David Ruggeri admits he doesn’t read as much as he used to. When it comes to his personal rage at book bans, he brings up the issue of his children.
For his two sons, who attend St. Louis public schools, “reading has always been important,” he says. Louis Public Schools is one of many counties in Missouri that have removed books from their shelves in response to a new state law banning explicit content in schools. School libraries across the state have stolen at least 300 books such as The Handmaid’s Tale or a graphic novel adaptation of The Gettysburg Address.
“Hearing stories about books being taken from their library is very exciting,” says Ruggieri. “We always tell them how important it is to be able to collect their own information and make their own decisions.”
Ruggieri wanted to find a way to fight back, to give the Missouri Legislature a metaphorical middle finger for forcing schools to reject seemingly innocuous books.
Ruggieri, an associate professor at the University of Missouri at Columbia and an artist by profession, turned to the best way he knew: art.
This week, the artist began work on a new mural on the facade of Dunaway Books (3111 South Grand Boulevard) in Tower Grove South to draw attention to books banned in Missouri.
The idea of painting belonged to Ruggieri; he approached Dunaway Books owners Kevin Twellman and Claudia Brodie to pitch the concept.
“Everyone should discuss [banned books]or at least be aware of it,” says Ruggieri.
Dunaway Books manager Vernon Bain has been with the store for 11 years and has been a reader for “over 50 years”.
Since the 60s and early 70s, Bain cannot remember a time when readers faced such censorship. Then some circles frowned while reading Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders and the work of beat poets who pushed the boundaries.
“You need to understand both the good and the bad in the world to really get the full picture of what’s going on,” Bain says. “The only censorship that should be in this country is between parent and child.”
The mural by Ruggieri will be a stack of forbidden books and will imitate a mixed media work he made earlier this year from the pages of banned books. As of Wednesday morning, the artist has sketched six books. What banned books will be presented has not yet been determined.
The completed mural will be visible to people traveling north on Grand South Boulevard and should be finished by the end of the week, Ruggieri said.
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