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Book bans cast a shadow over the creative industries in The United States

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Books are not just vessels of knowledge but also catalysts for growth, imagination, and empathy, allowing us to explore diverse narratives beyond our own experiences. However, a concerning trend is emerging in the United States, with book banning recently gaining traction in several states. Legislative efforts are targeting specific books in school curriculum, posing a threat not only to creative expression but also to our fundamental right to learn. For instance, in Texas, according to the Children's Defense Fund, In June of 2023, Greg Abbott signed HB 900 into law. This bill poses a threat to students' freedom by establishing a bureaucratic book rating system, heightening state surveillance of school libraries, and stripping away decision-making power regarding reading materials from parents and students. Although HB 900 was scheduled to take effect on September 1, 2023, it is currently on hold due to an ongoing lawsuit. This unjust practice not only stifles intellectual growth but also limits our exposure to diverse viewpoints, hindering our ability to engage critically with the world around us.

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According to the Free Speech Center, book banning is a type of censorship where books are removed from libraries, school reading lists, or bookstore shelves because individuals or organizations object to their content. Reasons for advocating bans vary widely, from concerns about “graphic violence, expresses disrespect for parents and family, is sexually explicit, exalts evil, lacks literary merit, is unsuitable for a particular age group, or includes offensive language.”

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Censoring books, especially those aimed at children, is a prevalent method of restricting literature in the United States. Advocates of bans worry that books may influence children in negative ways, sparking questions or discussions that parents, political groups, or religious organizations may find uncomfortable or inappropriate. Although book banning is not a new phenomenon, it remains a contentious issue. Even beloved classics like Maya Angelou's "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" faced attempts at censorship in the 1990s. This ongoing struggle underscores the importance of defending intellectual freedom and diverse perspectives in literature.

As the world grapples with the effects of a global pandemic and increasingly polarized political perspectives, the frequency of book bans has reached unprecedented levels. These bans typically target literature revolving around themes of diversity, equity, and inclusion, especially those addressing issues related to race, gender identity, and sexuality. As reported by WBHM, in Mississippi, data indicated that only 30 books were challenged in 2022. However, a new law, House Bill 1315, passed in 2023, has made it more challenging for libraries to offer a wide range of items digitally, whether they've been challenged or not.

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Teachers College at Columbia University highlights Professor of Education Leadership Sonya Douglass’s perspective that book banning delves deeper than what is commonly perceived.

“It's a battle over the soul of the country in many ways; it's about what we teach young people about our country, what we determine to be the truth, and what we believe should be included in the curriculum they're receiving. There's a lot at stake there.” 

As further noted by TC, works addressing topics like police brutality and the history of slavery in the United States have been removed from schools, directly impacting black students and impeding their access to a fair education. Unfortunately, this is yet another instance where black communities have been let down by the public education system in numerous ways. Douglas emphasizes that children need to confront these uncomfortable truths in an educational setting. Understanding this history is essential, as it allows us to recognize that racism and bigotry have long been challenges in American society. By acknowledging these origins, we can take the necessary steps to address and combat these issues effectively.


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In the realm of legislation, prior rulings concerning book censorship have been left relatively open to interpretation, leading to what can seem particularly murky when school boards look to these rulings for guidance. In Island Trees Union Free School District v. Pico (1982), the Supreme Court ruled that a school board cannot remove books simply because they disagree with the ideas contained within them. However, Britannica notes that the court also established an exception for the removal of library books deemed "pervasively vulgar" or "educationally unsuitable." So, as stated by TC, this lack of explicit guidance often leads school boards to prioritize "community values" over access to information when making decisions about book removal.

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Texas and Florida are at the forefront of book banning with other states like Missouri and Utah following suit. According to AAA State of Play, during the fall semester of 2022, Utah banned 109 books, while Missouri banned 315. Many of the banned books address topics such as race, gender identity, and sexual orientation. If you are interested in knowing how to help stop book bans, PEN America highlights several strategies. These include individuals using their voices to speak up against censorship and urging Congress to safeguard the freedom to learn, express opinions, and access diverse literature.

But what about the creative industries?

Book bans and challenges significantly impact the creative industries in multiple ways. The Authors Guild highlights that such censorship not only hampers the freedom to read and publish but also undermines the livelihoods of professional writers. As advocates for writers across various genres, including fiction, nonfiction, poetry, translation, and journalism, the Authors Guild stresses the importance of unrestricted creative expression and the ability to earn a living from it. “Book banning, whether challenged by the right or the left, interferes with those rights, not only by suppressing free speech and freedom of expression but by making it harder for authors to sell copies of their work.” As stated by PEN America they identify a concerning trend with nearly 100 pending bills seeking to restrict the teaching of critical race theory and discussions on racism and sexism in K-12 education. These legislative efforts directly lead to book bans by limiting the content available to educators.

A perspective from an author 

Kristin Nilsen, a prominent figure in the literary community, brings a wealth of experience from her roles as a children's librarian, bookseller, and storyteller. Currently based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, she has recently launched a book tailored for young readers.  Given her extensive experience in the industry, she shared her perspectives on the alarming trend of book bans occurring nationwide and the potential strategies to address them.

“The efforts made by publishers to amplify diverse voices, inspired by movements like #OwnVoices in literature are now under threat. Almost all the targeted books, if not every single one, represent BIPOC or LGBTQ+ authors, and hidden behind the concerns of the people wanting to ban books lies a darker agenda to silence these marginalized voices. While past book challenges may have stemmed from genuine concerns for children's education, it is clear that this current movement is solely focused on silencing diverse voices.” 

As CCI students, what proactive steps can we take to prevent these book bans from becoming legislation?

“You have a few options. Simply expressing gratitude to your teachers and librarians can show them that they have allies. In reality, only a small percentage of the population supports book banning, while a staggering amount of people oppose it. So when you take a moment to thank them for their work, especially in the face of today's challenges with book bans, it can truly uplift them. Letting them know that you support their efforts can boost their morale and motivation to persevere.

The groups behind the book banning movement have strategically sought out individuals who support book banning to run for offices responsible for appointing library board members. So what can you do? Consider running for local offices such as mayor or city council. These positions wield significant influence as they support school boards, teachers, and librarians. By holding these offices, you can ensure that those who understand the importance of intellectual freedom are in power. Now is the moment for us citizens to stand up and take notice at this crucial level and vote for officials who uphold these values.

Another pivotal action to take is to actively engage with challenged books. Read them, discuss them with friends, and leave reviews on platforms like Amazon. By taking these steps, you not only support authors and publishers but also counteract the financial repercussions of books being banned from certain schools.”

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In February of this year, The Wall Street Journal released a podcast featuring Skip Dye, an executive at Penguin Random House, one of the world's largest book publishing companies. During the podcast, he offered valuable insights into the nationwide occurrence of book bans.

“We have seen a decline in sales. We've seen a decline in our interests in some of our authors doing appearances at schools and libraries for fear of retaliation. So, it has been impactful on authors. The impact, as I see it, is long ranging.” -Skip Dye

For further insights into this podcast and the consequences of book bans nationwide, click here.

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It's not just a government issue; it's also a matter of nurturing creativity. In the United States, there's a belief that everyone should have the freedom to share their stories and that all content has an equal opportunity to be published. This belief suggests that individuals have the right and opportunity to expand their intellect through exposure to diverse perspectives. However, these bans and censorship efforts directly contradict this principle. So, what is the truth, and how can the creative industries navigate this challenge? We'd love to hear from you on our Instagram @chapman_cci! Thanks for reading and we hope to hear from you soon. 

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