project is even more relevant today.
“Between the rise in book bans happening right now, [and] what happened when Salman Rushdie was physically attacked and fought for his life in Chautauqua. . . the timing of this, so close to our event, really reinforced our resolve to show that we respect and honor creative expression,” said organizer Patricia A. Nugent. The local author is also active with the Saratoga County League of Women Voters, which is one of the event’s sponsors.
The Little Liberty Library is inspired by the Little Free Library’s idea of a community book exchange, which encourages people to take or leave a book. The library was built by Thomas Kinsky and features a painting of the Bill of Rights as well as a depiction of the Spirit of Life statue holding forbidden books, painted by local artist CAM Cameron.
With its history of hosting artists, especially folk musicians, Caffe Lena seems like the perfect place to house the library.
“Folk music is all about the stories of marginalized people and ordinary people,” said Sarah Craig, executive director of Caffe Lena. “Folk music creates community. It brings people together because it’s a place where people feel heard and seen and their history is honored.
From Craig’s perspective, banning books is a way to erase people and their stories.
“When we exclude people like that and shut them down and silence them and tell them they don’t belong in the books or they don’t belong on the stages or they don’t have no place in libraries or schools. . . it will come back to bite us. It’s the wrong approach,” Craig said.
At Wednesday’s event, Nugent, among other authors, will pull poignant and powerful excerpts from some of the most commonly banned books, reading them at Caffe Lena as a reminder of what might be lost.
Nugent plans to read “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl.”
“I found myself crying during rehearsals because how could you tape this Holocaust victim’s voice when she was talking about it from the inside?” Nugent said.
Author Rachel R. Baum will read “The Librarian of Basra” by Jeanette Winter, Matt Witten will read “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck and Lale Davidson will read “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood.
Craig hopes the evening will be a gesture of inclusion.
“Our job is to create a space where art can heal social divisions, not deepen them,” Craig said. “We have open mics, we have poetry nights, we have all kinds of opportunities for people to come up to this stage and share their story, their art and their creative vision and I hope people of all horizons will.”
Admission to the event is free, although attendees may donate prohibited books or funds. Advance registration is recommended. The event will also be broadcast live. For more information, visit cafelena.org.
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