Famous Minnesota author’s book was already banned by the Douglas County Library 100 years ago


“Main Street,” a 1920 novel by Minnesota-born Sinclair Lewis, was banned by the Library of Alexandria in 1921 for its portrayal of small towns in Minnesota.

“Main Street” is a fictional story that follows the life of Carol Kennicott after her move to “Gopher Prairie” – a fictional version of Sinclair’s hometown of Sauk Center. Carol finds the city “ugly” and “simple,” a city filled with hypocritical and talkative neighbors with little or no interest in social and cultural issues.

Despite the book’s instant success – 295,000 copies sold in its first year – the improper characterizations made in the book led Sauk Center and other towns in Minnesota to find the book distasteful and offensive. But the Alexandria Public Library – now known as the Douglas County Library – took it to the next level and banned the book from its shelves altogether. According to a 1921 Minneapolis Star Tribune article, “The Alexandria Library Board put Sinclair Lewis’s book ‘Main Street’, but after the book was read by the Censorship Board, it was removed from the shelves. The censorship council refuses to give information about their action. “

Douglas County Historical Society Director Brittany Johnson researched the subject of the ‘Main Street’ ban and provided historical insight and perspective as well as the 1921 Minneapolis Star news article. Tribune. No mention was found in the local Alexandria newspaper at the time.

“Main Street censorship may have been a socially difficult topic in this area, especially for local newspapers which could be very political in their reporting. The Park Region Echo favored the Non-Partisan League and often published articles strongly articulated opinions on political issues and praised local farmers and agricultural developments like farmer-owned cooperatives. Avoiding the problem has perhaps been the politically and socially safest option for publications. in rural areas, “Johnson said,” When Main Street was criticized in Minnesota, it was often described as anti-farmer or anti-rural community. If a newspaper chose either side of the debate to Main Street, he risked being seen as taking additional political positions that he did not actually support due to the multitude of arguments contained in the novel.

The librarian at the time of the ban was Margaret McCord, who worked at the library from 1915 to 1945. The duration of the ban is currently unknown; as of now, the Douglas County Library has several copies of “Main Street” available at checkout.

“The book was banned in 1921, that’s all the information we could find at that time,” said Dawn Dailey, director of the Douglas County Library.

Dawn Dailey, Director of the Douglas County Library.  (Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press)

Dawn Dailey, Director of the Douglas County Library. (Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press)

“We believe in the freedom to read and do not censor books,” said Tammy Schmidt, deputy director of the Douglas County Library of the book ban. “We love our local Minnesota authors and always try to have their books in the library.”

Tammy Schmidt, Deputy Director of the Douglas County Library.  (Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press)

Tammy Schmidt, Deputy Director of the Douglas County Library. (Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press)

Sauk Center finally changed their tone regarding Lewis; His childhood home is now on display as a local attraction. There’s a museum named after him and several streets including Sinclair Lewis Avenue and The Original Mainstreet, which marks the historic Sauk Center on Main Street. Lewis even has a park named after him in town, and the Sauk Center school named their sports teams “The Mainstreeters,” after the disputed book. Lewis was born at Sauk Center on Feb. 7, 1885. He worked at Palmer House for two summers as a teenager, but was fired for “reading, writing, and dreaming” on the job, according to an excerpt from the book. “Weird Minnesota” by Eric Dregni. Today, the Palmer House has a Lewis mural on the side of the building painted by muralists Roger Reinardy and Mike Weisser in 2017.

“Main Street” received the Pulitzer of 1921 for fiction, but the board of directors then rejected the award after deciding that the book did not meet the “sound” requirement. Lewis fought back on the board when Lewis himself rejected the 1926 Pulitzer Prize for his 1925 novel, “Arrowsmith”, for the same reason they gave him about “Main Street”. However, he accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1930, becoming the first American to win this prize. Other notable Americans who later received the award are William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, and Bob Dylan.


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