March 22, 2013

Persepolis controversy continues after Chicago Public Schools ban


It has been over a week since the Chicago Public School system made a move to restrict student access to Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi’s coming-of-age memoir which describes her childhood in Iran during the Islamic Revolution in the 1970s and 80s and the war with Iraq. Originally published in France, it was  published in the United States by Pantheon in 2003. In 2007, the graphic novel was adapted to film.

In a letter to principals released last Friday, Chicago Public School CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said the book was being removed because “It was brought to our attention that it contains graphic language and images that are not appropriate for general use.”

Annette Gurley, Chicago Public School’s office of teaching and learning chief, explained why the book was no longer going to be required reading for grades 7-10:

“We want to make sure that the message about inhumanity [is what] kids walk away with, not the images of someone with exposed body parts urinating on someone’s back or someone’s being tortured,” Gurley said, “We are not protesting the value of this book as a work of art. We just want to make sure that when we put this book into the hands of students, they have the background, the maturity to appreciate the book.”

While the book will still be taught in grades 11 and 12 and in Advance Placement classes, protests and read-ins were held in response to the decision. Over 100 Students and teachers in Chicago stood outside Lane Tech College Prep to protest, some holding signs that said “Banning Books… Closing Schools… What’s Next?”

Knopf / Doubleday, the parent company of the Pantheon imprint released a statement in response to the Chicago Public School system’s decision:

The Chicago Public School district has issued an ambiguous statement regarding the present and future availability of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis to students,” the statement read. “Persepolis is a coming of age memoir about a girl in her early teens. The book has been read and taught in school districts across the country, without caveat or condition. In addition, Marjane has met with students across the country, including students in Chicago. The fact that Chicago is trying to limit this book’s use in classrooms and curriculums, suggesting teachers need guidance before they can discuss it, smacks of censorship.

Like The Colonel by Mahmoud Dowlatabadi, Persepolis is banned in Iran, Lebanon, and Tunisia. This is the first time it has been banned in the United States.

The latest news in this saga is that the Chicago Public School system is defending their decision. The Chicago board of education responded to a letter from free speech organizations, citing case law that school boards have “broad discretion in selecting the public school curriculum.”



Claire Kelley is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House.