Let’s not forget that book banning is, fundamentally, conversation banning. A book gets banned when someone with power deems it dangerous, and it is only deemed dangerous when the thoughts dripping through the pages threaten a comfortable yet questionable, well-enough-rooted institution. So, one of the most sensible ways of honoring forbidden literature is to continue the tradition of feeding uncomfortable yet necessary conversations, and partaking in them.
So, in celebration of Banned Books Week, I hereby give you a drop’s worth of some of the current thought leaders around the world—authors, activists, visionaries, and public officials— whose discourse is worth researching for anyone with even the mildest commitment to human evolution. Not all of them have written books, but plenty of them have, and all of them are serving the thoughts that banned books are made of.
- Nawal El Saadawi
An Egyptian writer, physician, and psychiatrist, Nawal El Saadawi has dedicated half a century to peeling back the layers of patriarchal thought, and advocating for women’s rights. She has honed in on the topic of female circumcision, but nowhere near stopped at that; her ceiling-shattering feminist rhetoric and refusal to conform to oppressive class and gender norms have gotten her exiled, censored, imprisoned, and pilloried throughout her life. Thoroughly self-educated and an extraordinary modern thinker, El Saadawi has written in almost every genre and has been published in at least thirteen languages. Her autobiography, A Daughter of Isis (not to be confused with ISIS), is a detailed account of her early life and involvement in social freedom struggles.
2. Hoda Katebi
A twenty-three-year-old advocate for education and an ethical revolution in the fashion industry, Hoda Katebi is one of the notable young activists that makes me proud to be a millennial. Officially labeled a “writer, community organizer, and creative educator” on her website, this Chicago-based Iranian-American is not only a major mouthpiece for garment workers’ rights, but also a fearless liberal voice in regards to modern Muslim identity, and against military regimes. She is astonishingly fashionable (a detail that is only relevant due to the fact that she works in fashion), so if you look through her Insta feed, you’re likely to gather outfit inspiration. Or, you could check out her book Tehran Street Style, a photographic compilation of some of the best dressed men and women in the political and fashion capital of Iran.
3. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
One of the modern queens of feminist and anti-racist literature, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a prodigious master of activism through storytelling, and it would seem she has become so intentionally. In her Ted talk “The Danger of a Single Story,” she discusses the power of stories in creating biases, ideas, and conceptions about people—racial and gender biases being no exception. Her feminist rhetoric is inclusive and intersectional, and her representations of the world so real, you can pick them up and pin them on your bulletin board next to your polaroids. So far, she has written six books, including her wildly famous We Should All Be Feminists and Americanah.
4. Sarain Fox
An indigenous Canadian dancer and artist as well as an activist, Sarain Fox’s involvement in social and environmental issues boils down to a concept she has coined as reconciliACTION. Her mission is fundamentally rooted in seeking truth as a bridge towards sustainability and reconciliation of the peoples who inhabit her native Canada, aboriginal or otherwise. She uses her artistic platform to facilitate necessary dialogue between original populations and the descendants of European colonists.
5. Paola Mendoza
Author of the recently published Sanctuary (in addition to her 2013 novel The Ones Who Don’t Stay), Paola Mendoza is a major mouthpiece for human rights, particularly in the context of immigration. Mendoza has so far co-founded the Women’s March, written two social commentary novels, risen in her personal life from gang member to civically engaged activist, directed bilingual films, and advocated for fair trade clothing production. Mendoza is nothing short of a superhero.
I’m going to go ahead and reiterate that these are a handful—a starting point, if you will, to an educational journey into forward-thinking literature and discourse. Start right here, but once you get to that rabbit hole—yes, that one—take it. For God’s sake, go down that rabbit hole.