A group of children’s authors is rallying against the rising number of book bans and challenges nationwide, speaking out about the erasure of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ voices. Under the leadership of Samira Ahmed, Andrea Davis Pinkney, Gayle Forman, Alan Gratz, Joanna Ho, David Levithan, Sarah MacLean, Ellen Oh, Christina Soontornvat, and Magie Tokuda-Hall, Authors Against Book Bans has already made an impact in the ongoing battle for the freedom to read.

Levithan told PW that the coalition evolved organically from a shared sense of urgency. “Over the past couple years, whenever I would talk to other authors, a number of us expressed extreme frustration and concern about what was going on. And it was always a conversation about ‘what can we do?’ The side that was banning books was organized—both on a national and state level. So it became really apparent that we, as authors, could be the spine to the body that was organizing to fight book bans.” Discussions began in earnest at the end of 2023, and AABB launched this past January.

Levithan had previously been working with PEN America on its lawsuit in Escambia County, Fla., along with other advocacy groups, and thought, “Now is the time for it all to come together. It’s a single-issue group. Our name is not very subtle: we are authors against book bans. And we can do a lot of things because we’re so micro-focused.” The ball got rolling quickly, he said. “In terms of the leadership group, I basically contacted a lot of my friends or other authors whom I’d had conversations with about this issue, including Maggie, and said, ‘Let’s all get together and solve this in a very organized fashion.’ ”

For her part, Tokuda-Hall said, “I came to this the way a lot of us do, by watching with horror as the news unfolds constantly and the number of book bans rises exponentially every year.” She recalled the eye-opening moment when she knew she had to get involved. “I visited Idaho in conjunction with the Idaho Library Association, and I gave a keynote there about the dangers of censorship and book banning. During that trip, I got a really intimate and terrifying view of what it looks like on the state level, where these conversations are being had and where this fight is happening.”

She explained, “In Idaho, in 2023, they’d had a bill on the state floor that had only failed by two votes to make librarians criminally liable for holding books that people found offensive on their shelves, with a cost of up to $25,000 per title. And that was really, for me, what became the catalyst, of like, ‘Okay, I have to really dedicate some time in my space to fighting this individually.’ ” She believes that “authors are uniquely poised to be soldiers in this fight.”

Boots on the Ground

Levithan described AABB’s strategy of operating in concert with established organizations, such as PEN America and We Need Diverse Books. “We want to support the people who are leading this fight and say basically, ‘We are putting together the author army, how do you want to deploy us?’ We’re following the lead of people on the grassroots who’ve done incredible work already. And I think those partnerships are key to what we’re doing.”

Tokuda-Hall cited one such success story. “We’ve worked with the Texas Freedom to Read Project, and Christina Soontornvat has been so incredible in helping us figure out how we could partner with them. Three of our members recently went to a school board meeting and testified in favor of keeping challenged titles on the shelves." It worked: they helped keep five challenged books on the shelves. "We were really proud in that moment to have organized the way that we had, and it was exactly what we are hoping can happen.”

On a regional level, Levithan said, AABB is in the process of forming chapters. While each state won’t necessarily have its own chapter, every state will be covered. The goal is “to partner with local organizations and to have an alert system so that, with whatever ask we have, we can notify them and get them going on it." So far, Levithan said, “We’ve been involved in school board meetings and in state legislation, both supporting the legislators who are sponsoring bills to fight book bans, or to try to prevent the book bans from happening, as well as protesting the legislators who are introducing bans.”

Another aspect is boosting morale, he said. “We feel that a large component of this is supporting the authors who are being challenged, and the teachers and librarians and parents and students who are on the frontlines defending our books. We’ve gotten a huge amount of feedback, saying that when we just thank them and say, ‘we see you, we appreciate what you’re doing,’ that actually emboldens them to know that they’re not alone.”

Levithan said AABB’s efforts even extend beyond U.S. borders. “We also have some international membership. There are people from Canada and the U.K. who signed up. Even though we may not have any real calls to action for them just yet, they’re still excited to be involved and want to be kept abreast of what we’re doing.” Communication is integral to their approach. “We really want to be a depository for information,” Levithan said. “We have monthly briefings and a monthly newsletter and ban alerts to let everybody know what’s happening. We are trying to give everybody the tools to navigate this very strange place we’re in right now.”

This is our community, our livelihood, our life's purpose; we should all be fighting for this together.
– Maggie Tokuda-Hall

'All for One, One for All'

Tokuda-Hall said they welcome all levels of participation in the volunteer effort. “For some of our membership, signing up and signing a letter will be as much as they do, and for other people, they will get much more involved. The amount of work that everyone puts in is going to be highly variable, but we have noticed that people are really galvanized and excited.” She noted, “One thing that we’re adamant about is that this is not just an issue for authors who have been banned or who are frequently banned. This is an all for one, one for all issue, and we insist that all authors participate, regardless of their own history with censorship and banning. Because whether or not it feels like it’s coming for you right this very second, it is. This is our community, our livelihood, our life’s purpose; we should all be fighting for this together.”

So far, she said, the group is 1,200 strong and counting, and constitutes a mix of veteran and emerging authors. “We have a lot of kid lit authors, and we’re hoping for more adult authors, but we’ve gotten some really powerful ones on board already.” Though the group calls itself Authors Against Book Bans, she emphasizes that “our doors are open to anybody” who works with and supports books. Levithan added, “We’re completely agnostic around anything like genre, age range, traditional or independent publishing. We just want people who care about this issue who have made books to come participate.”

Offering words of solidarity for those working on the front lines for the freedom to read, Tokuda-Hall said, “None of us is alone in this fight. There are so many of us who care so deeply. Whether or not you’re an author whose books have been attacked a lot, and you are weary from this, or you are somebody who has just been watching with horror, there’s a place for you in this fight. It is a matter of us just participating. Because we’ve seen that when we do participate, we have a lot of success stories. It doesn’t mean we’ll always win, but when we are present, we do so much better.”

She concluded by naming concrete actions that can be taken in the face of discouragement and despair. “So many things can feel hopeless and overwhelming and crushing about our world right now, and this is a place where you can make a really big difference. You could be a person who shows up at a school board meeting. You can be one of those people who writes a letter of thanks to a beleaguered educator who has been doing this work seemingly by themselves. None of us has to feel alone.”

For more information on Authors Against Book Bans and to get involved, click here.