The Section of Disapproved Books

Exposing the unjust censorship in American prisons

Illustrator: The Wake

What do the books “The Vagina Monologues,” “1000 Fonts,” and “Race and Slavery in America” have in common? All are banned from a United States prison, and all are included in “The Section of Disapproved Books,” an exhibit created by artist Daniel McCarthy Clifford in collaboration with Betsy Friesen, director of data management and access at the University of Minnesota Libraries, along with the help of many others. The exhibit, featured in the Weisman Art Museum from September 8 through December 16, displays the 629 items owned by the University’s library system that are banned in incarceration facilities across the country. Among them are educational texts, commentaries on race and injustice, LGBTQ narratives, stories of sexual assault and recovery, histories of the prison reform movement, and more. This censorship prevents the education of inmates, and it made Friesen ask, “How is it that you’re correcting anything?” Without giving inmates the resources to broaden their horizons and think critically, Friesen wonders if limiting access to information perpetuates a cycle that may lead released individuals back to prison.

McCarthy Clifford’s goal wasn’t simply to make an art piece out of injustice—he aims to inspire action. Severe reactions from the Special Intelligence Service and the Department of Justice, including an investigation into an individual involved with one of McCarthy Clifford’s previous projects, prove the importance of the conversation McCarthy Clifford’s work sparks. When viewing the books, “visitors are confronted with the reality of prison censorship,” McCarthy Clifford said. This gives community members “an entry point to the conversation,” which can lead to changes in policy. Students are encouraged to interact with the banned books and use the common reactions of outrage and dismay to drive further action.