Last school year, Florida implemented more book bans than any other state in the country — accounting for more than 40% of all bans in the U.S — according to a report issued by PEN America in September.
On Wednesday, during what the American Library Association has deemed Banned Books Week, more than a dozen best-selling authors, including Michael Connelly, Judy Blume and Nikki Grimes, said they are uniting to take a stand against censorship in the state’s schools and libraries.
“It’s a crazy world when kids are told, ‘You should not read that book.’ And I think that’s a universal feeling among people who do what I do,” Connelly told NPR. The crime fiction writer, who grew up in Florida, said he developed a passion for literature thanks to titles like To Kill A Mockingbird. The book was was temporarily removed from Palm Beach County school libraries last year — and had been challenged in other schools and libraries across the U.S.
Though his own books haven’t been challenged so far, he said he feels a responsibility to use his voice and platform to address the issue. He’s already invested $1 million to a new advocacy center PEN America hopes to open in Florida by the end of the year.
“I went back to Tampa earlier this year to cut the ribbon on a new bookstore, and the first thing they did was roll out a cart with all the banned books on it right in front of the store,” he told NPR. “I don’t think we’re a minority. I really don’t.”
The PEN America report found that a third of the books challenged in the 2022-2023 school year dealt with race or characters of color. Another third featured LGBTQ themes.
“Trying to navigate life’s on-ramps, potholes, detours, closures, and occasional magnificent vistas without ample books to help you navigate is like trying to drive a bus without a steering wheel,” author and illustrator Mo Willems, joining with Connelly and others, said in a statement Wednesday.
Brit Bennett, who wrote The Vanish Half, is also speaking out against removing books from schools and libraries “It’s appalling that a small movement is ripping books off shelves, denying young people the ability to learn and grow intellectually, and frightening their neighbors about what lives on the shelves of their public school,” she said.
Recent polling by NPR/IPSOS found that more than 60% of Americans oppose banning books or restricting conversations about race, gender and sexuality in classrooms.