Amid Crisis of School Book Bans, Banned Books Week Arrives Oct. 1 with Urgency to Defend the Freedom to Read
PEN America Organizes with Publishers, Authors, Activists and Artists to Spread the Word to Reverse Rising Censorship
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
LINK to the PEN America Banned Books Week actions and events
(NEW YORK)— With school book bans surging 33 percent over the past school year, this year’s Banned Books Week Oct. 1-7 is being marked with greater urgency to reverse a growing crisis that is erasing ideas and topics in classrooms and libraries and silencing authors, especially underrepresented writers who are in the cross-hairs of censorship. PEN America, the premier free expression and writers organization, is expanding its program of events and actions this year to the full month of October, organizing with writers, actors, artists, publishers and others who are stepping up to defend the freedom to read.
As polls show overwhelming opposition to book bans, PEN America and We Believe gathered a consortium of publishers including Penguin Random House, Scholastic, Simon and Schuster, Macmillan Publishers and Hachette Book Group, and nonprofit organizations, the American Library Association, We Need Diverse Books, Stand for Children, and Red, Wine & Blue, all of whom have signed on to an open letter supporting the freedom to read and learn. As part of the campaign, the organizations are encouraging the public to send letters to their state and local elected leaders and lawmakers opposing book bans, using a template on the Pen.org website.
PEN America is also partnering with the Writers Guild Initiative and Unite Against Book Bans to spread the word about the rise in book banning by teaming up with more than 20 actors, writers, and artists who are creating videos about their favorite banned books for a social media campaign. Contributors will include Gwyneth Paltrow, Edie Falco, and Kevin Bacon, Mandy Patinkin, and B.D. Wong, among others; The videos will be shared on social media to highlight Banned Books Week Day of Action on Oct. 7, with the theme Let Freedom Read. The public is invited to contribute their own videos.
With Penguin Random House, the Freedom to Read Foundation, and Little Free Library, PEN America is supporting The Banned Wagon Tour across the American South, a multi-colored ice cream-type truck that is stopping in four Southern cities affected by censorship, celebrating the power of literature and getting books to the people who need and want them most. A vehicle for change, the Banned Wagon will empower individuals and communities to fight back against the rampant attacks on free expression with events in Atlanta, New Orleans, Nashville, and Houston throughout Banned Books Week. The Banned Wagon will feature a selection of 12 books that are currently banned and challenged across the country, distributing free copies (while supplies last) at each event.
“Now more than ever, we encourage anyone who has ever been moved or inspired by a book, found joy or solace in reading— and are justifiably outraged by this spreading assault on books— to join us in October to defend the freedom to read and to learn,” said Jonathan Friedman, director, Free Expression and Education, at PEN America. “All of us should be alarmed—irrespective of our political stripes—when public schools become political battlegrounds and ideas and stories are excluded against the views of most teachers and parents. Democracy itself cannot thrive without the open inquiry and free expression that are bedrock freedoms in our Constitution.”
On Wednesday, Nadine Farid Johnson, managing director of PEN America’s Washington office and Free Expression programs, joined U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Maryland at a press conference condemning these sweeping attacks against the First Amendment rights of students, parents and educators. The press conference took place as resolutions were introduced by Rep Raskin with co-sponsorship by Rep. Jim McGovern, D-MA, Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-NY, Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-TX, Rep. Emilia Strong-Sykes, D-OH and Rep. Maxwell Alejandro Frost, D-FL. Senator Brian Schatz, D-HI is Senate sponsor.
PEN America endorsed the resolution and praised the lawmakers’ commitment to preserving free expression in classrooms and libraries. Johnson said: “Book bans are anathema to democracy. These resolutions reaffirm the freedom to read as both foundational for a pluralistic, democratic society and critical to the formation of an informed citizenry.”
As part of its activities, PEN America has partnered with acclaimed “banned” authors-illustrators Mike Curato, author of the frequently banned graphic novel Flamer; New York Times bestselling author/illustrator Todd Parr and Pulitzer Prize winner Art Spiegelmann for T-shirt designs for Banned Books Week 2023, which can be purchased online.
PEN Across America, encompassing its ten regional chapters, along with the organization’s New York, Washington and Los Angeles offices are organizing or participating in more than a dozen conversations and discussions with authors and others. These include celebrations of LGBTQ+ and BIPOC authors, talks offering guidance on how citizens can push back locally against book bans and educational censorship, and conversations about the history of book bans. All events, some available virtually, are listed here.
Among these is a virtual conversation Freedom to Write-Freedom to Read from 7-8 pm ET on Wed., Oct. 4 with PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel and Richard Dresser, the playwright and screenwriter, as part of the Big Tent US “Under the Tent” Speaker Series. They will talk about how increased censorship is affecting authors and artists, as well as students and educators. The session will also offer practical guidance on how individuals can defend the freedom to read. Register here.
In addition, PEN America leaders will participate in conversations, to take place in person and on livestream, on book bans, education censorship and free expression. The events are being hosted by the New York Public Library in partnership with Atlantic magazine on Thurs., Oct. 5: the first at 6 pm will focus on recent challenges to AP African American Studies and AP Psychology; the conversation will be led by College Board CEO David Coleman, with author and Harvard Graduate School of Education Professor Jarvis Givens; Heather Harding, executive director, Campaign for Our Shared Future and Jonathan Friedman, director, Free Expression and Education, PEN America.
At 7 p.m., Ayad Akhtar, the PEN America president, novelist and playwright, will join author and Princeton University Professor Imani Perry for a conversation with Atlantic Executive Editor Adrienne LaFrance on book bans and limits on free expression. Registration and more details on the two events is here.
PEN America’s latest report, released last week “Banned in the USA: The Mounting Pressure to Censor” documented a 33 percent spike in school book bans during the 2022-2023 school year and highlighted the disproportionate number of bans occurring in Florida — now leading all states with over 40 percent of all book bans taking place in the 2022-23 school year. Since July 2021, PEN America has been at the forefront of tracking the rise in public school book bans, recording nearly 6,000 instances of banned books. This includes 3,362 book bans affecting 1,557 unique titles during the 2022-23 school year.
The staggering rise in book bans by a well-organized and well-funded conservative movement is being counteracted by ordinary citizens who are showing up at school board meetings to insist that schools remain places where students have access to a diversity of viewpoints, where school libraries make a wide range of knowledge and ideas available, and where books remain accessible for all.
What everyone can do to fight book bans:
- Your voice is powerful: Speaking up will make a difference. Discuss the movement to censor books within your social networks and correct misinformation and harmful rhetoric about “porn in schools.”
- You are not alone: Everywhere we find book bans, we find people organizing to change. Students, educators, librarians, parents, and supporters nationwide are working together to push back against classroom censorship and book bans.
- Attend your local school board meeting: Proactively contact your leaders, like your board or district administrators, your teachers, and your librarians, to let them know that you support access to knowledge and diversity of literature in your school library.
- Call your state legislators: This year PEN America tracked increased efforts to propose and enact state legislation that will affect the availability of books in schools.
- Connect with local advocacy groups: Find those in your community or within your state and amplify their efforts in objecting to books bans.
- Read a banned book: Talk about all its merits, and then pass that book to a friend or family member!
- Support organizations like PEN America in defending the freedom to read
About PEN America
PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. To learn more visit PEN.org
Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057