Appalachian hosts discussion on book that has raised controversy in Watauga

Stephanie Sansoucy

A discussion was held Wednesday evening in Belk Library about Isabel Allende’s novel “The House of the Spirits” in response to a recent challenge of the book at Watauga High School.

Chastity Lasene, the parent of a Watauga High School student in Mary Kent Whitaker’s sophomore honors English class, challenged the book before the Watauga County Board of Education on Oct. 14.

A mixture of Watauga High School students, Appalachian State faculty, parents of students and several Appalachian students combined to make the group present for the discussion.
Joseph Bathanti, North Carolina poet laureate and professor in Appalachian’s Department of English, hosted the event.

Allende’s novel is about a family’s struggles in Latin America, published in 1982.

Lasene argued that the book’s portrayal of family struggles through 20th century Chilean history is lost within the novel’s graphic depictions of rape, prostitution, violence, abuse, abortion and death, according to an Oct. 16 article published in the Watauga Democrat.

Supporters of Allende’s novel and of Whitaker gathered in the library to discuss the literary value of the novel, and several of her students spoke about their protest of the challenge.

“I am in full support of this book because of the benefits it gave to my education as a student, and most of all, as a human being,” said Renee Taylor, a junior at Watauga High School.

Alexandra Sterling-Hellenbrand, an associate professor in the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures and director of Appalachian’s global studies program shared her displeasure.

Sterling-Hellenbrand’s son is currently in Whitaker’s honors English class and is frustrated that her son has to have an alternate assignment while the challenge of the book is being processed.

Sterling-Hellenbrand also said that they are reading the book together at home at her son’s request.

Catherine Fountain, an associate professor in the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures voiced her concern over the challenge of the novel.

Fountain said that she is embarrassed and outraged that her own county may be banning one of Allende’s best-known novels from the school’s curriculum.

“The cultural and literary merits of Allende and ‘The House of the Spirits’ are quite simply not up for debate,” Fountain said. “We’re talking about an author who has sold some 60 million books worldwide, who has won more than 50 major international literary awards and who by many accounts is the most widely read Spanish language author today.”

Story: NICOLE CAPORASO, News Reporter