By Marrow Woods
For decades high school English syllabi have included the “classics”, novels that students have traditionally learned, read, and studied that reflect a singular point of view: the perspective of a white male author. Catcher in the Rye. 1984. The Odyssey. Huckleberry Finn. Lord of the Flies. The Great Gatsby. All of these novels are commonplace in the English classroom but, as conversations around race and diversity become reoccurring, educators have begun to expand their reading lists and students are at the forefront of advocating for more inclusive, accurate, and diverse literary texts and curriculum.
The problem? The politicization of topics like race, class, gender, and sexuality are being driven by legislation, most notably the banning of books. According to an April report from PEN America, there were 1,586 instances of individual books being banned during the nine-month period from July 1, 2021, to March 31, affecting 1,145 book titles. The states most affected are Texas (with a total of 713 bans), Pennsylvania, Florida, and Oklahoma. All of the books being challenged or banned from curricula tend to have a few themes in common:
- Books that discuss LGBTQIA+ topics or characters.
- Books dealing with race, racism, or any that center around characters of color.
- Books discussing the history of Black people and other people of color.
- Books dealing with sex, abortion, or puberty.
With literature being targeted and widespread challenges against inclusive education and anti-racist curriculum, how can we challenge the erasure of history and advocate for the inclusion of marginalized and underrepresented stories and voices in literature?
1. Read banned books.
One of the easiest ways to support banned books and authors is to read the book. We all know the power of storytelling and sharing that story and encouraging others to read it is one way to make it harder to silence that story.
Barnes & Noble has a curated list of banned and censored books that you can read here.
The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom records attempts to remove books from libraries, schools, and universities. These titles are books on the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century that have been banned or challenged.
2. Report banned books.
According to the American Library Association, as many as 82-97% of book challenges remain unreported. If you find out that a library, school, or institution is attempting to ban a book in your community, report it with the help of The American Library Association on their website.
3. Join a banned book club.
Reading and discussing books with others give those stories power, just like we mentioned above. In response to recent bans, book clubs that are focused solely on reading banned books are appearing across the nation. Join one in your local community, or join a national club like Banned Books Book Club.
4. Join initiatives to help and advocate for Banned Books Week!
If you’re interested in continuing your support for banned books during Banned Books Week, join Novelly in writing supportive letters to authors of banned books through our Dear Banned Author initiative! Share with them what their book meant to you and engage with other Banned Books Week content around the theme of “Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us.”