An Open Letter to Stephen King: Book Censorship News, January 27, 2023
Dear Stephen King:
Last week, you had a tweet take off. I’ve seen it everywhere, including on several giant Facebook pages, Instagram pages, even on TikTok. The tweet, about book banning, is nice and sexy, attempting to break down the problem in under 280 characters. And you know, it was successful!
It got a lot of attention from your 7 million followers, as well as so many big names.
But, Stephen, this tweet, as thoughtful as I think you mean it to be, has done a lot of damage for the cause of anti-censorship in today’s world.
According to PEN’s last report, the numbers suggest that through June 2022, over 4 million students were impacted by book bans in their schools. We know now that, eight months later, this number is even higher. It might be as high as your follower count on Twitter. As of right now, there has been no count on how many individuals have been impacted by book bans at their local libraries or by legislature across the country that limits the kinds of books made available in any public library. Indeed, there are bills being proposed and passed which would criminalize librarians and educators who dare to have certain books on their shelves, whether they are in public or school libraries.
Do you know what that means? It means that kids cannot simply “haul [their] ass to the newest bookstore or library ASAP.” Especially because these right-wing bigots are also trying to stop the sale of many books in bookstores (remember last year, when they tried to do that in Virginia Beach with Gender Queer? That is not a lone incident).
I suspect if you paused for a second before hitting send, you’d also consider the financial privilege in suggesting kids simply go buy the book they want. How do you suppose they’ll get there? What if they do not have a bookstore anywhere near them? Remember, most kids don’t have credit cards, so they’re not hopping online to buy these books.
So now what? How do you suppose these kids haul their asses to the nearest public library or bookstore when their public library has been told what materials can be collected and they have no means to purchase a book? They just lose out, right?
Stephen, that…is the point of this. THAT is the point. You made the point for the folks doing these book bans while also feeding them the very line they use in their arguments against having these books in school libraries. You literally gave them back their talking point as to why they are banning books, doing irrevocable damage to the most marginalized for whom those of us doing this anti-censorship work have been fighting to protect. Do you recognize that you used your platform to do more harm than good? For what? To go viral and make it sound like an easy solution to the real problems being faced by people whose names you’ll never know?
Moreover, here’s another thing to realize: the kids know.
The kids know why these books are “dangerous.”
These books are about them: Black, Brown, Queer. They know they are seen as humans to be disappeared, and their books being pulled and made illegal is part of the process of eradicating them, as complex, multidimensional, beautiful people. They don’t need to “haul ass” to the bookstore or public library to know this. They’re listening to grown ups getting their 15 minutes of social media fame at school board meetings talking about how educators are “grooming” young people, “indoctrinating’ them with these “CRT” and “comprehensive sexuality education” books.
Kids are now not going to the library anymore. Libraries are no longer ordering books. This little statistic should send chills: for every school library with a book challenge, they were 55% less likely to order LGBTQ+ books the following year.
Stephen, you want to know what would have been a better use of your platform? That would actually help change the course of what we’ve been fighting now for 18 months (yes, did you know this all really started in mid-2021? Because WE do)? Telling your followers you were going to show up to the next school board meeting to talk about why queer books and books by and about people of color matter. Even if 1000 followers of your 7,000,000 took that to heart and went to their local school board meeting or sent their school boards a letter about why books matter, that would have done more actual good than suggesting kids solve the problem (hey, here’s a template!).
Telling them how to fight the battle, with tools and resources that so many of us with actual expertise in doing this — with knowledge of the current battlefield — have been tirelessly creating.
But instead, you chose to do more damage, offering nothing but a little quippy tweet that offers absolutely no tools, no insight, and no thought about why it is these kids (again, THE most marginalized ones, without time, money, or privileges afforded to folks like you who are straight, white, cis men) might not simply be able to “haul ass” to get those books and discover why baddies are banning them.
Those kids…they know.
Give them some damn credit.
You created a lot of hurt. I hope you spend some time considering how you can help the cause, rather than feed the rallying cries of the side trying to eradicate anyone without your level of privilege.
