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In the US the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) has issued a statement deploring what it calls ‘an organised political attack on books in schools’. It talks of a ‘sudden rise in censorship and its impact on education, the rights of students, and freedom of expression’.
The statement has been signed by more than 600 organisations and individuals, including Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, and Macmillan, as well as the American Library Association, PEN America, and the Authors Guild.
It says: ‘Books help students connect with characters whose stories reflect their own lives. They also widen their view of a changing world that embraces diversity and multiculturalism. But there is always resistance to change. So it is not surprising that most of the books that are being attacked address concerns of groups previously underrepresented in libraries and school curriculums: books about lived experiences of racism or of growing up LGBTQIA and experiencing bias, discrimination, hate, and even violence.
The statement has echoes the heartfelt speech given by Sheikha Bodour al Qasimi, president of the International Publishers Association, to publishers at the World Conference on Creative Economy at Expo 2020 Dubai in December. She said: “Our role is to give a voice to everyone…so it is natural for us as publishers to focus on bringing in more diversity and inclusivity so that we can mirror the societies we want to help create through the words we publish”.
The NCAC was founded by a group of activists affiliated with the American Civil Liberties Union in 1973 to protect First Amendment rights concerning freedom of speech.
Speaking about the attacks on books, Simon & Schuster CEO Jonathan Karp said: “The list of Simon & Schuster titles facing bans and challenges has grown 46% thanks to the recent surge in censorship activity, with particular targeting of books by and about people of color and from the LGBTQIA+ communities. Left in place, these restrictions will leave us as a society all the poorer for our inability to engage with works and ideas that challenge our world view, even if they sometimes make us uncomfortable”. He called the bans “an existential threat to the livelihood of our authors and our ability to publish free from censorious attack.”