Home » News » 6 key points on book bans from new PEN America report 

By Ken Paulson, published on April 22, 2024

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The pace at which books are being banned in America continues to accelerate, according to a new study by PEN America.

More books were banned in the first six months of the current school year of 2023-2024 than in the entire 2022-2023 school year, according to the report released this week. 

“This escalation follows two years of coordinated efforts to censor books in libraries and classrooms across the country, restricting young people’s freedom to read and learn,” noted PEN America, a nonprofit center that advocates on behalf of authors and publishers.

Six takeaways from the report:

  1. Targeted content: Most banned books fall into one of three categories: Books that refer to sexual violence or activity; books about LGBTQ+ experiences, and books that involve themes of race or racism. 
  2. States differ: Book bans are common, but not universal among states. Since July 2021, PEN America has documented book bans in 42 states.
  3. Censorship and geography: Book bans are most common in the South and Midwest. Florida had the largest number of bans, totaling 3,135, with Wisconsin, Iowa, Texas, Kentucky and Virginia following in frequency.
  4. Concentration of censorship: Book bans tend to be concentrated in a few communities in each state. In Florida, more than half of the state’s banning incidents occurred in Escambia County. Wisconsin’s bans came overwhelmingly from the Elkhorn Area School District.
  5. Ambiguous legislation: Many books are banned because of fear of violating poorly drafted laws. Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law barring classroom discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation became a template in multiple states, leaving teachers unsure of legal limits. Books featuring gay and transgender characters were widely removed from shelves. The Florida law was challenged in a lawsuit, which was settled in March 2024 after the state and plaintiffs agreed on clarification of the statute’s language.
  6. Targeting race: More than a third of the book bans recorded by PEN America involved books with characters of color or themes of racism: Politically charged efforts to remove books with these subjects were justified as a bar on critical race theory or diversity, equity and inclusion practices.

As disconcerting as the findings may be, PEN America cites an encouraging development.

“A broad coalition of students and advocates has heeded the call: Even in the face of extreme state laws, hateful rhetoric, and an extraordinary number of bans, the fight for the freedom to read has never been stronger,” according to the report.

Related: Banned Books Week: Book bans reflect outdated beliefs about how children read

Ken Paulson is the director of the Free Speech Center at Middle Tennessee State University.


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