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As book bans mount, literary stars are championing libraries and literacy

Published 19th September 2022
The Rose Main Reading Room at the New York Public Library.
Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images
As book bans mount, literary stars are championing libraries and literacy
Written by AJ Willingham, CNN
Readers and educators across America are observing Banned Books Week by exploring restricted books and supporting their authors -- whether they are newly added to the ever-growing list of challenged works, or classics that have drawn controversy for decades.
The annual event has become increasingly important for the literary community as groups at the national, state and local levels continue to levy historic numbers of restrictions and challenges, especially against books with racial and LGBTQ+ themes.
As concern grows, more A-list authors and advocates are using their platforms to champion libraries and literacy, and to warn against what happens when literary horizons are narrowed.

LeVar Burton: 'Read the books they're banning. That's where the good stuff is'

LeVar Burton has spoken out against the push to ban books.
LeVar Burton has spoken out against the push to ban books. Credit: Greg Doherty/The Recording Academy/Getty Images
Literacy groups are using the words of iconic "Reading Rainbow" host and children's author LeVar Burton as a banned books rallying cry. In June, Burton spoke forcefully against book bans during an appearance on "The View."
"I'll be absolutely candid and honest, it's embarrassing that we are banning books in this country, in this culture, in this day and age," he told "The View" hosts. "We have this aversion in this country to knowing about our past, and anything unpleasant we don't want to deal with. This is not going away. Nothing goes away, especially if you ignore it. So read the books they're banning. That's where the good stuff is. If they don't want you to read it, there's a reason why."
He brought the same message to a recent appearance at Rose City Comic Con in Portland, Oregon, mentioning critical race theory, an oft-misunderstood education philosophy that has been cited amid some of the latest waves of restrictions.
"You should be ashamed of yourself," he said of people who ban books. "For not respecting your children enough to understand basic human values."

Neil Gaiman: 'Never apologise to me for suggesting people read my books in libraries'

Sci-fi and fantasy author Neil Gaiman, whose work often lands on banned book lists, regularly uses his social media to promote literacy programs and libraries. When one fan shared that some of Gaiman's graphic novels were available on a library streaming platform, but apologized for any royalties Gaiman may miss out on, Gaiman replied by saying people should "never apologise to me for suggesting people read my books in libraries or through libraries."
Gaimain was also very vocal earlier this year after a Tennessee school board restricted the use of "Maus," a Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust, written by Art Spiegelman.
"There's only one kind of people who would vote to ban Maus, whatever they are calling themselves these days," he wrote.

Nora Roberts: 'Libraries are treasures, opening the door to books and stories for all'

Author Nora Roberts recently donated $50,000 to a Michigan library that was defunded for refusing to remove books with LGBTQ themes.
Author Nora Roberts recently donated $50,000 to a Michigan library that was defunded for refusing to remove books with LGBTQ themes. Credit: Rob Carr/AP
Romance queen Nora Roberts recently shocked the Patmos Library in Jamestown Township, Michigan with a $50,000 donation. The library was defunded in August after it refused to remove books with LGBTQ+ themes despite months of pressure from local conservative groups. Those groups launched a campaign to vote against a budgetary measure that provides the library with taxpayer funding. The donation from Roberts, along with thousands of other donations from around the country and some from abroad, will allow the library to keep operating.
"It's an honor for me to stand up for the Patmos Library and its staff," Roberts said in a statement to Bridge Michigan.
"Libraries are treasures, opening the door to books and stories for all. Librarians, to me, are the guardians of those stories," she said in the emailed statement. "I find the idea of librarians -- who offer community services beyond reading -- facing threats and attacks, a community library facing defunding both appalling and sad."

John Green: 'Please don't ban my books in my hometown'

Young adult author John Green had to make a very unique plea after a member of a conservative parents' group in Orlando suggested removing Green's book "Looking for Alaska" from public school libraries in Orange County. The group, "Moms for Liberty," claims the book, which features a two-page sex scene, encourages minors to have sex.
"What they're trying to do is restrict the liberty of other people's kids to read what librarians and teachers deem appropriate for those other people's kids to read," Green said in a TikTok video responding to the news. "Also -- I mean of course I might be wrong, books belong to their readers — but I just don't think 'Looking for Alaska' is pornography. And I think reading it that way is a little weird."
"Please don't ban my books in my hometown," he concluded. "It's really upsetting for my mom."

Hari Kunzru: We must 'stay awake and use our words to shape the world'

Writers gather to read selected works of British author Salman Rushdie at the New York Public Library in New York City in August.
Writers gather to read selected works of British author Salman Rushdie at the New York Public Library in New York City in August. Credit: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images
Acclaimed British novelist Hari Kunzru was one of several prominent authors who paid tribute to author Salman Rushdie after Rushdie was injured in a knife attack in August.
Kunzru and others gathered at the New York Public Library to read excerpts from Rushdie's work and discuss the importance of free speech, which Rushdie has spent his career defending.
"Salman once wrote that the role of the writer is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it from going to sleep," Kunzru said during the event. "And that's why we're here, because we owe it to him to stay awake and to use our words to shape the world."
The event was organized by Rushdie's publisher and PEN America, a literary nonprofit that tracks the restriction of free speech through book bans and challenges.
"We need to fight with vigor as if all our freedoms depended on it -- because they do," Suzanne Nossel, chief executive officer of PEN America, said at the event.
"Not even a blade to the throat could still the voice of Salman Rushdie," she said.
The 40th annual Banned Books Week runs from September 18 to September 24.