After Vanguard Press published Studs Lonigan in 1935, the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice attempted unsuccessfully to halt its circulation because of its alleged obscenity (the organization also tried unsuccessfully to suppress Farrell’s 1937 novel World I Never Made). Soon after Studs Lonigan was published, New York City’s police began harassing Vanguard Press and city bookstores, angered by ties they perceived between the novel and a sensational murder case then going on. Farrell and Vanguard regarded the police actions as an attempt at political intimidation.
When legal censorship failed, many libraries and bookstores refused to carry Farrell’s controversial works. A librarian at the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, Maryland, for example, remarked that “hundreds of libraries are closed to him and his literary kind.” In 1942 the American Library Association (ALA) dropped Studs Lonigan from its select list of books about life in the United States; because of the wartime paper shortage this decision had the effect of stopping publication of Studs Lonigan in Great Britain. Although the ALA disavowed any attempt at censorship of Farrell’s books, Farrell’s left-leaning political views made critics skeptical of the ALA claim.
Farrell also had trouble with Canadian authorities; although Canadian customs reportedly cleared his book, it appears to have been banned in Canada. Farrell himself later responded to efforts to ban his books by writing, “We are still bedogged and bedeviled with impudent and antidemocratic efforts to censor our books.”