Judy Blume and other bestselling authors unite to fight book bans

Judy Blume and other bestselling authors unite to fight book bans

A literary rally for freedom of expression

by Suswati Basu

A group of bestselling authors has joined forces to support PEN America’s campaign in Florida to counter book bans and restrictions on educational materials. This unprecedented collaboration, led by acclaimed author Michael Connelly, aims to safeguard the freedom to read and learn in public classrooms across the state, and it comes at a time when the fight for free speech has never been more critical.

Read: School book bans: alarming rise as Florida takes lead

The roster of participating authors reads like a literary who’s who, with many household names among them. Collectively, these authors have sold nearly 1.6 billion books worldwide, making their united stand a formidable force against the rising tide of censorship. Hence here are the group of authors combatting book bans:

Which authors are fighting against book bans?

  • Laurie Halse Anderson
  • David Baldacci
  • Brit Bennett
  • Richard Blanco
  • Judy Blume
  • Ruby Bridges
  • Lee Child
  • Suzanne Collins
  • Michael Connelly
  • Gillian Flynn
  • Amanda Gorman
  • Nikki Grimes
  • Daniel Handler
  • Khaled Hosseini
  • Casey McQuiston
  • David Levithan
  • Brad Meltzer
  • Todd Parr
  • James Patterson
  • Jodi Picoult
  • Kathy Reichs
  • Nora Roberts
  • Reshma Saujani
  • Mo Willems

A literary alliance against censorship

Authors such as Laurie Halse Anderson, David Baldacci, Brit Bennett, and Judy Blume, who have faced bans themselves, are lending their voices to this cause during Banned Books Week (October 1st to October 7th). They are bolstering PEN America’s efforts to establish a Florida centre that will champion the freedom to read and learn.

Earlier this week, we interviewed Uncle Bobby’s Wedding author Sarah Brannen for Banned Books Week

This group of writers, representing a diverse array of genres for both children and adults, has already donated more than $3.6 million towards PEN America’s campaign. Michael Connelly, who has penned 38 novels and sold over 85 million copies worldwide, and his wife, Linda McCaleb Connelly, initiated this effort with a substantial commitment of $1 million. A Florida centre is also slated to open by year-end, becoming a focal point for public events, advocacy campaigns, and empowering Floridians to protect their fundamental freedoms.

“These are writers, not politicians or activists. They provide comfort, entertainment, and inspiration to billions of readers.”

Suzanne Nossel, PEN AMERICA CEO

The Connellys, who spend a significant portion of their year in Florida, recognised the urgency of the situation and the need for action. Michael Connelly stated, “What PEN America is doing in Florida is very important to us and our neighbors. We have been astonished to see books ripped off the shelves and students forced into the middle of a fight they didn’t ask for or deserve. All of us, especially those of us who make our living in the literary world, are called upon to defend against book bans and legislation that suppresses new voices.”

Florida’s troubling lead in book bans

Florida has emerged as the epicentre of this censorship wave, overtaking Texas in banning more books in public school classrooms and libraries than any other state during the last school year, according to data released by PEN America. The state’s restrictive laws and policies have served as a blueprint for censorship measures nationwide, resulting in nearly 6,000 documented instances of book bans since 2021.

PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel praised the authors for their courageous stance, stating, “These are writers, not politicians or activists. They provide comfort, entertainment, and inspiration to billions of readers. 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.”

PEN America has been at the forefront of documenting and challenging this resurgence of censorship, reminiscent of the McCarthy-era Red Scare in the 1950s. Books addressing topics of race, racism, gender, and sexuality, particularly those by Black and LGBTQ+ authors, have been primary targets of bans.

Advocacy beyond the page

In partnership with Penguin Random House, PEN America initiated a groundbreaking federal lawsuit challenging book banning in Escambia County, Florida, with the support of parents and students. The organisation’s Miami-South Florida chapter, among others, has played a pivotal role in mobilising public responses against speech-restrictive laws and policies.

As the battle to protect the freedom to read intensifies, authors have assumed a vital role in advocating for change. Their influence, both through their literary works and their advocacy efforts, continues to inspire millions of readers and followers to stand up for their right to access diverse voices and ideas.

James Patterson, the master thriller novelist, also highlighted the significance of PEN America’s commitment to Florida, saying, “I applaud PEN America for having the courage to open an office here at the epicenter of so much of this cynical opportunism—my backyard, Florida.”

“Book bans are harmful and undemocratic. We have to reclaim the sacred spaces in our schools where students can explore books and expand their sense of community without the looming shadow of a politician peeking over their shoulder.”

Khaled Hosseini

Judy Blume, whose books have faced bans since the 1980s, expressed her concern, saying, “It’s déjà vu all over again, as Yogi Berra famously said. Only this time it’s worse. For me, that’s the rueful truth.”

Read: Florida school district ‘bans books with LGBTQ characters entirely’

Legendary civil rights activist and author Ruby Bridges, whose children’s books have also been banned, questioned the necessity of banning books and emphasised the need for unity against censorship. “My books are written to bring people together. Why would they be banned? But the real question is, why are we banning books at all? Surely, we are better than this,” she remarked.

“Pulling books off shelves is a dumb response. The very bravest thing parents can do is to encourage their kids to read anything and everything, to learn, feel, experience, and figure it all out for themselves.”

Lee Child

Mitchell Kaplan, owner of the Florida independent bookstore chain Books & Books, lamented the current state of affairs in the state he calls home, saying, “I can hardly recognize the state where I grew up.” He expressed alarm at elected officials’ efforts to sow division and chaos in public schools through book bans and called upon people of conscience in Florida to join the fight for the freedom to read and learn.

While Nikki Grimes, an award-winning author of books for children and young adults, expressed gratitude for PEN America’s work in protecting the freedom to read, allowing her to focus on creating meaningful literature. She stressed the importance of persevering in the face of adversity.

Consequently, as this group of celebrated authors takes up the mantle in defense of free expression against book bans, they serve as a beacon of hope in an increasingly turbulent landscape, reminding us all of the enduring power of literature to spark conversation, inspire change, and champion the fundamental right to read and learn.

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Molly | Transatlantic Notes October 5, 2023 - 11:36 am

This surge in book bans is extremely worrying, especially as some states have rules that allow just one person to make a complaint and get a book restricted. I hope more and more authors and readers stand up to this kind of censorship and read all the banned books!

Suswati Basu October 5, 2023 - 1:50 pm

I couldn’t agree more Molly, I’m looking into it, but I believe it’s something as ridiculous as 11 parents making hundreds of claims. It’s a coordinated political movement.


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