As Mat-Su school board reconsiders banning books, home-grown rock band offers them for free

Zachary Carothers (left) and Eric Howk of Portugal. The Man. (Valerie Kern/Alaska Public Media photo)

The Grammy-winning, Alaska-grown rock band Portugal. The Man is offering to send five literary classics that were recently banned from school curriculum in the Mat-Su, where several band members grew up, to students there who want to read them.

In a split vote April 22nd, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School Board voted to ban the books from teaching curriculum, including “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou, and “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The books had been identified, along with others including the Bible, as “controversial” in a review of school curriculum, but they were singled out for removal from student reading lists.

The move made national headlines, and next week the Mat-Su school board will take up further public comment and the possibility of rescinding their vote.

In the meantime, with many now rallying behind what are widely considered classics of literature, Portugal The Man guitarist Eric Howk says the book ban appears to have backfired.

“Well, the books are rocketing up the charts,” Howk said. “It’s almost like they got put on a soundtrack of a new movie and suddenly everyone’s like, ‘Wait, what’s this?'”

Despite his feeling that widespread news of the school board’s actions reflected poorly on his hometown, Howk said he’s glad the books are getting more exposure.

“Hopefully they get talked about, because that’s the whole point of having these books in the curriculum, is classroom conversation,” he said. “And talking about difficult narratives and challenging stories, classroom conversation, is important.”

Portugal. The Man remains part of that buzz offering to have any of the books mailed to any Mat-Su student who contacts them at sticksandstones@portugaltheman.com.

The Mat-Su school board meets again May 6.