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New report finds a coordinated rise in attempted book bans

<em>The Bluest Eye, The Hate U Give</em> and <em>Queer, There and Everywhere</em> are among the books that have faced bans around the country.
Meghan Collins Sullivan
The Bluest Eye, The Hate U Give and Queer, There and Everywhere are among the books that have faced bans around the country.

Throughout the 2021-22 school year, more than 1,600 book titles were banned, according to a new report by the group PEN America, which advocates for freedom of expression.

According to the report, the surge in book bans is a result of a network of local political and advocacy groups targeting books with LGBTQ+ characters and storylines, and books involving characters of color.

"While we think of book bans as the work of individual concerned citizens, our report demonstrates that today's wave of bans represents a coordinated campaign to banish books being waged by sophisticated, ideological and well-resourced advocacy organizations," said Suzanne Nossel, chief executive officer of PEN America.

In April, officials in Madison County, Mississippi placed more than 20 books under "restricted circulation." These books included Queer, There, & Everywhere by Sarah Prager, The Hate U Give By Angie Thomas, and The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. This came after pressure from the activist group Mass Resistance, listed by the SPLC as anti-LGBTQ.

Similar stories, cited in the report, are happening throughout the country. According to the report, Texas ranked first among states with the most bans. PEN America describes a book ban as "any action taken against a book based on its content," as a result of challenges coming from parents, community groups, or politicians.

PEN America has identified at least 50 groups working at local, state and national levels advocating for books to be removed from school curriculums and school library shelves. According to the report, this is a relatively recent occurrence. Many of the groups, such as Moms for Liberty, began in 2021.

The American Library Association also put out a report late last week that indicates challenges to books continue to rise. Based on their records, 1,651 unique titles were targeted between January and August this year — in 681 attempts to ban or restrict library resources. The ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom counted 729 challenges to library, school, and university materials in all of 2021 — which rose four fold from the prior year.

The ALA also points to more conservative political groups pushing to ban books in schools and libraries across the country. According to the ALA report, the actions from these groups are mostly focused on YA books involving race, gender, and sexual identity — echoing the findings from the PEN America study.

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Andrew Limbong is a reporter for NPR's Arts Desk, where he does pieces on anything remotely related to arts or culture, from streamers looking for mental health on Twitch to Britney Spears' fight over her conservatorship. He's also covered the near collapse of the live music industry during the coronavirus pandemic. He's the host of NPR's Book of the Day podcast and a frequent host on Life Kit.