BELEN — Everybody likes a good book, but sometimes there’s debate about what is “good.” So much so, that some books have been banned.
In honor of Banned Books Week, the Belen Public Library and Belen Harvey House Museum have planned a week of events to highlight the struggle and triumphs of women in areas of art, literature, bodily autonomy and suffrage.
Banned Books Week is an annual awareness campaign promoted by the American Library Association and Amnesty International that celebrates the freedom to read, draws attention to banned and challenged books, and highlights persecuted individuals.
“We felt like the community has been talking about things a lot, with the opening of the Through the Flower Art Space,” said Kathleen Pickering, director of the Belen Public Library and the Belen Harvey House Museum Branch Library. “A lot of what flowed out of that was about women, and we felt that needed to be heard.”
Pickering and Frances Zeller, the museum’s coordinator, have collaborated to create a week-long program that explores women’s suffrage in the state, banned books by women, censorship of women’s sexuality and women’s art, bodies and censorship.
The Freedom to Read Week Celebration — “No Voice Should Be Silenced” — will be from Sunday, Sept. 22, through Saturday, Sept. 28, at different locations, including the library, museum and University of New Mexico-Valencia campus.
“We know by the concept of banned books that things change, community opinions and standards evolve, and we think it’s time to revisit some of those issues to come together in a positive way,” Pickering said.
Zeller said they wanted to also address censorship as part of the celebration.
“In the news, more and more, you are seeing the censorship of women’s voices, their bodies, and people are OK with many of these beliefs,” Zeller said.
The women said pushing back against that kind of censorship starts with reclaiming art, places and their bodies.
“We want to use this opportunity to take a comprehensive and integrated look at the day-to-day life of women,” Pickering said.
That life was markedly different just a short 100 years ago, before women gained the right to vote.
“While I was doing research, I found a poster from the early 1900s that voiced the concerns about women voting,” Zeller said. “If women could vote, the house wouldn’t get cleaned, meals wouldn’t be cooked. That was the fear.”
Next year marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, which granted women the right to vote in this country. Pickering said the celebration was a good way to kick off that anniversary, and to keep the ball rolling, there would a voter registration table at the museum during the Sunday, Sept. 21, lecture.
“We sometimes forget what we have — that we haven’t always had the right to have a job, vote, publish a book,” Zeller said. “We need to remember we have fought for those rights.”
Pickering said each event during the week is meant to encourage and generate community discussion.
“People should bring their children or grandparents,” she said. “These are not isolated events.”
Some of the events include a screening of “Iron Jawed Angels,” about the women’s suffrage movement, during the library’s movie night on Thursday, Sept. 26.
There will also be a timeline of the women’s suffrage movement at the Belen Harvey House Museum, and the Harvey Girls and New Mexico Territorial Ladies League will be at the museum in costume on Saturday, Sept. 22.
Members of the library’s book club will be reading a banned book of their choice for the week, Pickering said, for a discussion about social norms.
“What’s OK to be out there? We all have our lines,” she said. “The mission of libraries is to provide material so everyone is able to experience different points of view to spark discussion. That is what we’re doing.”
There will be “No Voice Should Be Silenced” T-shirts, tote bags and buttons for sale at the Belen Public Library and the Belen Harvey House Museum during the week.
Shirts and bags are $16 each or both for $30.
Merchandise proceeds will be donated to Valencia Shelter Services, the county’s domestic violence shelter.
For information, contact Kathleen Pickering at 966-2604 or [email protected]
Belen’s Freedom to Read Week celebration is supported by a $1,000 grant from the Judith F. Krug Memorial Fund, Freedom to Read Foundation. For information about the fund and foundation, visit ftrf.org.
Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.