Updated on June 6 to add additional publishers that signed the letter

(NEW YORK)— More than 380 authors joined major publishing houses and civil rights, anti-censorship, and writers advocacy groups today to raise alarm over new South Carolina education standards for assessing books and other materials for public schools. 

In an open letter to state lawmakers urging them to block the new regulations, the groups, publishers, and authors argue the new standards could lead to the removal of literary classics and critically acclaimed contemporary novels, simply for a sexual reference. 

Along with publishers Hachette Book Group, MacMillan Publishers, Penguin Random House, Simon and Schuster and Sourcebooks, signers include ACLU of South Carolina, Authors Against Book Bans, Every Library, National Coalition Against Censorship, National Women’s Law Center, PEN America, the Woodhull Freedom Foundation, We Need Diverse Books, and notable authors of books for children and young adults, including Laurie Halse Anderson, Jodi Picoult, Katherine Paterson, Nikki Grimes, Daniel Handler, Elizabeth Acevedo, Peter Parnell, David Levithan, and Ellen Hopkins, among hundreds of others. Nearly 20 percent of the authors are South Carolina residents or have ties to the state. 

The proposed regulations would impose a two-part test to evaluate if materials are age and developmentally appropriate, and align with state instructional programs. The regulations will also create an appeal process to the State Board of Education, whose decisions on some books would affect all school districts. The regulations are slated to take effect on June 25. 

The letter argues that the proposed regulations threaten free expression, the freedom to read, and the First Amendment, noting that librarians and educators are already “well placed” to curate library collections with appropriate books and materials.

“Adding government mandated ‘tests’ for age appropriateness will only chill speech and restrict access to literature for students across South Carolina,” the letter said.

“Bills like this allow the government to determine what can and can’t be read — not parents, not educators, not librarians, not the students who need these stories. We authors want to do everything we can to support the freedom to read, and the power that reading has to give context in an overwhelming world,” said David Levithan, bestselling author and one of the leaders of Authors Against Book Bans.

Similar language in Iowa resulted in mass book bans affecting classics, books used in advanced placement courses, and contemporary young adult novels. 

The regulations’ explicit prohibition on “sexual conduct” is vague and broad, meaning books with sexual references are likely to be banned without considerations of context, purpose, or educational value. Experts on sexual violence have repeatedly reported that learning about the signs of abuse and what consent means helps young people to speak up in harmful situations, reach out for help, or recognize abuse they have experienced.

Since 2021, more than 100 books have been banned in South Carolina schools; the authors and organizations fear the new regulations will increase that number.

Across the country, book banning has spread at an alarming rate, ignited by local activists and parents. PEN America documented more than 10,000 bans between 2021 and 2023— an assault on the freedom to read, the lifeblood of democracy. 

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free 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. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], (201) 247-5057