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Book Bans

The Issue

Books are under profound attack in the United States. They are disappearing from library shelves, being challenged in droves, being decreed off limits by school boards, legislators, and prison authorities. And everywhere, it is the books that have long fought for a place on the shelf that are being targeted. Books by authors of color, by LGBTQ+ authors, by women. Books about racism, sexuality, gender, history. PEN America pushes back against the banning of books and the intolerance, exclusion, and censorship that undergird it.

PEN America tracks all book bans in libraries and classrooms across the U.S. in our Index of School Book Bans, updated for the 2021-2022 school year.

READ BANNED IN THE USA REPORT

Research and Reports

Banned in the USA: The Growing Movement to Censor Books in Schools (September 2022)

Banned in the USA: The Growing Movement to Censor Books in Schools (September 2022)

This report on school book bans offers the first comprehensive look at bans throughout the 2021–22 school year.
Read more
Banned in the USA: Rising School Book Bans Threaten Free Expression and Students’ First Amendment Rights (April 2022)

Banned in the USA: Rising School Book Bans Threaten Free Expression and Students’ First Amendment Rights (April 2022)

PEN America has collated an Index of School Book Bans, offering a snapshot of the trend of decisions to ban books in school libraries and classrooms in the United States from July 1, 2021 to March 31, 2022.
Read more
Missing from the Shelf: Book Challenges and Lack of Diversity in Children’s Literature

Missing from the Shelf: Book Challenges and Lack of Diversity in Children’s Literature

A persistent pattern of attempts to remove certain books from public schools and libraries, combined with a lack of diversity in Children's and Young Adult (CYA) book publishing, narrows the range of stories and perspectives available to U.S. students.
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Literature Locked Up: How Prison Book Restriction Policies Constitute the Nation’s Largest Book Ban

Literature Locked Up: How Prison Book Restriction Policies Constitute the Nation’s Largest Book Ban

This report details the types of book bans prisoners face, the arbitrariness with which they are implemented, and the lack of transparency and oversight that leads to bans.
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What is a book ban? And other frequently asked questions.

Book bans in public schools have recurred throughout American history, with notable flare-ups in the McCarthy era and the early 1980s. But, while long present, the scope of such censorship has expanded drastically and in unprecedented fashion since the beginning of the 2021–22 school year.

This FAQ answers some of the most common questions about Book Bans in America, today and throughout American history.

READ THE FAQ

From PEN America

The Absurd Year in Educational Censorship, From Gay Penguins to the Gettysburg Address

December 23, 2022
It has been an absurd year for educational censorship.

Spiegelman, Atwood Among Signers of PEN America Letter Against Missouri Book Bans

November 16, 2022
Art Spiegelman, Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Lois Lowry, Roxane Gay, Rupi Kaur, and Alison Bechdel are among the authors and illustrators who signed a PEN America open letter protesting alarming book bans in Missouri schools this fall. The authors and illustrators have all had books banned in Missouri or in other parts of the country […]

Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie’s “Half of A Yellow Sun:” The danger of a single untold story

September 26, 2022
"Denying students age-appropriate opportunities to read Half of a Yellow Sun in classrooms because the truth is too violent is denying them the opportunity to understand the truth of their friends, their neighbors, and in some cases, their own history."
More on book bans

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PEN America is hard at work fighting the the educational gag orders, book bans, and “transparency” bills that threaten free expression and academic freedom in the classroom. Sign up to receive email updates about PEN America’s vital work on these issues, including reports, legislative roundups, media coverage, and advocacy alerts.

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From the Archives

An Evening of Forbidden Books, 1982

An Evening of Forbidden Books, 1982

This is a recording by PBS (WNET/THIRTEEN) that documents 18 writers and actors reading selections from banned books over the course of 3 hours. They are protesting book banning in the US that increased 500% in 1981.
Watch the Recording
American Right to Read Colloquium, 1983

American Right to Read Colloquium, 1983

Panelists share their views on what the current state of censorship in schools is. They address whether censorship is changing, getting worse, or staying at the same level in schools.
Listen to the Recording
American Writer's Congress: The Book Wars of Local Censorship, 1981

American Writer's Congress: The Book Wars of Local Censorship, 1981

A panel of educators, authors, and activists on various fronts have a spirited debate over textbooks, what should be taught in schools, and who gets to decide.
Listen to the Recording