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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 2022-2023 school year.

READ BANNED IN THE USA REPORT

Litigation 50 50 Content Block

WE'RE SUING

PEN America, Penguin Random House, and a diverse group of authors have joined with parents and students from Escambia County, Florida, to file a federal lawsuit challenging removals and restrictions of books from school libraries that violate their rights to free speech and equal protection under the law.

LEARN MORE ABOUT THE LAWSUIT

TELL ESCAMBIA COUNTY TO PUT BOOKS BACK ON SHELVES

Advocacy actions and DONATIONS FROM free speech supporters LIKE YOU PROVIDE THE ESSENTIAL RESOURCES WE NEED TO DEFEND THE FREEDOM TO WRITE WORLDWIDE. PLEASE CONSIDER taking action or MAKING A DONATION IN SUPPORT OF THIS VITAL WORK. THANK YOU.

Research and Reports

Banned in the USA: Narrating the Crisis

Banned in the USA: Narrating the Crisis

This report utilizes case snapshots to illustrate the rhetoric driving book bans and damage that this movement has done to students and communities.
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Spineless Shelves: Two Years of Book Banning

Spineless Shelves: Two Years of Book Banning

This data summary examines the insidious trend of book banning in public schools over the last two academic years, drawing from data collected in PEN America’s Index of School Book Bans.
Read more
Reading Between the Bars

Reading Between the Bars

To commemorate the first Prison Banned Book Week, PEN America released a new report showing the staggering extent of restrictions on reading materials for people in carceral settings.
Read more
Banned in the USA: The Mounting Pressure to Censor

Banned in the USA: The Mounting Pressure to Censor

School book bans continue to spread through coordinated campaigns by a vocal minority of groups, individual actors, and state legislation.
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Banned in the USA: State Laws Supercharge Book Suppression in Schools

Banned in the USA: State Laws Supercharge Book Suppression in Schools

Broad efforts to label certain books “harmful” and “explicit” are expanding the type of content suppressed in schools.
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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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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.

Our book ban FAQ answers some of the most common questions about book bans in America, today and throughout American history.

READ THE FAQ

Report A Book Ban

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.

From PEN America

Letter to Members of the School Board of Dorchester School District Two

March 19, 2024
By placing this review process now solely on media specialists, you risk taking educators away from the critical work they need to do to serve students in your district.  

The Discriminatory Impact Of Book Bans And Educational Gag Orders On LGBTQ+ Expression

February 14, 2024
Threats to free expression in education have a discriminatory impact on LGBTQ speech and topics, PEN America and PEN International show in a joint submission to the United Nations.

More than 50 Books Removed from Rockingham County, Virginia, Schools

February 13, 2024
PEN America sent a letter to Rockingham County, Virginia schools protesting its recent book bans. These are the books banned in Rockingham County.
More on book bans

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