(MIAMI)—In an unprecedented mobilization to fight censorship, a group of blockbuster writers are banding together for the first time to accelerate PEN America’s on-the-ground campaign in Florida against runaway book bans and gag orders that limit what educators can teach and students can learn in public classrooms.

Many of the authors are household names. Many have ties to Florida or have been banned there. Collectively, they have sold nearly 1.6 billion books globally. Read all of their bios here.

Authors Laurie Halse Anderson, David Baldacci, Brit Bennett, Richard Blanco, Judy Blume, Ruby Bridges, Lee Child, Suzanne Collins, Michael Connelly, Gillian Flynn, Amanda Gorman, Nikki Grimes, Daniel Handler, Khaled Hosseini, Casey McQuiston, David Levithan, Brad Meltzer, Todd Parr, James Patterson, Jodi Picoult, Kathy Reichs, Nora Roberts, Reshma Saujani and Mo Willems are raising their voices during Banned Books Week (Oct. 1-7) and equipping the premier literary and free expression organization to open a Florida center that will defend the freedom to read and learn in a state on the frontlines of the fight for free speech nationally.

The list includes novelists, memoirists, and poets who write across a wide range of genres for children and adults. With donations from these authors, PEN America will step up the campaign against book bans both in the Sunshine State and across the country.

Over the summer, Michael Connelly, author of 38 novels with more than 85 million copies sold worldwide, and his wife, Linda McCaleb Connelly, spearheaded PEN America’s newest Florida effort with a commitment of $1 million. Other authors have joined, and together have contributed more than $3.6 million to date. PEN America plans to open a Florida center before the end of the year to host public events, wage campaigns and empower Florida citizens to defend their basic freedoms.

The Connellys – who spend half the year living in Florida and have long been advocates for students, readers, journalists, and other writers – viewed the rise in censorship in the state as an urgent call to action.

“What PEN America is doing in Florida is very important to us and our neighbors,” said Michael Connelly. “We have been astonished to see books ripped off the shelves and students forced into the middle of a fight they didn’t ask for or deserve. All of us, especially those of us who make our living in the literary world, are called upon to defend against book bans and legislation that suppresses new voices.”

Following a new wave of censorious legislation and policies, Florida overtook Texas during the last school year with more books banned in public school classrooms and libraries than any other state in the union, according to PEN America’s newly released data. Amid a 33% spike in book bans nationally, Florida now ranks first in the nation and accounts for more than 40% of all documented bans. While Florida is in the lead, its speech-constricting laws and policies have become a national template, helping to fuel a movement that has led to nearly 6,000 instances of book bans by PEN America’s count since 2021.

PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel said, “Seeing some of America’s most beloved and avidly read authors step to the front of the fight against book bans is inspiring. These are writers, not politicians or activists. They provide comfort, entertainment and inspiration to billions of readers. While some have been banned themselves, others have stepped up because they know that anyone who has ever curled up with a book is exercising a right worth fighting for and a right that – astonishingly – is under threat right here in the United States. While the book banners’ campaign is national in scope, Florida has become the laboratory for censorship laws and the intimidation of teachers and librarians. It is extraordinary to witness a group of our nation’s favorite authors pick up their pens to draw a line in the sand.”

PEN America has been at the forefront of documenting and defending against this spreading censorship—unseen since the 1950s McCarthy-era Red Scare. Book banners have primarily targeted narratives about race, racism, gender and sexuality, many by Black and LGBTQ+ authors.

Last spring, PEN America partnered with Penguin Random House along with parents and students to file a groundbreaking federal lawsuit challenging book banning in Escambia County (Pensacola), Fla. As well, through its volunteer-led Miami-South Florida chapter (among ten in a national network) and its partnerships with state-based organizations, including the Florida Freedom To Read Project, PEN America has catalyzed public response to: (a) the passage of laws like the “Don’t Say Gay” and “Stop W.O.K.E” acts, (b) escalating book bans, and (c) the DeSantis Administration’s campaign to remake the public New College of Florida to be like Hillsdale College, a private Christian university.

Authors have taken on an inspiring role nationwide in PEN America’s advocacy against this threat—through media interviews, as plaintiffs in its lawsuit, by engaging their millions of readers and social media followers on the issue and contributing direct philanthropic support.

“PEN America understands that our freedom to read is more fundamental than short-sighted politicians drawing attention to themselves on social media,” said James Patterson, the master thriller and suspense novelist who always tops best-seller lists. “I applaud PEN America for having the courage to open an office here at the epicenter of so much of this cynical opportunism—my backyard, Florida.”

Judy Blume, who lives in Key West, has written books that have been on ban lists since the 1980s and her 1975 novel, Forever, was one of 80 banned this year in a Florida school district for dealing with sex.  Said Blume, “It’s deja vu all over again, as Yogi Berra famously said. Only this time it’s worse. For me, that’s the rueful truth.”

Ruby Bridges, a legendary civil rights activist and author whose children’s books have been banned, joined this author activation noting, “My books are written to bring people together. Why would they be banned? But the real question is, why are we banning books at all? Surely, we are better than this.”

Mitchell Kaplan, the literary champion, longtime ally of PEN America’s Miami-South Florida chapter and owner of Books & Books, the Florida independent bookstore chain, said, “I can hardly recognize the state where I grew up.”

Speaking about the push in Florida to shut down the freedom to read he said, “I’m alarmed that elected officials have taken a dark turn to sow division and chaos in public schools by banning books and erasing themes and ideas children should read about and learn. Years ago, this would have been something we read about in the news, happening in an authoritarian country thousands of miles away. Now we’re witnesses to a home-grown campaign infecting Florida and other states to censor and trample all over our children’s education. With the support of these wonderful authors, we are determined to build on the work we are doing to mobilize people of conscience in Florida who believe in the freedom to read and learn.”

Nikki Grimes, the award winning author of books for children and young adults, has had her books banned on what she has described as difficult but important topics for young people to tackle. “On those days when the news deflates me, it means everything to know that PEN America is doing this hard work so that I can continue to focus on creating the best books I can for the readers I serve,” she said.

Read more quotes from the participating authors here.

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