You’ve seen the headlines. In 2022 alone, The Washington Post, CNN and PBS have all reported on the mass increase in book bans. The Hate You Give, This Book Is Gay, Monday’s Not Coming are just a few titles that fell victim to bans across school libraries and classrooms. According to CBS, Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe was removed from school libraries and classrooms on 41 separate instances. And in Texas alone, 713 books have been banned between January 2021 and March 2022, according to Statista. With Pennsylvania and Florida not far behind, it’s not a stretch to say that other states may follow suit.
And don’t think classics are exempt from this radical abolition. To Kill a Mockingbird, The Lord of the Rings series and even Charlotte’s Web—yes, you read that right—are just a few renowned titles that are becoming nonexistent in some classrooms and libraries. This isn’t just censorship—it’s complete erasure. And it all boils down to one question: why are stories, specifically ones about race, gender, sexuality and the shameful history of this country, leaving libraries at such an accelerated rate?
There’s no mistake that authors from racialized and marginalized backgrounds are at the forefront of this deletion. The reason? Other than defying white, heteronormative storylines and creating narratives that speak to a new generation in need, there’s no excuse. When it comes to both required and recreational reading, what does this mean for the next generation of readers, workers and voters? In my endless search for answers, I decided to go to the authors themselves. Here, three published writers share how they've been personally impacted by book banning, as well as their own strategies and goals for aiding a growing community of people who need it most.
The AuthorsAlexandria Bellefleur, author of Written in the Stars and 2021 Lambda Literary Award winner; Favorite Banned Book: The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
Sophie Gonzales, author of Only Mostly Devastated and Perfect on Paper; Favorite Banned Book: Simon vs the Homosapiens by Becky Albertalli and Hot Dog Girl by Jennifer Dugan
Ashley Herring Blake, teacher and award-winning author of Delilah Green Doesn’t Care and Girl Made of Stars; Favorite Banned Book: Felix Ever After (and pretty much any other book) by Kacen Callender
Book Banning Has Directly Impacted BIPOC and LGBTQ+ Authors—And The Children Who Need Their BooksA rise of diverse authors, unfortunately, does not always translate to a rise in support for their works. According to The Guardian, in 2022 over 2,000 books were restricted in 32 states. Due to the current political climate, many libraries are no longer safe spaces—they’re becoming warzones. “The problem is, publishing as a whole is a business,” Gonzales says. “While individual editors are doing amazing things, and some imprints have more inclusive policies than others, when looking at publishing from a distance, it’s likely that some books are not getting offered on—or are receiving less money—for the sole reason of them being seen as a riskier venture than books that won’t get banned.”
Even with the nearly impossible chance of getting a marginalized story through a publishing company’s strict system, the next battle is centered around grappling with community leaders, local politicians and parent-led committees, if your book is circulated to school systems. Everything from historically accurate retellings (take just about any Alice Walker novel) to anything promoting alternative family values, the occult or sexual discourse—as if the internet doesn’t do that enough—becomes a target.
According to Pen.org, at least 40 percent of the bans during the ’21-’22 school year were directly related to political pressure from lawmakers and state officials. With groups like Moms for Liberty having chapters across the country, these pressures become worse and worse. Beyond getting their books pulled out of libraries, authors receive death threats, are publicly humiliated on social media and lose the chance to let their story become someone’s shining light. “Book banning is a symptom of a larger problem we’re facing in this country,” Bellefleur says. “Ultimately, if these book bans continue, the books that will be left on shelves will represent only white, able-bodied, cis-het identities, and if any diverse books are left, they will represent a very narrow, sanitized scope of experiences.”
For Authors, Publishers and Everyone in Between, Censorship Might Get a Lot Worse Before It Gets BetterDuring the back-and-forth battle of books leaving shelves, it’s important to note what happens when readers begin to digest this conflict. “When we point a finger at certain stories and say “That one, but not that one,” we might as well be pointing directly at certain kids,” Blake says. “Some might say that’s dramatic, but I hold to it. To reject a book because of a certain representation, either through identity or experience, is the same thing as rejecting a person. And, yeah, that’s incredibly damaging.”
It becomes internalized that you are undeserving of being seen, discussed or even worthy. For BIPOC or queer folk, book banning closes the door on yet another chance to be seen in the world—and deletes a lot of the progress while young readers are forced to find themselves in the pages of what’s considered “acceptable.” With a rise in community groups and political pressures during unprecedented times, the strategy of limiting voices is more powerful than ever. And in order to keep BIPOC + LGBTQ+ voices in these spaces, everyone needs to play a role.
So, Here’s What You Can DoLike everything else, change doesn’t happen overnight. Especially while book banning has steadily gained momentum over the course of the last decade. As cliche as it sounds, that change really does start from within. So, to play your part, here are some options to support an end to book banning.
- Join the Banned Books Book Club, a monthly club, library and fund to help keep our most important books in schools
- Support (donate new + used books, share on social media, etc…) to BIPOC + queer-owned and operated bookstores
- Join local community groups or programs to support authors, librarians and students
- Diverse Books
- National Coalition Against Censorship
- American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
- even attending PTA meetings could be effective
- Simply reading banned books aids the fight. Share them with friends, review them on social media. Make their existence known.
There’s no denying the power that comes with feeling a sense of pride in your narrative. Author Ashley Herring Blake put it perfectly: “Books reflect our world, and they reflect us.” There isn’t one story, or one author, that can sum up every Black, biracial, queer or trans experience. So why remove the one tool that has empowered so many? Taking away the ability to explore and find oneself in a way that made some of us who we are, is truly unthinkable. Everyone deserves access to books that nurture their differences—no matter how much they stray from what society has deemed “normal.”
The Best Books, Podcasts and Affirmation Tracks About Failure
The Panic-Free Guide to Recession-Proofing Your Finances
The Biggest Barriers Facing Women in Tech Today