After a lifetime spent passionately defending the freedom to read, National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) executive director Christopher M. Finan is retiring. In a release this week, Finan confirmed that he will retire this summer after a celebrated career in the service of free expression and First Amendment rights.
"Chris has been a leader in the fight for free speech for four decades," NCAC board president Emily Knox said in a statement announcing Finan's retirement. "He has defended the rights of authors, booksellers, librarians, readers, and youth and strengthened the NCAC’s reputation as a first responder to censorship. The NCAC board congratulates Chris on his retirement and is grateful for his years of service."
"I am very grateful for the opportunity to fight for free speech," Finan said in a statement. “This is a struggle that began in the earliest days of the republic and will continue as long as people refuse to accept that the best answer to speech we hate is more speech, not censorship."
Before joining NCAC in 2017, Finan served as president of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) and executive director of Media Coalition, a trade association that defends the free speech rights of producers and distributors. He has also served as a trustee of the Freedom to Read Foundation and a recipient of its Roll of Honor Award.
In May, he will receive the Authors Guild Foundation Award for Defending Free Speech and Expression.
A former newspaper reporter, Finan earned his Ph.D in American history from Columbia University. He is the author of Alfred E. Smith: The Happy Warrior (Hill and Wang, 2002), Drunks: The Story of Alcoholism and the Birth of Recovery (Beacon Press, 2017), and has written extensively on the history of free speech, including in the books How Free Speech Saved Democracy: The Untold History of How the First Amendment Became an Essential Tool for Securing Liberty and Social Justice (Steerforth Press, 2022) and From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act: A History of the Fight for Free Speech in America (Beacon Press, 2007), which won the American Library Association’s Eli Oboler Award.
Finan steps down in the midst of an unprecedented attack on the freedom to read, and, perhaps most concerning, a wave of legislation threatening to prosecute librarians and teachers for making books available to kids and students, which he wrote about for PW last fall.
"For those of us who cherish the freedom to read, the current wave of attacks on books in schools and libraries is disheartening. For the teachers and librarians on the front lines, it is far worse," Finan wrote. "They are being attacked for choosing books that reflect the needs of their students and patrons. They are accused of 'grooming' children for sexual abuse, or indoctrinating them with allegedly anti-American ideas about race. In the face of these threats, many are considering leaving the profession they love."
Finan urged readers not to be deterred, noting that Americans have been successfully fighting for the freedom to read for over a century. "The long history of book banning in America gives us reason to hope that the freedom to read will prevail—but only if we fight for it."
In its release, the NCAC said it has engaged a search firm to find its new executive director. A job description is available here, and information about the NCAC's mission and programming is available on the NCAC website.