Booksellers Responding to Recent Challenges to Books by Black Authors
- By Emily Behnke
Book challenges across the United States are targeting Black authors as well as LGBTQIA2S+ authors and people at the intersection of those identities. The most recent wave of challenges is intensified by deliberate political organization, with groups seeking legislation that prohibits the teaching of books dealing with race, gender, and sexuality, among other topics.
Bookselling This Week talked with Donna Wells, children and teens department manager at Politics and Prose Bookstore in Washington, DC, and Brein Lopez, general manager at Children’s Book World in Los Angeles, California, about how independent bookstores can support schools and libraries in advocating against the censorship of marginalized communities.
While February is Black History Month, it’s important to elevate stories that highlight Black culture and Black history year-round. Wells noted that it’s important for publishers to invest more in Black authors, too.
“New stories should not be treated as fast fashion only for Black History Month,” Wells added. “We should also ask that more established publishers and authors make space for new and more diverse stories while continuing to advocate for and elevate stories targeted in book bans.”
Children’s Book World, Lopez said, is a store with a mission to ensure that every child sees themselves represented in the books carried. With that mission in mind, his store opens up its virtual book talks to connect with parents, librarians, and educators who may be facing challenges in their schools.
“We believe the more access these communities have to the brilliant voices of these authors and their ideas, the more we can empower these communities to fight back,” he said, noting that his store’s community has responded positively. “[Customers] have purchased banned titles to send to communities that are facing the challenges, and they have donated to our nonprofit, Readers and Writers Rock!, whose mission is providing books and book talks by Black and BIPOC authors to underserved student populations.”
Recently, Children’s Book World donated copies of Defiant: Growing Up In the Jim Crow South by Wade Hudson to multiple schools, with the author also visiting schools to speak with students about his life and books.
Lopez shared some other actionable ideas for the book industry at large to consider:
- Bookstores, particularly in the states and regions where these banning laws occur, can organize virtual community book talks with banned authors about their books. Make these talks shareable, so it can be used by educators and librarians to showcase the positive messages of these books.
- Publishers need to help bookstores with access to authors, instructional materials, and verified responsive reactions to the banning of their authors’ books.
- ABA and regional associations need to respond beyond performative messaging with a clear, defined statement against these attempts to scapegoat Black, BIPOC, and LGBTQIA2S+ authors for political purposes. They could also coordinate shareable marketing materials and coordinated verbiage.
Need more information? Here are some resources from ABA:
- American Booksellers for Free Expression (ABFE) resources
- Banned Books Week
- *NEW!* An asset to share with customers about book challenges
And, if you’re looking to stock up on any new releases by Black authors, Wells recommended some of her favorites:
- Freewater by Amina Luqman-Dawson
- Freedom! The Story of the Black Panther Party by Jetta Grace Martin, Joshua Bloom, and Waldo E. Martin Jr.
- And We Rise by Erica Martin
- The Legend of Gravity: A Basketball Tale by Charly Palmer
- Star Child by Ibi Zoboi
Lopez also shared some of his favorite banned books:
- The New Kid by Jerry Craft
- Front Desk by Kelly Yang