Readers and educators across America are celebrating Banned Books Week by exploring restricted books and supporting their authors, whether they’re newly added to the ever-growing list of works or classics that have sparked controversy for decades.
The annual event has become increasingly important to the literary community as national, state and local groups continue to impose historic numbers of restrictions and challenges, especially against books with racial and LGBTQ+ themes.
As concerns grow, more authors and advocates on the list are using their platforms to advocate for libraries and literacy, and to warn of what happens when literary horizons narrow.
LeVar Burton: ‘Read the books that are being banned. That’s the good thing’
LeVar Burton has spoken out against the push to ban the books. Credit: Greg Doherty/The Recording Academy/Getty Images
Literacy groups words are being used
From “Reading Rainbow” host and iconic children’s author LeVar Burton as a rallying cry for banned books. In June, Burton spoke forcefully against the book ban on “The View.”
“I’m going to be completely frank and honest, it’s a shame that in this country, in this culture, we’re banning books today,” he told “The View” hosts. “We have anything unpleasant in this country that we don’t want to face knowing about our past. This is not going to go away. Nothing goes away, especially if you ignore it. So read the books that are being banned. . That’s where the good stuff is. You don’t want to read it. if they have, there is a reason.”
He brought the same message to a recent appearance at the Rose City Comic Con in Portland, Oregon, citing critical race theory, an often-misunderstood educational philosophy that has been cited in recent spate of cuts.
“You should be ashamed of yourselves,” he said of people who ban books. “For respecting your child enough to understand basic human values.”
Neil Gaiman: “Never apologize for suggesting people read my books in libraries”
Science fiction and fantasy author Neil Gaiman, whose work often ends up on banned book lists, regularly uses his social media to promote literacy programs and libraries. When a fan shared that some of Gaiman’s graphic novels were available on the library’s streaming platform, but apologized for the rights Gaiman might lose, Gaiman responded by saying
people should “never apologize to me for suggesting that people read my books in or through libraries.”
Gaimain was also very vocal earlier this year after a Tennessee school board restricted the use of “Maus,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust by Art Spiegelman.
“There’s only one type of person who would vote to ban Maus, whatever they call themselves these days.” he wrote
Nora Roberts: “Libraries are treasures, they open doors to books and stories for everyone”
Author Nora Roberts recently donated $50,000 to a Michigan library that was stripped of funds for refusing to remove books with LGBTQ themes. Credit: Rob Carr/AP
Romantic queen Nora Roberts recently surprised the Patmos Library in Jamestown Township, Michigan with a $50,000 donation. The library was removed in August after refusing to remove books with LGBTQ+ themes, despite months of pressure from local conservative groups. Those groups launched a campaign to vote against a budget measure that provides the library with taxpayer funding. Roberts’ donation, along with thousands of other donations from across the country and from abroad, will keep the library running.
“It is an honor for me to support the Patmos Library and its staff,” Roberts said in a statement to Bridge Michigan.
“Libraries are treasures, opening the doors to books and stories for everyone. Librarians, to me, are the custodians of those stories,” she said in an emailed statement. “The idea of librarians — who provide community services beyond reading — I face threats and attacks, I find the community library terrible and sad.”
John Green: “Please don’t ban my books in my hometown”
Young author John Green had to make a very special request after a member of a conservative parent group in Orlando suggested that Green’s book “Looking for Alaska” be removed from Orange County public school libraries. The group “Moms for Liberty” says the book, which includes a two-page sex scene, encourages minors to have sex.
“What they’re trying to do is limit the freedom of other people’s children to read what librarians and teachers see fit,” Green said in a TikTok video in response to the news. “Also, I mean of course I could be wrong, the books are for the readers, but I don’t think ‘Finding Alaska’ is pornography. And I think it’s a little weird to read it that way.”
“Please don’t ban my books in my hometown,” he concluded. “It’s really upsetting for my mom.”
Hari Kunzru: “We must stay awake and use our words to shape the world”
Writers gather to read selected works of British author Salman Rushdie at the New York Public Library in New York City in August. Credit: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images
Acclaimed British novelist Hari Kunzru was one of the leading authors to pay tribute to author Salman Rushdie after Rushdie was injured in a knife attack in August.
Kunzru and others gathered at the New York Public Library to read excerpts from Rushdie’s work and discuss the importance of free speech, which Rushdie has spent his career championing.
“Salman once wrote that the role of a writer is to name the unnameable, point out frauds, walk away, start debates, shape the world and put it to sleep,” Kunzru said at the event. “And that’s why we’re here, because we owe it to him to stay awake and use our words to shape the world.”
The event was organized by Rushdie Publishing and PEN America, a non-profit literary organization that monitors the curtailment of free speech through book bans and challenges.
“We must fight as hard as if all our freedoms depended on it, because they do,” Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America, said at the event.
“Not even a blade up to the throat could stop Salman Rushdie’s voice,” he said.
40. Banned Books Week will be from September 18 to September 24.