Attempts at book censorship have become more and more pervasive throughout 2021, with right wing and conservative groups, such as No Left Turn, raising complaints with local school boards about titles they deem objectionable. Most often, these titles concern race or LGBTQ topics. In Texas, the problem has reached an apex, with 850 school library books being challenged by State Representative Matt Krause, who represents the city of Fort Worth. The books in question are those that Krause suggests “might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex."

The list is being used as a cudgel to intimidate schools and librarians. Specifically, Kraus asked which school libraries have the books, how many copies, and how much money was spent to purchase the books. The Authors Guild is the latest group to fight against the banning efforts, launching a National Letter Writing campaign in early December, asking its 11,000 members and supporters to send emails and letters to school boards, lawmakers, and newspapers arguing that banning books harms students. The guild is also collaborating with The National Coalition Against Censorship, in circulating an open letter signed by more than 600 writing, free speech, LGBTQ and education organizations calling for an end to political attacks on books in public schools.

“It’s early days, but we have high hopes for the campaign,” said Cheryl L. Davis, general counsel for The Authors Guild. Davis noted that the challenges to books appear to be a “coordinated” effort on the part of conservatives and activist parents. “The types of books being challenged are often similar: books that deal with race and LGBTQ issues, they range from classics, like the [Toni Morrison’s] The Bluest Eye to books like [Alison Bechdel’s] Fun Home.”

Davis noted that school boards are often unprepared to deal with challenges, as they are not familiar with the books or their content and have them removed from libraries without any due process. “It is especially disturbing, because they have been simply removing books as a result of the in terrorem effect [intimidation] and are being told ‘please abide by your own rules.’” The implication is that the boards don’t even known their own rules and regulations and that citizens are accusing school librarians of criminal acts and disseminating pornography to minors.

Davis underscored that this anti-censorship campaign was not partisan and the organization’s commitment to free speech applies to all books. “We have members who are conservatives all across the country and we fight for their rights as well,” she said, adding that the organization is aware “that there may be certain reasonable limitations on what types of material and what types of books a child should be able to read at a certain age according to what they can understand.” And, she continued, that is what the system is set up to address by allowing people to object to certain books. “But that is not what this is about,” she explained. “This is a blunderbuss of an effort to remove certain types of books wholesale, and to do so by tarring them with the same brush…if it deals with an LGBTQ topic, it is defacto not suitable for children of a certain age. If it deals with racial issues, then it’s not suitable for children. You just can’t do that. You have to look at the specific book, the context and the specific child audience it is intended for.”

The goal the guild has set for itself in the near term is quite modest. “What we hope to achieve is to convey to school boards and politicians that there are not just authors, but parents and readers, who are one the other side of this equations – people who want their kids to have access to more information and different experiences,” Davis said.