# Literature

Laws that ban books run contrary to Iowa's history, legacy

Banned Book Week runs from October 1 to October 7, 2023. The following letter, released on September 14, was co-signed by The Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature Board of Directors, Mayor Bruce Teague on behalf of the City of Iowa City, The Iowa City Public Library Trustees, The Iowa City Public Library Friends Foundation, The Coralville Public Library, The North Liberty Library, Think Iowa City, Iowa Small Library Association executive board, Prairie Lights, One Iowa, The Tuesday Agency, Iowa City Poetry, the Iowa Library Association, and Corridor Community Action Network.

An open letter to Governor Kim Reynolds and the Iowa legislature:

Iowa is home to one of the most literary cities on earth. It is here where the Iowa Writers’ Workshop produced some of the greatest voices in American Literature: Frank Conroy, John Irving, Wallace Stegner, Raymond Carver, Jane Smiley, Rita Dove, Ayana Mathis, Flannery O’Connor, Ann Patchett, and so many others. Iowa is also home to contemporary writers producing works of fiction and non-fiction that are both bold in truth-telling and revolutionary in voice.

It’s because of this legacy and the dedication of Iowans to producing great writing, that Iowa City was declared a UNESCO City of Literature in 2008. Often called the “Athens of the Midwest,” Iowa City has a unique set of influential literary institutions, which explore new ways to teach and  support writers. At the same time, it has long been, quite simply, a place for writers and for readers: a haven, a destination, a proving ground, and a nursery. Iowa has a history and an identity in which its citizens take enormous pride, prizing a role in celebrating and honoring writers and good writing.

On May 26, Iowa’s governor signed into law legislation that runs counter to that legacy. Senate File 496 prohibits books with written and visual depictions of sex acts from school libraries. The legislation also bans written materials and instruction on “gender identity” and “sexual orientation.” This law was passed under the pretense of protecting children, and yet what this law amounts to is a book ban that limits children’s freedom of expression and access to knowledge about the world around them.

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Good interview with author of "The Lolita Effect"

Iowa Independent has published a good interview T.M. Lindsey did with Gigi Durham, a journalism professor at the University of Iowa who has published a book called “The Lolita Effect.”

“A lot of very sexual products are being marketed to very young kids,” Durham said in a press release. “I’m criticizing the unhealthy and damaging representations of girls’ sexuality, and how the media present girls’ sexuality in a way that’s tied to their profit motives. The body ideals presented in the media are virtually impossible to attain, but girls don’t always realize that, and they’ll buy an awful lot of products to try to achieve those bodies. There’s endless consumerism built around that.”

Durham will read from “The Lolita Effect” at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 8, at Prairie Lights Books in Iowa City.

If anyone makes it to the reading, please put up a comment or diary afterwards to tell us about the event.

If you are concerned about the way the media and various industries sexualize young girls, Mothering.com occasionally publishes news and action alerts about this issue.

Another good resource is Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, a group dedicated to “reclaiming children from corporate marketers.” That organization, in collaboration with the group Dads & Daughters, launched a successful letter-writing campaign two years ago, which prompted toy company Hasbro to shelve a planned line of eroticized “Pussycat Dolls” for young girls.

A current letter-writing effort organized by Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood is urging a children’s hospital not to give naming rights to Abercrombie & Fitch, “among the worst corporate offenders” when it comes to sexualizing children.

Speaking of Lolita, since I studied Russian literature in college I want to let you in on a little secret: it’s not the best novel by Vladimir Nabokov. Seriously, I’ve never met a Russian lit professor or graduate student who thought that was Nabokov’s best work.

If you’re curious about Nabokov, read Invitation to a Beheading (a relatively early novel), The Gift (the last novel he wrote in Russian), The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (the first novel he wrote in English), Pale Fire (probably my own favorite), or Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle.

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