Imagining a Better Future by Re-imagining the Past

Saturday, May 2, 2020


Recently the school board of the Matanuska-Susitna (Mat-Su) Borough School District in Palmer, Alaska, voted to remove five of the twelve books on the 11th grade English reading list because they were considered to contain “controversial” content.

While we all should be concerned about censorship this action hits close to home for Dieselpunks. Four of the five books removed are set during the Diesel Era. Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sing begins in the 1930s and goes through the 1950s, Heller’s Catch-22 is set during World War II, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby was written and is set in the early 1920s, and Ellison’s Invisible Man is set in the 1930s. The one book that doesn’t have a Diesel Era connection is O’Brien’s Only The Things They Carried, which involves the Vietnam War. 

There were numerous cases of censorship during the Diesel Era. Most are familiar with the book burnings by the Nazi regime in the 1930s. However, censorship wasn’t limited to Germany for America banned several books during the Diesel Era. America just wasn't as theatrical as the Germans. One of the worst offenders in America was the city of Boston. Boston in the 1920s banned Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms. In addition, in the 1920s Boston also banned Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis, An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser, and Lady Chatterley’s Lover D.H. Lawrence.

Censorship didn’t end in America after the 1920s.  The following were all banned in America during the Diesel Era: The Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller (1934), The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939), Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor (1944), and Memoirs of Hecate County by Edmund Wilson (1946).  

The National Coalition Against Censorship has written to the Matanuska-Susitna (Mat-Su) Borough School board to protest the removal of these books. You can read more about the NCAC protest here.

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