And, Stephen, if I may: this isn’t the first time you’ve shown your privilege with a tweet. It won’t be the last. But it is certainly worth pausing a moment to consider whether what you’re going to say would be of value and showcases that you’ve done some work on the topic OR whether it’s better not to share that thought and instead dig into and amplify the work of others who have.
I’m afraid you told millions of kids you’re not their “old buddy.” Certainly teachers and librarians who have a target on their backs aren’t happy with your comment, knowing that they’re putting their lives and livelihoods on the line every day (I mean, there are states where entire snitch lines are set up, but do go on about “hauling ass” to the library).
We need accomplices putting in the time, effort, sweat, and tears to dismantle this fascist agenda, not keyboard allies.
Book Censorship News: January 27, 2023
- “School board trustees in McKinney have unanimously voted to change its book policy, a move they say makes it easier for books to be reviewed. Instead of evaluators needing to read an entire book they may now read only passages under question.” Great job, McKinney Independent School District (Texas). Now you don’t even need to pass the Miller Test to have a book removed.
- Fremont Public Schools (Nebraska) stopped giving kids a book they got from a grant. The book is about inclusivity, of course.
- Sheboygan, Wisconsin, schools had three books removed from selves by the principal. Two other books were being targeted, too.
- “Over two days, officials in the Lee’s Summit School District [Missouri] received more than 200 complaints targeting close to 60 books in school libraries, district officials told us Friday.” Coordinated much?
- This is a must-read piece on how Rockwood school district parents (Missouri) managed to kill three diversity-focused programs in the schools. (Paywalled? Try this link — fascism is allowed to breed because information is behind a paywall while lies are free).
- A white father joining the crusade to remove Gender Queer from a local school and he’s taking up the mantle to review everything in the school library (Rhode Island).
- Central Bucks County Schools (Pennsylvania) are working with a religious law firm to create their bigotry policies. Separation. Of. Church. And. State.
- Almost two dozen books were removed from Madison County Public Schools (Virginia) this week after the district implemented new book guidelines. All the titles are in the story, but here’s the quick list:
- It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover will be pulled from Beaufort County schools (South Carolina).
- Here is a stellar example of how breaking a story about censorship can lead to actual change when activists do the work. This story published early this week with the lede: “Teachers in Manatee County, Florida, are being told to make their classroom libraries — and any other ‘unvetted’ book — inaccessible to students, or risk felony prosecution.” Tuesday, the decision was reversed and Manatee County students DO have access to classroom libraries.
- 24 books are under review at Catawba County schools (North Carolina). Did you know religious beliefs are under attack? I guess that whole “separation of church and state” thing is to be ignored.
- Shocker: there are people running for the Nixa School Board (Missouri) who want to ban books. This school has been a major player in the falsely labeled “culture wars.”
- “Mirna Eads, Campbell County Mom’s for Liberty chairperson, expressed concern about books available to students on subjects she said were inappropriate. She was specifically concerned with ‘Scythe’ by Neal Schusterman, which she said was ‘about teens learning to kill people they perceived as having no purpose in society.'” Don’t worry — the next line was about how this new group in the county doesn’t believe in banning books. This is Connor High School in Kentucky.
- Six books are under fire at Glen Ridge Public Library (New Jersey). They are, of course, the usual suspects bigots hate. Psst: Stephen King, this is what we’re trying to explain.
- And here, too! Hayden Public Library (Idaho) is having its board meetings flooded with folks who want to pull books they don’t like from shelves.
- Me and Earl and The Dying Girl is being banned from Willard School District (Missouri).
- A right-wing conservative PAC had its entire slate of school board candidates win in Brandywine, Michigan, and now they’re aiming squarely at the library.
- “Pinellas County high school students no longer will have access to Toni Morrison’s first book ‘The Bluest Eye’ in their classrooms or libraries.” A classic is banned in a Florida school district.
- Writing this roundup in advance of Thursday evening school boards means having the story of an upcoming book ban vote, but not the decision. This week, MSAD 52 (Maine) will determine whether or not Gender Queer will remain on shelves.
- This book review process in Frederick County, Maryland, which has 35 members on its committee and had some 1,000 apply, is an absolute clusterfuck.
