NEW YORK—As an Arizona state law banning ethnic studies courses is heard before the Arizona Supreme Court this week, the “book trafficking” efforts of  Librotraficante and other literature and free expression advocates are crucial to ensuring that students and readers have equal access to voices from all communities and backgrounds, PEN America said in a statement today. 

Arizona House Bill 2281 prohibits school districts or charter schools from teaching courses promoting “the overthrow of the United States government,” advancing “resentment toward a race or class of people,” or advocating “ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” Passed in 2010, the law intended to dismantle the Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican-American Studies Program, and has since been used to censure an African-American studies course and to reduce access to literatures from other ethnic groups. Dozens of texts have been effectively suppressed as a result, including The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, Drown by Junot Diaz, The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin, and collections of short fiction, poetry, and drama by authors like Sherman Alexie, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Carmen Tafolla, and more. The law has been subject to an ongoing legal challenge and will be considered by Arizona’s Supreme Court starting Monday.

In 2012, a group of Latino/a writers and activists created the Librotraficante Caravan, an advocacy book tour of the Southwest focusing on books which HB 2281 effectively banned from Arizona school classrooms. (Librotraficante, in Spanish, translates roughly into “book trafficker”). On June 21, 2017, Librotraficante launched a second literature and advocacy caravan, with the goals of disseminating books from the prohibited ethnic studies courses and of drawing attention to House Bill 2281. The caravan coincides with the Arizona Supreme Court consideration of the case.

“Books that convey the stories of diverse cultures are vital to shaping and understanding our communities,” said Kyle Dacuyan, Senior Manager of Literary Outreach & Activism. “Laws like HB 2281 promote a false and dangerously narrow vision of our nation’s narrative. Librotraficante is doing necessary work to ensure that the many voices, groups, narratives, and histories of American experience are fully represented and heard.”

Various free expression organizations, including PEN America, have repeatedly and publicly denounced the HB 2281 as an assault on free speech, diversity, and intellectual freedom. In a 2012 open letter, PEN America and others argued that such a bill amounted to “book banning and thought control.” PEN America’s work to support diverse literature also includes a September 2016 report, Missing from the Shelf, analyzing how book banning attempts in the United States disproportionately target authors or characters of color or who identify as LGBTQ. 

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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.

CONTACT
Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Coordinator: +1.646.779.0685, agasparian@pen.org