Parents and community members brought concerns about language and inappropriate content in Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Color Purple to Brunswick County school board members last week, prompting a discussion that will take place next Tuesday at the board’s monthly meeting regarding the future of the book’s availability to public school students, according to school board chair Charles Miller.
“We’ve been contacted by parents across the community with concerns about language,” said Miller, who is also chief deputy in the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office. “One grandfather contacted me and brought me excerpts of the book. I have since ordered the book and started reading it myself.”
The Color Purple takes place in rural Georgia and focuses on the plight of southern Black women during the Depression era. Rape, violence, racism and sexism are common themes in the novel. The book is taught across the United States as part of the AP English curriculum. The Color Purple has been referenced five years out of the last 15 on the AP English Literature and Composition exam, according to The College Board.
“I can’t stand it,” said Catherine Cook, a Brunswick County school board member who says she has also ordered the book to read, but does not enjoy it. “The language is awful, the first two pages…is totally…it’s just…not good.”
“My child, who is in the 9th grade, will not be reading it if he’s in AP English in two years,” Cook said. “It’s not age-appropriate. The job of the school board is to determine age-appropriate reading for the class setting. I am concerned that this book does not have accessible language.”
Brunswick County Schools Superintendent Edward Pruden, who also just read the book, explained that the school district has a process by which they receive concerns from the community about materials in the curriculum.
“I don’t think parents want books banned as much as an opportunity to request an alternative to a book,” said Pruden. Last year, Brunswick County began sending home letters to all English students’ parents at the beginning of each semester listing the books to be read during that course. Parents could opt out of their child reading any book if they found the material offensive.
“We have actually revised the letter, which will be sent out this Thursday, to include a link to the American Library Association’s list of 100 most frequently challenged books of the last decade,” said Pruden, “so that parents could know in advance if a book on the reading list is controversial.” Pruden said the decision to do that was made after a minister came to him explaining that parents should know in advance if a book is controversial, because many parents may not know The Color Purple.
The school board plans to discuss the future of The Color Purple in Brunswick County Schools next week. “Whether or not we will ban it or take it off the reading list,” said Miller, “I can’t say at this point.”
The Brunswick County Board of Education will meet next Tuesday, November 5 at 6:30pm in the Commissioner’s chambers in Bolivia, NC.