Arnold Adoff: the struggle continues . . .

In honor of banned books week I am spotlighting  my father,  Arnold Adoff. Poet extraordinaire, who at times I tried to ban, but that was during my teenage years and that’s an entirely different blog! I will have more on his upcoming masterpiece Roots and Blues (pub 1-11 Clarion HMH)on a later blog. But you can pre-order here if you just can’t wait. And I suggest you don’t!

Arnold Adoff is the author of more than forty books for young readers and their older allies. Winner of numerous awards including the NCTE Award for excellence in Poetry for Children for the body of his work. But to me, nothing sums up his total literary awesomeness as this quote from the legendary Nikki Giovanni in her Acknowledgments from her latest book “Hip Hop Speaks to Children”:We take a moment to give a shout out to Arnold Adoff. All of his anthologies of the early seventies make him one of the Founding Fathers of the Hip Hop Movement. Just look at Black Out Loud!: My Black Me: Brothers and Sisters; I am the Darker Brother; The Poetry of Black America, among others, and the influence of Adoff’s sensitivity and love of urban expression is loud and clear. Adoff is, quite simply, an icon of the written word. Without his tiling that soil, these current flowers could not have blossomed.

I recently caught up with my father across town, and asked him about his own experiences with banned books beginning with the audacious publication of “I am the Darker Brother.” (The title comes from a Langston Hughes line)

AA: One of my first experiences was after the publication of “I am the darker brother”: an Anthology of Negro poetry (Macmillan 1968 ) when a regional sales manager from the southwest said to the publisher in a  New York City meeting they’re not going to buy our expensive textbooks if we ask them to buy “I am the darker Brother” which included a poem by Richard Wright having to do with Lynchings. That’s when I learned that it’s always about money and always about power and literature follows a poor third.  But it’s also insane and there’s so little logic of experience to pass along to the next generation.

Then there was the time my picture book “The Cabbages are Chasing the Rabbits” was on Newsweek’s ten most banned books of the year list, alongside John Steinbeck and Piri Thomas. The reason for the banning was my injudicious use of the phrase “hateful hunters,” which ruffled a few feathers before they were scalded off the carcass.

Or the school board in a town in Florida which defended keeping “The poetry of black America” on the book shelves even though some parents felt it contained incendiary material.  The librarian and English teacher called me up and asked for a dossier of documentation defending the validity of the book which I happily sent them and the book remained on the shelf.

That’s why when you email me at I end each email with “The struggle continues.”  Book by book, place by place, year by year.

“The Dogs are Chasing/The Hunters/They/ Have Wagged Their   Wagging  Tails Together/And Are/Barking/Their Loudest/Barks/Smelling/For The Smell Of/Gun Powder/In the Forest/ In Search/Of Hateful/Hunters/Hiding/Behind/Trees . . .” (From  “The Cabbages are Chasing the Rabbits” C. 1985, 2010 Arnold Adoff)


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