VCU Library’s namesake once subject to book ban
It’s the American Library Association’s annual Banned Books week. And as books are banned across Virginia, the main library at Virginia Commonwealth University has its own unique link to censorship dating back over 100 years.
The event is being honored at VCU’s James Branch Cabell library, with a focus on what the act of book banning really means.
“What we want is to have people think about who gets to make the decisions about what you get to read,” said Teresa Doherty, a Librarian at VCU. Doherty spoke about the importance of free speech and book access a few feet away from a display of some of the most banned books in the Commonwealth.
But Doherty said VCU’s library is all the more relevant in times of censorship.
James Branch Cabell, an author and native of Richmond, had his book Jurgen, A Comedy of Justice slapped with obscenity charges when it was released in 1919. The sci-fi/fantasy novel took jabs at the pope and other religious figures as its hero traversed the planes of hell and heaven, seducing women along the way.
And while recent fights at Virginia school boards may see a book removed from the shelves, Doherty said censors went a step further with Jurgen.
“They went to the printing presses and took the plates, that’s like the book will never be printed again,” she said.
After two years Cabell and his publisher won the dispute and Jurgen returned to print, and success from the controversy followed. But the fight over access to LGBTQ content and books addressing race continues in Virginia.