KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — People in East Tennessee are saying ‘yes’ to free speech and access to literature that one school board recently banned from its 8th-grade curriculum. Students in McMinn County will now have several ways to read “Maus” for free.
“Maus” is a graphic novel about the Holocaust, written by Art Spiegelman. The book depicts Spiegelman interviewing his father about his experiences as a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor.
“You look at it in two different time periods. You’re looking at the people going through Holocaust, and then you’re looking at the survivors. And so you see that that trauma didn’t end on January 12th, 1945 when we closed Auschwitz. These people had to live with that,” Rich Davis, partner of Nirvana Comics in Knoxville, said.
Davis said “Maus” is one of his favorite comic books. He’s read it numerous times and has carried several copies in his store for years.
“‘Maus’ is one of the most important and impactful comic books ever written,” Davis said.
So, when he heard about the McMinn County School District banning the graphic novel, he was shocked and furious.
“Nothing in Maus is offensive because of the reasoning, with the reasoning that these parents have used to justify this. Things in Maus are offensive because they happened. The Holocaust is offensive,” Davis.
He believes the parents who brought concerns to the school board about the book had good intentions and thought they were protecting their child, but in the end, he said they aren’t.
Davis said “Maus” is about true life.
“The things that happened in ‘Maus’ really happened. And you know, I’m sorry that there’s eight bad words in the entire book, but you can hear that word on a PG-13 television show now,” Davis said.
As far as the nudity, he said there is a part about a nude woman committing suicide. He said yes, that happened. It was the Holocaust.
Jeremy Myers is a former educator and a literature enthusiast who lives in Greenback. He heard what happened on national news and was surprised as well.
He said the book was actually appropriate for 8th-grade students.
“What ‘Maus’ does as a graphic novel, a Pulitzer Prize winning graphic novel at that, is that it takes these difficult concepts and a difficult history, and makes it accessible in ways that, really, any age can understand,” Myers said.
He said banning this book not only takes away reading material for young and hungry minds, but it also hides certain history that shouldn’t be ignored.
“Keeping these books hidden away, it doesn’t protect anyone. Because when we remove pieces of literature like this from access, it wipes away the lessons that need to be learned,” Myers said.
Graphic novels aren’t regular books. Both Myers and Davis said they add something a little extra for readers, and truly are a good option for young people.
“Art reflects life, and because of that, that makes art invaluable; and literature especially for young minds that are still growing and are trying to get a real sense of the world and what’s out there,” Myers said.
“Comic books, they’re a medium where you can reach kids, and also comic books, they’re great for kids with reading disabilities. People who, with dyslexia, or people who have trouble reading. You know, the association of the pictures with the words helps them to understand it,” Davis said.
The McMinn County School leaders said they would look for an alternative to replace “Maus.”
Davis and Myers both said “Maus” is like no other and cannot be replaced. It should be taught parallel to other readings about the Holocaust.
That’s why both are making sure students all across East Tennessee have access to the graphic novel.
Myers is buying books to donate to the local libraries in McMinn County. He’s collected about 15 books so far.
Davis said ever since Nirvana Comics posted about having “Maus” and loaning it for free to students, they’ve blown up with requests.
All of his copies are not currently available, but he said he has ordered dozens more.
“In America, we don’t ban books, we don’t ban free thought, we don’t silence free speech. The Nazis did that,” Davis said.
Nirvana Comics is also working to host a discussion panel with the author of “Maus.”
At least one church in Athens is also fighting for freedom of speech and making sure residents have access to the history within the book.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church is hosting a book discussion next week on “Maus.”
At St. Paul’s, we are committed to accompanying one another through difficult conversations as part of our mission to serve, nourish, and love all people. This book discussion event is for the parish and McMinn Co. community to gather together and dive into “Maus”, and to explore the moral responsibility we have to learn and keep history alive, especially the responsibility of Christians to stand against anti-Semitism past and present. This is an important book and we are thankful for an opportunity to make its story known and have meaningful conversations and community education about the topic. Folks with questions can call the church office at 423-745-2224 or email the priest at firstname.lastname@example.org