Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

Song of Solomon” is a novel by Toni Morrison, the very famous and very popular Nobel laureate for literature. It’s the story of a young black man named Milkman and his journey towards redemption and enlightenment from the twisted Michigan environment that spawned him. It’s one of Morrison’s most popular books, and won the Critics Circle award in 1978.

There’s a controversy going on? You betcha. During the summer of ’97, the 11th grade Advanced Placement English class of David Flood, in the small town of Leonardtown, Maryland , was assigned to read “Song of Solomon.” The book was then discussed briefly in class. Shortly after the class was finished with Song of Solomon, and happily whiling away the time on the extremely non-controversial “The Scarlet Letter,” a mother of one of the students in the class, Mrs. Bernice Williamson, wrote in a letter to Dr. Edward Weiland. In the letter, Williamson demanded that the book be removed from the approved reading list.

Why? Why don’t you just read why?

Wow. Is Song of Solomon really all that bad? It’s got some rough parts, yes, but my personal opinion is that the examples she cites are a bit exaggerated. Still, those things are in there.

I’m fascinated. What happened then? Well, as per the rules of reviewing a challenged book, the director of English for the school district, Deanna Norad, assembled a five person committee made up of two administrators, one teacher, and two parents. The comittee deliberated, and unanimously recommended to keep the book on the reading list. They also suggested some changes to the way the book was taught. From then on, they said, Song of Solomon should be taught during the regular school year so that more guidance could be given, if needed. By the same token, they recommended that the book be discussed more in class.

If they kept it, what’s the controversy? Here’s the thing; the final decision rested with Superintendent Patricia Richardson. The committee only existed to advise her. She decided to get rid of the book.

Why did she do that? She said she thought that the book was inappropriate for high schoolers. Also, she probably wanted to resolve the issue quickly, with a minimum of controversy. There’s no doubt in my mind that if she decided to keep Song of Solomon, opponents of the book would be all over her like a bad haircut. Local politics in such a small county can be greatly influenced by a small group of people. If minimizing the controversy was what the Superindendent had in mind, though, it’s backfired spectacularly.

So, the book is banned? Back up there, Sparky. A lot of people get very upset up you say Song of Solomon has been banned (especially the Superintendent). It hasn’t actually been banned, at least in the way you usually think of banning. There’s still two copies of the book in the school library, and students can go check them out whenever they want. Many have, since this whole crazy hoopla started.

Crazy hoopla, you say? Right. The issue of whether or not Song of Solomon should be read in class has been the subject of countless letter-to-the-Editors, four stories in the local newspaper The Enterprise, a front page story in the Washington Post (which was ent around the world by the Post’s news service), a brief mention on C-SPAN, and a wild editorial with vaguely racist overtones from a local newspaper, The St. Mary’s Today.

Where can I find this stuff? Right here on this page, more or less. I gathered what I could, but some stuff has disappeared into the Stacks. Also, it’s hard to put television broadcasts on a web page. I wish I could find that St. Mary’s Today editorial, though. It’s a real hoot.

Are there any humorous statements by public officials that I could read? I’m glad you asked. The local elected County Commissioners have recently taken a stand in this matter. They read two pages of the section with by far the worst language in the whole story. From this, they derived these opinions of Song of Solomon. Keep in mind, they haven’t actually read the book.

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