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Book Bans

The Issue

Today, books in the US are under profound attack. 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 which undergirds it.

PEN America tracks book bans in libraries and classrooms across America in our Index of School Book Bans, updated weekly.

BROWSE THE INDEX

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

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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.
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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.
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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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From PEN America

Banned in the USA Q&A: Kyle Lukoff on the ‘desperate importance’ of fighting book bans

September 21, 2022
For Banned Book Week, PEN America interviews Kyle Lukoff, author of Call Me Max, which has been banned twice in the 2021-2022 school year.

Banned in the USA Q&A: Ashley Hope Pérez on how book bans are failing our children

September 20, 2022
For Banned Book Week, PEN America interviews Ashley Hope Pérez, author of Out of Darkness, which has been banned 23 times in the 2021-2022 school year.

Banned in the USA Q&A: Kalynn Bayron calls challenges ‘clearly homophobic’

September 19, 2022
For Banned Book Week, PEN America interviews Kaylnn Bayron, author of Cinderella is Dead, which has been banned at least three times in the 2021-2022 school year.
More on book bans

News Clips

Fox: Keller ISD to remove controversial books, including the Bible, from library shelves for review

Fox: Keller ISD to remove controversial books, including the Bible, from library shelves for review

Keller ISD is asking campus staff and librarians to remove more than 40 books from library shelves. The books, which include titles like All Boys Aren't Blue, Anne Frank's Diary (The Graphic Adaptation), Gender Queer, and the Bible, were among those recently challenged by parents and members of the community.
Read more
NBC: A Florida school district added a parental 'advisory notice' to over 100 books

NBC: A Florida school district added a parental 'advisory notice' to over 100 books

A southwest Florida school district added warning labels to more than 100 books, many of which touch on issues related to race or the LGBTQ community.
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Washington Post: More books are banned than ever before, as Congress takes on the issue

Washington Post: More books are banned than ever before, as Congress takes on the issue

PEN America, a nonprofit that advocates for freedom of expression, found there have been 1,586 book bans in schools over the past nine months.
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PBS NewsHour: Nationwide effort to ban books challenges freedom of speech

PBS NewsHour: Nationwide effort to ban books challenges freedom of speech

Advocates are sounding the alarm about a set of measures that they say target teaching and writing related to LGBTQ issues, race and freedom of speech. Around the country, efforts to ban specific books or even whole categories of books are on the rise.
Watch the clip
The New York Times: Book Ban Efforts Spread Across the U.S.

The New York Times: Book Ban Efforts Spread Across the U.S.

Challenges to books about sexual and racial identity are nothing new in American schools, but the tactics and politicization are.
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Vox: How the new banned books panic fits into America’s history of school censorship

Vox: How the new banned books panic fits into America’s history of school censorship

It seems as though every few years, a new wave of panic sweeps across America about the books being taught in schools. They are too conservative, or too liberal; they’re being suppressed, or they’re dangerous; they’re pushing an agenda; attention must be paid.
Read More

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