Stories change our hearts, expand our worlds, and challenge what was. Storytellers have always threatened those in power, but today the stakes are dire, as book bans and attacks on public libraries increase across the United States. These authors of some of the most banned books in America are on the front lines.
Jacqueline Woodson is the author of nearly 40 chapter books, picture books, and novels for young and adult readers. Her 2018 illustrated exploration of diversity in schools, The Day You Begin, and her 2014 YA memoir in verse about growing up in the 1960s and ’70s, Brown Girl Dreaming, are just some of her titles that have been subject to bans in Texas and Florida.
“No one has ever been able to take away our folks’ joy. I find talking about the ridiculousness of the bans sometimes brings laughter, in the ways our people have learned to laugh to keep from crying. We do what we need to do: we resist, we inform, we amplify, we write.”
Ta-Nehisi Coates is the author of Between the World and Me, a letter to his son on the experience and history of being Black in America. Since its publication in 2015, the book has been subject to bans or attempted bans in Texas, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina, among other states.
“When I heard my book was banned, I felt hopeful? Proud? The people doing this banning are not great people. To resort to such a crude tool shows how very afraid and threatened they are. To quote the late, great June Jordan, ‘I must become a menace to my enemies.’”
Nikole Hannah-Jones is the creator of The 1619 Project, which began as a groundbreaking series of articles for The New York Times Magazine that asked readers to rethink the origins of the American Revolution and Black people’s contributions to U.S. history. Since its publication in book form in 2021, The 1619 Project has been subject to bans and attempted bans in at least 14 states.
“Finding joy in the midst of these book bans is easy because, although the proliferation of these bans reflects a dangerous suppressive and antidemocratic surge across our country, communities and particularly young people are fighting back, are demanding a freedom to read and learn and be uncomfortable.”
Mike Curato’s 2020 graphic novel Flamer is one of the most banned books of the past year. A semi-autobiographical story about a boy bullied for being gay at Boy Scout camp, the book has been targeted in Missouri, Florida, and Utah. In 2022, a school police officer in Katy, Texas, temporarily removed the book after a parent filed a criminal complaint, despite the fact that a review board had already deemed the book suitable for high school students.
“I made Flamer to help kids who feel alienated, isolated, and desperate, and book banners want to take that help away. This is all being done in the name of ‘protecting the children,’ but nothing could be further from the truth. … I find solace in creating new work.”
Amanda Gorman is the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history, following her historic address at President Biden’s 2021 inauguration, where she read her work “The Hill We Climb.” A book version of it was targeted by a parent in Miami Lakes, Florida, this past March, though the parent’s written complaint claimed the poem had been written by Oprah Winfrey.
“I remind myself of the response of children who still have access to my poetry. I’m eternally inspired by the poems they write and what they’ve been able to create. I have no doubt the next generation of great literary voices is well on its way.”
Kyle Lukoff is the author of 13 children’s books, including When Aidan Became a Brother and Call Me Max. They often feature trans children and have been banned in Texas, Indiana, Virginia, and Florida. In Murray City, Utah, after a child brought Call Me Max to story time in 2021, the school district suspended a program introducing inclusive literature to children.
“I have never read a book that I was not supposed to. My parents didn’t place any restrictions on my reading, and I believe that the experience of not understanding something is just another kind of learning. If I believed that there were books that someone ‘wasn’t supposed to read,’ I would be a fundamentally different person.”
Art Spiegelman is a renowned comic artist. His graphic novel Maus, which explores his parents’ experiences as Holocaust survivors, has been taught in classrooms across the country since its publication in 1986. It has also frequently been the subject of bans, notably recently in January 2022, when the McMinn County school board in Tennessee removed the novel from its eighth-grade curriculum.
“I feel the tendencies brought up by this frantic need to control children’s thoughts in ways that seem reprehensible to me, and are indeed an echo of the book burnings of the 1930s in Germany, are unfortunate.”
George M. Johnson is the author of the best-selling memoir-manifesto All Boys Aren’t Blue, a recollection of their life as a Black, queer youth. During the 2021–2022 school year, it was banned in no fewer than 29 school districts. According to the American Library Association, it was also the second-most-challenged book that year.
“When I heard my book was banned, I laughed. I understood the severity of it, but I just laughed. How dare you ban my story? One thing it has done is activated me in this fight for education and our future. Banning the book won’t ban the story—and trust that the story will be told.”