Banned Books Week
Photos: GoKateShoot

Uncensored: Inside Banned Books Week

Every year, the DC Public Library joins forces with hundreds of libraries and bookstores around the country to celebrate freedom of expression during Banned Books Week. This year’s festival runs from September 26 to October 1 in the District, and brings together the entire book community in a shared endeavor to embrace literature – even if it is unpopular or controversial. By focusing on efforts throughout the U.S. to remove or restrict access to books, Banned Books Week has drawn national attention to the harms of censorship since 1982.

Events range from a sing-along and reading of In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak, to a Harry Potter film screening and new book release, to book club meetings and a spectacular party at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library at the end of the month. Get a head start during the month-long series of films adapted from banned books at Francis A. Gregory Library in Southeast, beginning September 6.

Richard Reyes-Gavilan, executive director of the DC Public Library, stresses the importance of working with local artists during the annual festival.
“Part of our mission is to serve the underserved, and this includes the creative community,” he says.

“And Now the World Knows” is an exhibition created by DC-based artist Adrienne Gaither. Her giant banner for the exterior of the MLK Library, posters for its windows and display in the lobby focus on published books banned in the last century.

Of the brightly colored pieces, Gaither says, “Despite censorship, banned books have impacted our global culture, and many of the lessons embedded throughout these books are as relevant today as they were during the 20th century.”

Gaither juxtaposes excerpts from such books as Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God and George Orwell’s 1984 with TV color test screens and iconic archival images. The resulting collages analyze sources of information and question their subjectivity while contemplating the imaginative freedom of literature. Gaither is especially excited “to work with these incredible archival images,” she says, “and think about how [these books] have had an impact on me.”

On Friday, September 30, from 7 to 10 p.m., MLK Library is hosting a fundraising party for the DC Public Library Foundation. The evening includes live music from Ethiopian jazz masters Feedel Band and DJ Ayes Cold, as well as crafts, live screen-printing of library swag and a pop-up shop.

“The decor will be a surprise,” teases organizer Linnea Hegarty, but she does reveal that Kim Burke, artist and former event director at Proof, is in on it.

DC Brau is serving beer during the event and Brookland’s Mess Hall is providing snacks. Mixologists from throughout the area, including Chantal Tseng, are creating special lit-themed cocktails. Tseng has made a splash designing literary cocktails at Petworth Citizen. Duane Sylvestre also joins the party.

Last year, he created the unforgettable Shug Avery based on the character from Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. Violet in color (resulting from mixing hibiscus with pineapple juice) and crowned with a floating flower, flavors unfolded slowly with sweet, spicy, tart, bold and delicate notes, capturing the essence of the character beautifully.

As a representative of Papa’s Pilar Rum – Ernest Hemingway’s own label – Philip Greene, author of the cocktail recipe book To Have and Have Another: A Hemingway Cocktail Companion, knows his literature and his spirits. His dark and decadent creation will have you craving deep leather club chairs and a Cuban cigar. To purchase tickets for the cocktail fundraiser at MLK Library or to donate to the library, visit
For more information about Banned Books Week programming throughout the DC Public Library system, visit

Photos: GoKateShoot

Vanessa Mallory Kotz

Vanessa Mallory Kotz has been a writer and editor for more than 15 years. She covers visual arts, fashion, food and anything that advocates for better treatment of humans and animals. Her work has appeared in Popular Photography, American Photo, The Writer's Guide, Hirshhorn Magazine, First Person Plural, Goucher Quarterly, AmericanStyle, Niche, Reflections: Ultra Short Personal Narratives and art catalogs for museums across the country.