Friday, October 2, 2009

Banned Books Week 2009--a favorite author...Stephen King

According to the American Library Association, Stephen King is one of the most "challenged" authors alive, meaning parents still want his books placed on special shelves in school libraries — or removed altogether.

Stephen Edwin King was born in Portland, Maine in 1947, the second son of Donald and Nellie Ruth Pillsbury King. After his parents separated when Stephen was a toddler, he and his older brother, David, were raised by his mother. Parts of his childhood were spent in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where his father's family was at the time, and in Stratford, Connecticut. When Stephen was eleven, his mother brought her children back to Durham, Maine, for good. Her parents, Guy and Nellie Pillsbury, had become incapacitated with old age, and Ruth King was persuaded by her sisters to take over the physical care of the elderly couple. Other family members provided a small house in Durham and financial support. After Stephen's grandparents passed away, Mrs. King found work in the kitchens of Pineland, a nearby residential facility for the mentally challenged.

Stephen attended the grammar school in Durham and then Lisbon Falls High School, graduating in 1966. From his sophomore year at the University of Maine at Orono, he wrote a weekly column for the school newspaper, THE MAINE CAMPUS. He was also active in student politics, serving as a member of the Student Senate. He came to support the anti-war movement on the Orono campus, arriving at his stance from a conservative view that the war in Vietnam was unconstitutional. He graduated from the University of Maine at Orono in 1970, with a B.A. in English and qualified to teach on the high school level. A draft board examination immediately post-graduation found him 4-F on grounds of high blood pressure, limited vision, flat feet, and punctured eardrums.

He and Tabitha Spruce married in January of 1971. He met Tabitha in the stacks of the Fogler Library at the University of Maine at Orono, where they both worked as students. As Stephen was unable to find placement as a teacher immediately, the Kings lived on his earnings as a laborer at an industrial laundry, and her student loan and savings, with an occasional boost from a short story sale to men's magazines.

Stephen made his first professional short story sale ("The Glass Floor") to Startling Mystery Stories in 1967. Throughout the early years of his marriage, he continued to sell stories to men's magazines. Many of these were later gathered into the Night Shift collection or appeared in other anthologies.

In the fall of 1971, Stephen began teaching high school English classes at Hampden Academy, the public high school in Hampden, Maine. Writing in the evenings and on the weekends, he continued to produce short stories and to work on novels.

In the spring of 1973, Doubleday & Co. accepted the novel Carrie for publication. On Mother's Day of that year, Stephen learned from his new editor at Doubleday, Bill Thompson, that a major paperback sale would provide him with the means to leave teaching and write full-time.

At the end of the summer of 1973, the Kings moved their growing family to southern Maine because of Stephen's mother's failing health. Renting a summer home on Sebago Lake in North Windham for the winter, Stephen wrote his next-published novel, originally titled Second Coming and then Jerusalem's Lot, before it became 'Salem's Lot, in a small room in the garage. During this period, Stephen's mother died of cancer, at the age of 59.

Carrie was published in the spring of 1974. That same fall, the Kings left Maine for Boulder, Colorado. They lived there for a little less than a year, during which Stephen wrote The Shining, set in Colorado. Returning to Maine in the summer of 1975, the Kings purchased a home in the Lakes Region of western Maine. At that house, Stephen finished writing The Stand, much of which also is set in Boulder. The Dead Zone was also written in Bridgton. (from

Two of his and Tabitha's children, sons Joe Hill (Joseph Hillstrom King) and Owen King, are also published authors.

The book-banners: Adventure in censorship is stranger than fiction by Stephen King

Published as a Guest Column in the March 20, 1992 issue of The Bangor Daily News

"When I came into my office last Thursday afternoon, my desk was covered with those little pink message slips that are the prime mode of communication around my place. Maine Public Broadcasting had called, also Channel 2, the Associated Press, and even the Boston Globe. It seems the book-banners had been at it again, this time in Florida. They had pulled two of my books, "The Dead Zone" and "The Tommyknockers," from the middle-school library shelves and were considering making them limited-access items in the high school library. What that means is that you can take the book out if you bring a note from your mom or your dad saying it's OK.

My news-media callers all wanted the same thing -- a comment. Since this was not the first time one or more of my books had been banned in a public school (nor the 15th), I simply gathered the pink slips up, tossed them in the wastebasket, and went about my day's work. The only thought that crossed my mind was one strongly tinged with gratitude: There are places in the world where the powers that be ban the author as well as the author's works when the subject matter or mode of expression displeases said powers. Look at Salman Rushdie, now living under a death sentence, or Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who spent eight years in a prison camp for calling Josef Stalin "the boss" and had to run for the west to avoid another stay after he won the Nobel Prize for "The Gulag Archipelago."

When the news stories about my latest adventure in censorship came out, however, I didn't like the way that "the author could not be reached for comment" stuff looked. To me, that line has always called up images of swindlers too cowardly to face up to what they've done. In this case I haven't done anything but my job, and I know it's all too possible to make a career out of defending one's fiction -- for a while in the mid-1980s, Judy Blume almost did make a career out of it -- but I still didn't like the way it felt.

So, just for the record, here is what I'd say if I still took time out from doing my work to defend it.
First, to the kids: There are people in your home town who have taken certain books off the shelves of your school library. Do not argue with them; do not protest; do not organize or attend rallies to have the books put back on their shelves. Don't waste your time or your energy. Instead, hustle down to your public library, where these frightened people's reach must fall short in a democracy, or to your local bookstore, and get a copy of what has been banned. Read it carefully and discover what it is your elders don't want you to know. In many cases you'll finish the banned book in question wondering what all the fuss was about. In others, however, you will find vital information about the human condition. It doesn't hurt to remember that John Steinbeck, J.D. Salinger, and even Mark Twain have been banned in this country's public schools over the last 20 years.

