So, What Are Agents Seeing in the Era of Book Bans?: Book Censorship News, April 21, 2023

Kelly Jensen


Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She's the editor/author of (DON'T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

Remember that survey of literary agents put together a month ago to see what the reality is in publishing right now related to book bans? It was widely shared across social media, as well as through several other online literary outlets. Today, let’s look at what was said.









Six agents responded to the survey. Of the six, one was an agent representing conservative books who said any “fair” reporting would report on how hard it is to get conservative voices published (when you can point me to the conservative books being banned, burned, and legislated against across the U.S. by rich, powerful groups denying access to young people, I’ll give half a shit about this grievance).

It’s not even worth reporting the results of the survey because I think the lack of response tells more than anything else.

There has been virtually no response from publishers about the ongoing rise of book bans — save for when publishers are electing to erase history and indeed, the word “racism” from books to make them more palatable — so it should come as little surprise, I suppose, that agents don’t have much to say, either.

What happens to those of us who write and publish, those of us who care about books and reading and the First Amendment, and those of us who fall anywhere in the middle of those two categories, don’t even have our own teams speaking up or out? Pushing back? Asking questions? Sharing insights?

It further fuels book bans.

When — and it’s when not if — everyone with the power (read: money, size, connections) to do things and change things give up, the slippery slop of our loss of First Amendment Rights will no longer be a slope.

There will be no rights at all.

I wish I could say I were surprised, but I’m not. It’s a lot easier to stay silent than it is to talk.

Too bad that isn’t an option for queer kids, for Black kids, for Brown kids, and for every other marginalized kid who is having their education and their access to information, entertainment, and mirrors and windows into the world around them. They can’t even look for the helpers because those who could be helpers are choosing to say little, if they’re saying anything at all.

But they’re probably not surprised, either. They go to school wondering if that will be the day they’re killed by an AR-15 while doing fascist-approved math curriculum.

Book Censorship News: April 21, 2023

Let me reiterate that the media is complicit in book bans, thanks to their insistence on paywalling information about the challenges and bans. Journalists should be ashamed of their publications doing this, since it’s in direct ethical violation of the First Amendment — including the free press.

Don’t get me started on the papers still not questioning “BookLooks” as a “source” for “book reviews.”

The media is embarrassing right now on all of this.

  • Ballston Spa Central School District (NY) is anticipated to keep Gender Queer on high school library shelves after complaints came in for it. Same story, new school.
  • I had not realized how many books were being challenged right now at Arlington Public Library (TX). The city manager is defending the director and team behind keeping the titles under fire on shelves — save two removed for “other reasons.” I did some deep reporting on this library in October.
  • “During the same work session, Commissioner James Satcher suggested the board should end the county library’s affiliation with the American Library Association (ALA). Satcher called the organization, ‘woke.'” Where’s the upside down smile emoji when you need it? (Manatee County, Florida).
  • Parents will need to give permission for students to borrow Looking for Alaska at the Belding School District library (MI).
  • “If those books are not being pulled in a timely manner, then board members have to make sure this stuff is cleaned up off the shelves, she said, saying that there still is ‘smut’ and ‘porn’ on those shelves, and she was going to make sure those books were removed.” This is from the mouth of a school board member in Hernando County (FL). Unhinged.
  • The Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District Trustees (CA) want to be the ones who decide what books get into the school libraries. Did you know school district trustees are degreed and experienced in literacy and library practices because I didn’t realize it myself, despite having worked in libraries. Didn’t learn about it in library school, either. This is gross overstepping of the role of the school board.
  • Fayetteville School District (AR) has banned Sex Is A Funny Word and Push. Several other titles are still under review.
  • Let’s Talk About It was removed from Leavitt Area High School (ME).
  • “Some library board members, including a Ouachita Parish Police Jury member, sought to ban the books from the library system, drawing a warning from Assistant District Attorney Jay Mitchell of the 4th Judicial District, according to the meeting’s approved minutes.” Oh, you’re saying book bans weren’t covered by the news, then? That silent censorship is a problem? Indeed it is. Two books were quietly pulled from Ouachita Parish Public Library (LA) in January.
  • The Deckerville Public Library in Michigan heard complaints over Gender Queer. This story is pretty solid, as it lays out those complaints, none of which came before the meeting or through official forms. You’ll see some themes. But tell me again about the public library, etc.
  • A right-wing Christian nationalist group in North Carolina is threatening to sue the Burke County School District if they don’t remove books from their list of “pornographic” titles. That’s neat.
  • Why did a single book review committee for one book require 22 perspectives? This is absolute nonsense. The good news, I guess, is that Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian will remain available for middle and high school students in Greeley Schools (CO).
  • The book banners in Conway, Arkansas, could use new hobbies. You complained and were told no. Let it go — you’re the ones sexualizing the kids with this obsession.
  • Here’s a story I did not see until this moment: a teacher in Heyworth Schools (IL) involuntarily left her position when people were complaining about her having “inappropriate books” in her classroom library. The book? This Book Is Gay. You know why else the book banners were mad? She suggested a Netflix documentary that exposes the problems of the porn industry as optional viewing for an assignment.
  • I’m paywalled, but Forsyth County Schools (GA) voted to retain Endlessly Ever After following their updated policy procedures went into effect. This is what policies do — ensure books stay on shelves.
  • In the UK, a new survey shows that ONE-THIRD of librarians have been asked to remove or censor collection material.
  • Macon County Library (NC), which had citizens demanding they get out of their library consortium because people could borrow “inappropriate” books — read: queer — from other libraries, will remain in the Fontana System.
  • “Volusia County council members have taken the first step toward what at least one of them hopes is giving the council power to monitor children’s books in the public library system and remove or restrict controversial titles from the shelves.” Remember when Stephen King said the kids could get the books at the public library? Guess not, given that Volusia County Schools (FL) also consider the Moms for Liberty book review site one worth “investing” in.