Mitchell Kaplan has been an influential fixture in publishing since he founded the bookstore chain Books & Books in Miami in 1982. Kaplan has contributed to the book business in numerous ways that go beyond selling books. These include cofounding the Miami International Book Fair, which emphasizes the city’s diversity with programming in English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole, and helping to raise more than $60,000 for Ukrainian authors, publishers, and booksellers. Something of a jack-of-all-trades, he also hosts a popular podcast and has produced movies.

Could he do much more? Kaplan says, unequivocally, “yes.”

What makes Kaplan particularly notable in 2023 is his work fighting Florida governor Ron DeSantis’s Stop WOKE Act, which has led to some 1,400 books being pulled from Florida school libraries. Much of Kaplan’s activism in this regard has been funneled through his support for the Freadom Coalition, a group that includes Books & Books as well as Moms4Libros, FABB (Families Against Banning Books), FL Freedom to Read Project, PEN America, and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

In June, as part of the coalition, Books & Books helped distribute 1,200 banned books to some 500 people. On October 1, to mark the start of Banned Books Week, the coalition hosted a two-mile Freadom March, which started at the Coral Gables Congregational United Church of Christ and ended at Books & Books’ flagship store in Coral Gables.

While there remains much more to be done—Florida accounts for 40% of book bans in the United States, according to PEN America—Kaplan is hopeful that the fever to ban books will break soon. “There is pushback,” he says. “The desire to not ban books is stronger than the desire to ban books.”

To ensure his and the store’s work in the community continues, this November Kaplan turned his bookstore’s prolific events program—which does 400 events annually—into a nonprofit foundation. The new Books & Books Literary Foundation will be able to raise money from charitable donations and grants, which should help insulate the programming from commercial considerations and expand programs into communities of need, underserved schools, and prisons.

Kaplan’s immediate goal is to raise $100,000 by the end of the year. “It is beautiful to see people fighting censorship and building community at a local level,” he says. “Who knows where book retail will be in 10 to 15 years? This foundation ensures this work, some of the most important work we do, can continue. Hopefully for generations to come.”

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