March 21, 2023
The Authors Guild is appalled by the recent spate of book removals from Florida school libraries in response to House Bill 1467, a law enacted last year that gives the state broad oversight of materials used in schools. We are equally disappointed that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis called these book bans a “hoax,” claiming that only pornographic books are being removed, despite his impetus and the many factual reports of books suitable for children and young adults (including those dealing with BIPOC and LGBTQ+ individuals and topics) being banned. We stand in solidarity with all Florida librarians, educators, and activists who are fighting to defend the right to read and write freely.
The law, part of the “Stop WOKE Act,” requires that books be pre-approved or vetted by a media specialist trained by Florida’s Department of Education. This has created an effective bottleneck in the distribution of many books, resulting in empty shelves. It also allows any parent or resident to contest books used in schools in their county, including by filing civil suits. The law robs children of books that they might read with their parents’ full support. It is a serious rebuke to freedom of expression, and dramatically impacts students’ ability to access information. It also directly impacts several Authors Guild members, whose books are on lists of those that have been banned and removed from school libraries. “There is absolutely nothing wrong with a parent deciding a certain book is not right for her child,” said Authors Guild member Jodi Picoult in response to the removal of her books last week in Martin County. “There is a colossal problem with a parent deciding that, therefore, no children should read that book.”
Most of the books being purged in Florida as a result of this law are novels portraying the experiences of LGBTQ+ or BIPOC people or factually accurate nonfiction about the experiences of racial minorities. They speak to all children, as well as marginalized children and adolescents who often don’t have any other outlet or support system. Depriving these youths of literature that could help them understand and reflect on difficult experiences adds to the isolation they often already feel within their communities; it is cruel and serves no legitimate educational purpose. “Denying schools access to books like ours means the kids who are different do not get the support they need,” said Authors Guild members Sarah and Ian Hoffman, authors of Jacob’s New Dress, which has been banned by districts in Florida and North Carolina. “It also means the kids who are in the mainstream do not learn how to act when they run up against unexpected difference — which they will.”
The law has also put Florida educators and librarians at risk of community backlash for teaching and using books about gender, sexuality, and race. In many cases, the very real fear of backlash and non-compliance with the law is causing school administrators to engage in self-censorship. The vagueness of the law covers a great number of books simply for addressing topics of gender, sexuality, and race — and at times for no discernible reason at all. “Honestly, who would want Maximum Ride banned from schools? On what possible grounds? What do the majority of parents in Martin County think of this arbitrary and borderline absurd decision,” asked renowned author and Authors Guild member James Patterson in a tweet in response to Martin County removing the series from schools.
The Authors Guild firmly believes that censorship has no place in a free society. Books advance learning, help us understand each other, and nurture empathy for other experiences and viewpoints, and in doing so foment a stronger sense of community. Reading is crucial to children’s education and success in school, and it takes access to a wide variety of books for most children to find books they like. Books are also critical for teaching children to think for themselves and learn about the world they are growing up in. Reading develops lifelong critical thinking skills crucial to any citizen in a democracy, especially in these complex times. Children who read are better equipped to face adulthood.
We are proud of the Authors Guild members who have been targeted for their defiance of exclusionary and narrow-minded politics.
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