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Banned books tour stops in Austin to educate and spread awareness about censorship

A woman holds a button that reads "I Read Banned Books"
Deborah Cannon
The African American Policy Forum and The New Republic passed out books and other materials during its Banned Books Tour at Reverie Books in Austin last week.

More than 1,000 requests were made to ban books in Texas in the first eight months of 2023, according to the American Library Association. Many of the books featured characters of color and LGBTQ+ themes.

“A lot of kids in public K-12, these are their stories that they’re trying to ban. These are stories of their parents, people that look like them in their communities," said Heather Malveaux, campaign manager for African American Policy Forum, a social justice think tank. "When you take that away from them, you take away their ability to see themselves in the things that they read."

African American Policy Forum stopped at Reverie Books in Austin as part of a Banned Books Tour with the progressive magazine The New Republic. The two groups have been visiting bookstores and libraries this month in an effort to educate communities about book bans. 

Multiple tables were set up at the event Thursday with both banned and unbanned books for people to take. Works like Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, and Audre Lorde's Sister Outsider were just a few among the many books being promoted.

Along with handing out books, organizers spoke with people about book-banning legislation and how to combat censorship in their own communities.

Malveaux said she believes that after the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 and with the end of COVID restrictions, many people are no longer paying attention to what’s going on regarding banned books and racial justice movements. 

“It’s more important now than ever to show what that groundswell of fighting against those racial justices has produced," she said, "which is the banning of DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion] training, the banning of books, anti-CRT [critical race theory] legislation not only in K-12 public schools but reaching into higher education."

While most book bans are prompted by politicians, parents can request for administrators to remove books from school curriculums or libraries.

“One or two or a few parents got together and challenged a book. Then it’s taken out of a public school or public library and the reality of that is: Do most parents want these books banned?" Malveaux said. "Are the parents that want them banned even reading them? Most of them are not."

This is not the first time the country has seen a push to censor books. Book bannings were also prevalent during the Reagan administration in the '80s. 

“Awareness, knowing and understanding that this is history repeating itself, this is not something that’s new, the playbook never changes,” Malveaux said. “A small group of people using their voice and their influence to make decisions for large groups of people."

Malveaux said her organization hopes to educate people on more than just the books that are banned.

“It's all about who you're electing and paying attention to and holding those people accountable — even if you didn’t vote for them — to let them know that this is not OK for you to ban these types of stories from public libraries and public schools,” she said. 

Woman and child on one side of the table holding books and talking to woman behind table.
Deborah Cannon
Kym Blanchard, marketing director for The New Republic, talks with people at the Banned Books Tour at Reverie Books in Austin on Thursday.

The tour has stopped at 10 bookstores so far, concentrating in states like Florida and Texas, where there have been larger efforts to censor books. 

“Our goal is to educate people about what’s going on in their own backyard because many people don’t know,” Kym Blanchard, marketing director for The New Republic, said. “We get a lot of people unaware of what they can do to fight it or how it affects them."

While the First Amendment makes it difficult for books to be banned on a national scale, state officials can independently challenge works considered explicit or sensitive.

“The people who are responsible for banning books are very insidious," Blanchard said. "They do it at a very high level, so most people don’t know that a book is banned unless they go to their library, or they’re an educator and they want to teach, for instance, The Diary of Anne Frank, and what happened during the Holocaust, only to find out they can’t because it’s been banned.”

Representatives from the Austin Public Library also parked with their own bookmobile outside Reverie Books on Thursday to support the community and reach out to K-12 students who may want to participate in their programs. 

“I am a first-generation Tejana, so for me when I think of banned books I think more of banned people and who we allow and do not allow into our communities and community spaces,” said Melissa Sanchez, community service programs manager for the library.

Sanchez helps run a litany of programs to educate students and connect with the community. One of those programs is “Banned Camp,” a partnership between the Austin Public Library and BookPeople in which they encourage people of all ages to engage with banned books.  

“We’re a library for all,”  Sanchez said.

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