PEN America Expands Support to Children’s Books Authors, with Rising Book Bans

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Special to the Vanguard

New York, NY – PEN America this week announced the launch of an expanded effort to support authors whose books have been banned, augmenting the organization’s work to defend the freedom to read.

With an emphasis on children’s book authors and illustrators, the literary and free expression organization will inform those affected when and where their books are banned, offer information and resources related to the freedom to read, and equip them with strategies for digital safety in the face of online hate and harassment. PEN America will also support authors looking to fight book censorship and amplify their voices in defense of the freedom to read.

This expanded effort was made possible by seed funding from Scholastic, the global children’s publishing and media company. The new investment will help PEN America continue its provision of rapid-response support for authors, as well as its ongoing efforts to galvanize readers, writers, the publishing industry, and the general public in support of the freedom to write and to read.  While efforts at more individualized support will focus on Scholastic’s roster of children’s book authors, lessons and resources created will be made widely available to authors in need. PEN America works with book publishers Penguin Random House, Hachette Book Group, MacMillan, Simon & Schuster and other valued publishing partners.

Since 2021, books by over 2,000 writers have been banned in public schools in over 40 states. Book bans can have a particularly pernicious effect on authors from historically marginalized communities: authors whose books are banned are most frequently female, people of color, and/or LGBTQ+ individuals—the very authors who are also disproportionately harassed online for their work and their identity. Further, pressure from state laws and groups of activists is leading to heightened fear among educators and growing censorship of books and curricular topics. Book purchases for school classrooms and libraries are also being suspended or highly scrutinized in some school districts, as some authors report declines in invitations to visit schools.

“The banning of books is continuing to take a toll on authors, students, and families,” said Kasey Meehan, program director, Freedom to Read at PEN America. “It’s vital that we continue to raise public awareness, support the authors targeted, and protect the freedom to read and write for all. Joining forces with authors, publishers, students, parents, educators, librarians, and readers to fight back is a necessary step to push back the tide of censorship. We are deeply appreciative of this gift and our ongoing partnership with Scholastic, which will be essential in supporting these efforts at PEN America for the years ahead.”

PEN America has been at the forefront of documenting and defending against the unprecedented rise of school book bans nationwide. Depriving students of literature flies in the face of basic constitutional freedoms and PEN America is suing Escambia County, Florida, over its book bans. Black and LGBTQ+ authors and books about race, racism, and LGBTQ identities have been disproportionately affected in the book bans documented by PEN America in the last year and a half. The wave of book banning is worse than anything seen since the Red Scare era of McCarthyism in the 1950s with PEN America counting nearly 6,000 book bans since the fall of 2021.

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