As book bans mount, literary stars are championing libraries and literacy

AJ Willingham, CNN

Readers and educators across America are watching Banned Books Week by exploring restricted books and supporting their authors—whether they’re new to the ever-growing list of challenged works or classics that have stirred controversy for decades.

The annual event is becoming increasingly important to the literary community as groups at the national, state and local levels continue to raise a historic number of restrictions and challenges, particularly against racial and LGBTQ+-themed books.

As concern mounts, more A-list authors and advocates are using their platforms to advocate for libraries and literacy, and to warn about what happens when literary horizons are narrowed.

LeVar Burton: “Read the books they ban. That’s where the good stuff is’

literacy groups use the words the legendary “Reading Rainbow” host and children’s book author LeVar Burton as a slogan for banned books. In June, Burton spoke out strongly against book bans during an appearance on The View.

“I’m going to be absolutely frank and honest, it’s embarrassing that we’re banning books in this country, in this culture, in this day and age,” he told The View hosts. “We have this reluctance in this country to know anything about our past and anything unpleasant that we don’t want to deal with. This won’t go away. Nothing goes away, especially if you ignore it. So read the books they ban. There’s the good stuff. If they don’t want you to read it, there’s a reason.”

He brought the same message to a recent appearance at Rose City Comic Con in Portland, Oregon, mentioning critical race theory, an often misunderstood educational philosophy that has been cited in some of the recent waves of confinement.

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“You should be ashamed,” he said of people who ban books. “For not respecting your children enough to understand basic human values.”

Neil Gaiman: ‘Never apologize to me for suggesting people read my books in libraries’

Sci-fi and fantasy author Neil Gaiman, whose works often end up on banned books 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 a library streaming platform but apologized for any royalties Gaiman may be missing out on, Gaiman responded by saying People should “never apologize to me for suggesting 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,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust written by Art Spiegelman.

“There’s only one kind of people who would vote to ban Maus, no matter what they call themselves these days.” he wrote.

Nora Roberts: “Libraries are treasures that open the door to books and stories for everyone”

Romance queen Nora Roberts recently shocked the Patmos Library in Jamestown Township, Michigan, with a $50,000 donation. The library was deprived of funding in August after refusing to remove LGBTQ+-themed books despite months of pressure from local conservative groups. These groups launched a campaign to vote against a budget measure that would provide taxpayer money to the library. Roberts’ donation, along with thousands of other donations from across the country and some from abroad, will enable the library to continue operating.

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“I am honored to serve the Patmos Library and its staff,” Roberts said in a statement to Bridge Michigan.

“Libraries are treasures that open the door to books and stories for everyone. To me, librarians are the keepers of these stories,” she said in the emailed statement. “I find the idea of ​​librarians – who provide community services beyond reading – facing threats and attacks and a community library facing defunding to be both appalling and saddening.”

John Green: “Please don’t ban my books in my hometown”

Young adult author John Green had to make a very unique 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 claims the book, which contains a two-page sex scene, encourages underage sex.

“What they’re trying to do is limit the freedom of other people’s children to read what librarians and teachers think is appropriate for those other people’s children,” Green said in a TikTok video in response to the news. “Also – I mean, of course I could be wrong, books belong to their readers – but I just don’t think ‘Looking for Alaska’ is pornography. And I think it’s a bit strange to read it like that.

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“Please don’t ban my books in my hometown,” he concluded. “It’s really upsetting for my mother.”

Hari Kunzru: We have to “stay awake and shape the world with our words”

Acclaimed British writer Hari Kunzru was one of several prominent 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 of Rushdie’s work and discuss the importance of free speech, which Rushdie has devoted his career to defending.

“Salman once wrote that the writer’s role is to name the unnamable, point out frauds, take sides, start arguments, shape the world and keep them from sleeping,” Kunzru said during the event. “And that’s why we’re here, because we owe it to him to stay awake and shape the world with our words.”

The event was organized by Rushdie Publishing and PEN America, a literary non-profit dedicated to curbing freedom of expression through book bans and challenges.

“We must fight vigorously as if all our freedoms depend on it – because they do,” said Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN America, at the event.

“Not even a blade to the throat could silence Salman Rushdie’s voice,” she said.

The 40th annual Banned Books Week takes place from September 18th to 24th.

The CNN Wire
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