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Wednesday, May 29, 2024, 7:00 pm EDT

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Let America Read, Again

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BY SUSAN LEHMAN | BIGTENTUSA 
BigTentUSA hosted a virtual Spotlight Speaker series with speakers Suzanne Nossel, CEO PEN America, Richard Dresser, President Writers Guild Initiative and moderated by producer, Evangeline Morphos. Unlike book bans in our past, the recent rash of book banning in schools and public libraries is a well-funded, coordinated effort by an extreme minority on the far right. The repercussions in classrooms and lecture halls, on students, teachers, librarians, authors, artists, and publishers are extremely damaging and far-reaching.
This week PEN America announced a bit of good “banner” news:  a group of blockbuster writers are banding together for the first time to accelerate PEN America’s on-the-ground campaign in Florida. This campaign is aimed against book bans and gag orders that have taken over Florida and limited what educators can teach and students can learn in public classrooms.
Many of the authors are household names, have ties to Florida or have been banned there. Collectively, they have sold nearly 1.6 billion books globally. Authors include, David Baldacci, Judy Blume, Ruby Bridges, Lee Child, Michael Connelly, Amanda Gorman, Khaled Hosseini, James Patterson, Jodi Picoult, and Nora Roberts, All are raising their voices and equipping PEN America to open a Florida center that will defend the freedom to read and learn in a state on the frontlines of the fight for free speech nationally.
Following a new wave of censorious legislation and policies, Florida overtook Texas during the last school year with more books banned in public school classrooms and libraries than any other state in the union, according to PEN America’s newly released data. Amid a 33% spike in book bans nationally, Florida now ranks first in the nation and accounts for more than 40% of all documented bans. While Florida is in the lead, its speech-constricting laws and policies have become a national template, helping to fuel a movement that has led to nearly 6,000 instances of book bans by PEN America’s count since 2021. This past spring Judy Blume’s coming of age book, Forever was one of 80 books banned from Florida’s Martin County school system, Her novel Are You There God Its Me Margaret is also on the list of  top banned books in the United States. It is about menstruation of a 12 year old girl.
“Seeing some of America’s most beloved and avidly read authors step to the front of the fight against book bans is inspiring.” Said Suzanne Nossel. “These are writers, not politicians or activists. While some have been banned themselves, others have stepped up because they know that anyone who has ever curled up with a book is exercising a right worth fighting for and a right that – astonishingly – is under threat right here in the United States.  Florida has become the laboratory for censorship laws and the intimidation of teachers and librarians. It is extraordinary to witness a group of our nation’s favorite authors pick up their pens to draw a line in the sand.”
In addition to the collaborative work of many bestselling authors, PEN America, the Writers Guild Initiative, American Library Association and Unite Against Book Bans have joined forces to launch #letfreedomread #freethebooks social media campaign. This campaign features celebrities posting on their accounts to raise awareness about censorship. We can all contribute to the cause by participating in the campaign and sharing our favorite banned book! As of 10/4, there are almost 100k videos posted for the campaign. Below are links to videos from Edie Falco, Mandy Patinkin, Kathryn Grody and Louis Black. Instructions to post your own messages are attached HERE.
As Kathryn Grody and Mandy Patinkin clearly articulate in their short video,
“Book banning is the seed of fascism… Don’t ban books… Don’t be afraid of ideas. It is basic to democracy to be able to have freedom of information.”
📬 Thanks for reading.  Invite your friends to join BigTen