Second, to the parents in these towns: There are people out there who are deciding what your kids can read, and they don't care what you think because they are positive their ideas of what's proper and what's not are better, clearer than your own. Do you believe they are? Think carefully before you decide to accord the book-banners this right of cancellation, and remember that they don't believe in democracy but rather in a kind of intellectual autocracy. If they are left to their own devices, a great deal of good literature may soon disappear from the shelves of school libraries simply because good books -- books that make us think and feel -- always generate controversy.

If you are not careful and diligent about defending the right of your children to read, there won't be much left, especially at the junior-high level where kids really begin to develop a lively life of the mind, but books about heroic boys who come off the bench to hit home runs in the bottom of the ninth and shy girls with good personalities who finally get that big prom date with the boy of their dreams. Is this what you want for your kids, keeping in mind that controversy and surprise -- sometimes even shock -- are often the whetstone on which young minds are sharpened?

Third, to the other interested citizens of these towns: Please remember that book-banning is censorship, and that censorship in a free society is always a serious matter -- even when it happens in a junior high, it is serious. A proposal to ban a book should always be given the gravest consideration. Book-banners, after all, insist that the entire community should see things their way, and only their way. When a book is banned, a whole set of thoughts is locked behind the assertion that there is only one valid set of values, one valid set of beliefs, one valid perception of the world. It's a scary idea, especially in a society which has been built on the ideas of free choice and free thought.

Do I think that all books and all ideas should be allowed in school libraries? I do not. Schools are, after all, a "managed" marketplace. Books like "Fanny Hill" and Brett Easton Ellis' gruesome "American Psycho" have a right to be read by people who want to read them, but they don't belong in the libraries of tax-supported American middle schools. Do I think that I have an obligation to fly down to Florida and argue that my books, which are a long way from either "Fanny Hill" or "American Psycho," be replaced on the shelves from which they have been taken? No. My job is writing stories, and if I spent all my time defending the ones I've written already, I'd have no time to write new ones.

Do I believe a defense should be mounted? Yes. If there's one American belief I hold above all others, it's that those who would set themselves up in judgment on matters of what is "right" and what is "best" should be given no rest; that they should have to defend their behavior most stringently. No book, record, or film should be banned without a full airing of the issues. As a nation, we've been through too many fights to preserve our rights of free thought to let them go just because some prude with a highlighter doesn't approve of them." (from

Selected King Works and Reasons for Challenges

Different Seasons (oral sex and prison rape scenes; it does not meet the standards of the community)

The Stand (1978) ("sexual language, casual sex, and violence")

(all from Catherine Shafer, PhD)

The Dead Zone violence and political reasons (ALA 2000)

Considered "trash" that is especially harmful for "younger girls."
Challenged by Clark High School library, Las Vegas, Nevada, 1975.
Placed on special closed shelf in Union High School library, Vergennes,
Vermont, 1978.

Profanity and strong sexual content cited as reasons for opposition.
Banned by Washington County, Alabama, Board of Education, 1985;
challenged by Rankin County, Mississippi, School District, 1984;
removed from Bradford, New York, school library, 1985;
rejected for purchase by Hayward, California, school trustees, 1985.

Cited for "graphic descriptions of sexual acts, vulgar language and violence."
Challenged by Campbell County, Wyoming, school system, 1983-1984.

Considered dangerous because it "contains violence and demonic possession and
ridicules the Christian religion."
Challenged by Campbell County, Wyoming, school system, 1983.
Banned by Washington County, Alabama, Board of Education, 1985.

(all from gumbopages)

Banned and Challenged Books In Texas Public Schools

2002-2003 The Brookeland ISD reported that all Stephen King books were banned in all district schools.

The challenge was brought by a parent, and “…also brought to the attention of the Board of
Trustees.” This challenge was listed as one entry in our main report or our summary tables, since
it was not specific as to title and because of the large number of Stephen King titles in existence. (from ACLU Texas)

Some may argue and say, "What's the big deal?  It's not like his books are classics."  To this I say...although his works are not considered "classics" in the normal sense of the word, King has a voice.  He has written about problems in our society such as school bullying (Carrie), spousal abuse (Rose Madder), political megalomania (The Dead Zone), racial prejudice (Bag of Bones), alcoholism (The Shining) and a myriad of others.  All this and being one of the best horror writers of all time.  Frankly, I would be HORRIFIED if I was prevented from reading his books!

Happy (Banned) Reading!


Thank you for visiting and taking the time to comment. It means so much.

I apologize for word verification, but as soon as I changed the settings from only users with Google accounts, I started receiving a ton of spam comments...within one hour of changing the settings. The bots are on high alert apparently.

  1. Love love love Stephen King...... :)

  2. King is the man! One of my favorites by him would have to be The Long Walk. I read that book in high school and I was hooked!

  3. I don't know how he writes so much! i haven't read much of him since high school, but it's crazy to even try to ban someone so popular! It just makes kids want to read them even more.

    I like your award slideshow, I hate mine,think I will steal your idea

  4. Thanks for all the great comments! Stephen King is THE man! I wanted to include Anne Rice in this post, but it seems the only ones that have been banned/challenged are her erotic novels written under Roquelare (sp?) and I'm not a fan of those so I thought it would be hypocritical for me to include her here. Not that I think they should be banned either, get my drift (I hope)!

    Deb, you go right ahead and use the same slideshow if you want...I don't mind at all =o)

    Tasha, I used the covers I remembered from my mom's SK collection that she has had for years!

  5. Stephen is great. I'm just glad I was never told what to read. Hell when I was thirteen and I went to England and Ireland with the folks I was reading him.

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