Tennessee school board bans Art Spiegelman Holocaust comic ‘Maus’

A Tennessee school board has voted to remove the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel “Maus” from an eighth grade language arts curriculum over concerns about profanity and a depiction of female nudes in the depiction of Polish Jews who survived the Holocaust.

The Jan. 10 vote by the McMinn County School Board, which only began to draw attention on Wednesday, comes amid some battles in school systems across the country as conservatives focus curricula on teachings about the history of slavery and racism in America. .

“I’m a little blown away by this,” Art Spiegelman, the author of “Maus,” told CNBC in an interview about the McMinn board’s unanimous vote to ban the book, which is about his parents, from continuing. are used. in the curriculum.

Comic artist Art Spiegelman poses in Paris on March 20, 2012, prior to the private viewing of his exhibition ‘Co-Mix’, which will take place at the Center Pompidou. Swedish-born New Yorker Spiegelman, 62, is known as the creator of “Maus,” an animal fable about his Jewish father’s experience in the Holocaust — the only comic book to win a Pulitzer Prize, the highest US book award.

Bertrand Langlois | AFP | Getty Images

“It leaves me with my mouth open, like, ‘What?'” said Spiegelman, 73, who only learned of the ban after it was the subject of a tweet Wednesday – one day before International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

He called the school board “Orwellian” for his performance.

Spiegelman also said he suspected the members were motivated less by some mild curse words and more by the subject matter of the book, which tells the story of his Jewish parents’ time in Nazi concentration camps, the Nazi massacre of other Jews, his his mother’s suicide when he was just 20 and his relationship with his father.

“I’ve met so many young people who… learned things from my book,” Spiegelman said of “Maus.” The picture in the book that raised objections from the board was of his mother.

“I also understand that Tennessee is clearly demented,” Spiegelman said. “There’s something really bad going on there.”

Tennessee has been won by every Republican presidential candidate since 2000. Then-President Donald Trump won McMinn County in 2020 with nearly 80% of the votes cast.

Neil Gaiman, author of the comic book series “The Sandman” and other award-winning works, condemned the school board’s action, writing on Twitter: “There is only one kind of people who would vote to ban Maus, whatever they call themselves these days. .”

In a statement posted on its website Thursday, after numerous media articles described the controversy, the McMinn County Board of Education said the board had voted to “remove the graphic novel Maus from McMinn County Schools for its unnecessary use of profanity and nudity and its depiction. violence and suicide. Overall, the board just felt this work was too adult-oriented for use in our schools.”

The school board added in their statement that they “do not diminish the value of Maus as an impressive and meaningful piece of literature, nor do we dispute the importance of teaching our children the historical and moral lessons and realities of the Holocaust.”

“Rather, we asked our patrons to find other works that accomplish the same educational goals in a more age-appropriate way,” the board said. “The atrocities of the Holocaust were indescribably shameful, and we all have a duty to ensure that younger generations learn from its horrors to ensure that such an event is never repeated.”

Two books of the graphic novel “Maus” by American cartoonist Art Spiegelman are depicted in this illustration, set in Pasadena, California, USA, January 27, 2022.

Mario Anzuoni | Reuters

In “Maus,” different groups of people are drawn as different kinds of animals: Jews are the mice, Poles are pigs, and Nazi Germans — who had an infamous history of forbidding and burning books — are cats. It has won a slew of awards, including a 1992 Pulitzer Prize.

The minutes of the Jan. 10 meeting of the McMinn School Board show that School Principal Lee Parkison opened the session by saying, “The county’s values ​​are understood. There is some rough, offensive language in this book and that knowing and hearing from many of you and discussing it, two or three of you came to my office to discuss that.”

Parkison said he “consulted our attorney” and as a result “we decided the best way to correct or handle the language in this book was to edit it.”

“Due to copyright, we decided to edit it to include the eight curse words and the image of the”
woman objected to,” Parkison said.

But board members feared that this would infringe the book’s copyright, the minutes show.

One member, Tony Allman, was quoted as saying in the minutes: “Because we’re in schools, educators and the like, we don’t need these things to enable or promote this in any way.”

“It shows people hanging up, it shows they’re killing children, why does the education system promote things like this, it’s not sensible or healthy,” Allman said, according to the minutes.

Julie Goodin, an assistant director, replied to Allman, saying, “I can talk about history, I was a history teacher and there’s nothing beautiful about the Holocaust and for me this was a great way to end a horrific time in history.” to depict.”

“Mr. Spiegelman went out of his way to represent his mother’s passing and we are almost 80 years later. It’s hard for this generation, these kids don’t even know 9/11, they weren’t even born,” Goodin said. to the minutes. “For me, this was his way of getting the message across. Are the words objectionable? Yes, there’s no one who thinks not, but taking away the first part doesn’t change the meaning of what he’s trying to portray and copyright.”

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Allman replied to Goodin, saying, “I understand these kids have worse hearing on TV and maybe at home, but we’re talking about things that if a student goes down the hall and says this, our disciplinary policy says they can be disciplined, and rightly so. And we learn this and go against policy?”

The meeting ended with all 10 board members voting to remove “Maus” from the eighth grade curriculum.

School board member Rob Shamblin told a CNBC reporter on Wednesday evening that he couldn’t remember when the board voted. He declined to comment further and referred questions to Brown, the chairman of the board.

Spiegelman later emailed CNBC an image of a bookmark he created in 2014 after his publisher asked for a bookmark to be distributed to libraries.

It shows a cartoon mouse behind a book and says, “Keep your nose in a book – and keep other people’s noses out of whatever books you choose to stick your nose in!”

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