Controversy Brews Over Official Comments About Author - Local news, weather, sports Savannah | WSAV On Your Side

Controversy Brews Over Official Comments About Author

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Pulitzer Prize winning author Toni Morrison, an Ohio native, spoke to NBC4 about the controversy brewing after comments made by the president of the State Board of Education at a meeting on Tuesday which questioned whether a book by Morrison is appropriate to be on a suggested reading list for Ohio students.

Morrison herself is from Lorain. In The Bluest Eye, which is also set in Lorain, a young girl confronts issues of self-image and gets pregnant after being raped by her father.

"The book was published in the early seventies and it has been banned so much and so many places. That I am told I am number 14 on the list of 100 banned books," Morrison told NBC4's Nadia Bashir.

Morrison says she wrote The Bluest Eye which was her first novel in an effort to highlight the most vulnerable people in society whom she felt were ignored in American literature when she was growing up.

State School Board President Debe Terhar is facing criticism from the Ohio chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union after comments at a board meeting on Tuesday where Terhar criticized the book and referred to The Bluest Eye as pornographic.

In response to Terhar's comments, Morrison said she is used to her books being banned but said it is upsetting to see Terhar's criticism happen in her home state.

"I resent it. I mean if it's Texas or North Carolina as it has been in all sorts of states. But to be a girl from Ohio, writing about Ohio having been born in Lorain, Ohio. And actually relating as an Ohio person, to have the Ohio, what- Board of Education? Is ironic at the least," Morrison said.

Meanwhile Terhar issued a statement through the Ohio Department of Education Thursday saying:

"At a recent State Board of Education meeting I made comments regarding a text that expressed my personal viewpoint.  Those comments do not reflect the position of the State Board of Education nor the Ohio Department of Education.

I remain completely supportive of Ohio's new learning standards and those comments should not be construed to indicate that my commitment has waned.

The comments I made reflected my concern about the graphic passages contained in a specific text.  I do not personally believe these passages are suitable for school age children.  Nothing more and nothing less should be inferred.  In particular, no disparagement was meant towards the celebrated career of Ohio author Toni Morrison."

A spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education said The Bluest Eye is currently on a list of books students could possibly study however it is up to each individual district to decide which books their students will actually read.

Gary Daniels with the Ohio chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said that Terhar's comments are concerning saying that censorship is always a dangerous path. Daniels also said that "more credit should be given to the young people of Ohio" to be able to handle the issues discussed in the book.

David Weaver is Executive Director of the Ohioana Library Association which highlights the work of Ohio authors and has an autographed copy of The Bluest Eye amongst its collection. Weaver says his library opposes censorship of any kind and says that historically African-American authors have been censored more than others.

"The exchange of ideas, different images, different lifestyles. We learn about these through books. And one of the great things about Toni Morrison and authors of her era and generation is that they have told stories, powerful stories about African-American life that frankly white audiences were not aware of," Weaver said.

According to the DOE, The Bluest Eye currently remains on the list of suggested reading examples.

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