- “If your child is so afraid to be open and honest about what they are reading, that says more about your relationship than the book they have chosen.” Boom.
- Though it seems like a “compromise” to create these forms that parents can use to restrict their students’ access to library material, these are going to bring lawsuits against educators and librarians. The School District of Lee County (Florida) is working to develop some pretty complex compromises here.
- Waterloo Public Schools in Ontario are getting infiltrated by parents who’ve been drinking their neighbor’s bigot kool-aid.
- “‘The playbook seems to be that if I can’t convince you of my point of view, I’ll resort to name calling,’ Heikka said, prior to reading several emails from board members who received threats. ‘Once you reduce someone to something as horrific as a “pervert” or a ‘groomer,” the next step becomes very easy and it incites some to resort to physical threats.'” You got that right (Milan Schools, Michigan).
- Good news is that advocates for the First Amendment are showing up in Forsyth County, Georgia, school board meetings.
- Beyond Magenta and Fun Home are being challenged at Fallbrook Union High School District in California.
- “During the meeting, retiring library director Rita Ennen said newly implemented parental controls are now active at Dickinson Area Public Library [North Dakota]. The safeguard allows parents to put a block on their minor children’s library cards, making parental permission necessary for children to check out any library materials.” Minors means up to 18, so I guess the public library isn’t where the kids can get materials they may want to read.
- The small town of Kiel, Wisconsin, was center to several powerful stories last year including trans students, trans rights, book bans, and more. Here’s an update on how it’s going.
- As of writing, there has not been an update on whether or not The Truth About Alice will be banned from Flagler County Schools (Florida). Next month, they’ll decide the fate of The Black Flamingo.
- “Local parents are pushing back against a letter signed by ACLU Massachusetts asking schools not to ban books.” No, really. Parents are pushing back against the American Civil Liberties Union about actual constitutional rights.
- Red, White, and Royal Blue will remain available to students in Willis Independent School District (Texas).
- Hamilton East Public Library (Indiana) met Thursday night to determine whether or not they can keep Why? by Taye Diggs in the library.
- “Get the book from the bookstore!” might be an ill-informed comment at best, but what happens when the bookstore is no longer there? In Riverside, California, days after hosting a Drag Queen Story Event, Cellar Door Books got an eviction notice and are now looking for a new space.
- Sartell St. Stephen School District (Minnesota) removed the book Him by Sarina Bowen from library shelves. Get a load of the name of the group who made it happen.
- Volusia County School Board (Florida) is trying to determine what books would and would not be allowed on shelves. The list of titles currently pulled while awaiting such a policy is not small. Psst: censorship.
- Sex Is A Funny Word will remain on shelves at the Keene Public Library (Nebraska). The person who filed the complaint is pretty clear on her agenda: “Aside from ‘Sex is a Funny Word,’ Murray and her daughter also decried the presence of four LGBTQ+-themed books in the library, although she did not file a complaint seeking the removal of those books. In subsequent interviews, Murray said she and others have discovered a total of 86 LGBTQ+-themed books in the library that she does not believe should be available.”
- Great work, Let Utah Read, in hosting an event at the capitol. More of this, please!
- These people vote and run for school board. That’s all.
- Finally, the new Polk County (Florida) school libraries can have books on shelves. Though it isn’t without the ignorance we’ve seen from “activists”: “The Polk County School Board will purchase 37,000 books for new school libraries, including 14 books identified by conservative groups as containing topics inappropriate for school-aged children, including ‘Marxist critical race theory’ and ‘pornographic’ content.”
Also In This Story Stream
- Are Literary Agents Seeing Changes in Publishing with Increased Book Bans (A Survey): Book Censorship News, March 24, 2023
- I Asked ChatGPT Why Books Should Be Banned: Book Censorship News, March 17, 2023
- Anti-Censorship Groups Across the US: Book Censorship News, March 10, 2023
- Giving Up Is Not an Option: Book Censorship News, March 3, 2023
- More Politicians Need To Address Book Bans: Book Censorship News, February 24, 2023
- How to Talk About Book Bans With Friends, Library Patrons, and More: Book Censorship News, February 17, 2023