Weak, unintelligent people are trying to control the books you and your children read

  • From July 2021 to June 2022, PEN America’s Index of School Book Bans lists 2,532 instances of individual books being banned, affecting 1,648 unique book titles.
  • The 1,648 titles are by 1,261 different authors, 290 illustrators, and 18 translators, impacting the literary, scholarly, and creative work of 1,553 people altogether. —Banned in the USA

PEN America’s “Banned in America” summarizes what many of us have seen more and more often in the news: book bans.

They are a weapon used by weak people and weak groups who have so little confidence in their beliefs, they are fearful of what might happen if people are free to read about alternatives. The German government, controlled by the Nazi party, burnt the books in town squares, a more uncouth version of the book bans.

Book bans in government schools and government libraries are, of course, unconstitutional since they run counter to the Bill of Rights. And yet, how easily people flock to this method of stifling the free flow of ideas when a particular book bothers them.

In a September 22 news release, PEN said, “With free expression and the freedom to read being undermined in America’s schools, Congressman Jamie Raskin today introduced a resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives condemning the spread of book bans in schools nationwide, as Senator Brian Schatz leads a companion resolution in the U.S. Senate. PEN America commends the lawmakers’ efforts, which reaffirm Congress’ commitment to upholding free expression in the classroom and beyond.”

While I think this is good, I doubt that most people will even know that it happened, much less change their gutless, book-banning behavior if they did hear about it. I would like to hear more protests from those who abhor the book bans. Let’s put the banners under a microscope and embarrass the hell out of them for being too weak to admit they are weak.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the Florida Fok Magic Series.

New ‘Freedom to Learn’ op-ed series to appear in Washington Post’s ‘Made in History’ Section


Amid an unparalleled wave of attacks on academic freedom and public education nationwide – including the introduction of nearly 200 educational gag orders and the adoption of gag order policies in 19 states – PEN America, in partnership with the Washington Post’s Made by History section, is launching a new Freedom to Learn op-ed series.

Made by History is an independent editorial section of the Post featuring content from academic historians on current events. Edited and published by the Made by History editorial team and sponsored by PEN America, the Freedom to Learn series will provide historical context for the current assault on public education in the United States and elsewhere.

The Freedom to Learn series will consist of ten articles to be published in the summer and fall of 2022, beginning on August 15. The series will culminate with a public virtual event, sponsored by Lumina Foundation, featuring several contributors to the series.

“We’re excited to partner with the Washington Post’s Made by History to support high-quality, well-researched analysis by professional historians on the unprecedented threats to our education system,” said Jeremy C. Young, senior manager of free expression and education at PEN America. “Over the past five years, the Made By History team has developed a consistent track record of excellence in publishing insightful historical analysis of current trends. PEN America is thrilled to support their work and to help educate readers about the extraordinary challenges teachers are confronting today.”

“Made By History is dedicated to publishing rigorous historical analysis of U.S. current events and public debates to help the public understand the current events,” said Diana D’Amico Pawlewicz, a historian of education and an editor at Made By History. “Recent attacks on the classroom curriculum have historical roots, and we are excited to work with PEN America to bring rigorous scholarship by professional historians to shed light on the origins, implications, and consequences of the hyper-politicization of education.”

I support this action and hope it helps end attacks on learning my misguided citizens and groups. Perhaps the series should become a permanent part of the newspaper.


Malcolm R. Campbell’s contemporary fantasy e-book is free on Amazon between 8/4 and 8/8.


Imposing Content-Based Restrictions on Teachers Through Law Violates Free Expression

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Pen America, July 5, 2022

AZ Capitol Building – Wikipedia Photo

(NEW YORK)– Since Republican state legislators began proposing educational gag orders in January 2021, votes on these legislative restrictions on the freedom to read, learn, and teach have generally broken down along partisan lines.

Last week, however, 11 Democrats in the Arizona House of Representatives introduced HB 2634, an unsuccessful bill that would have banned from school curricula “any textbook or other instructional material…that contains any matter reflecting adversely on persons on the basis of race, ethnicity, sex, religion, disability, nationality, sexual orientation or gender identity.”

In response, Jeremy C. Young, senior manager of free expression and education at PEN America. said: “Government-imposed censorship of students and teachers is always the wrong approach, no matter the motivation, and no matter which side of the political aisle it comes from. Educational gag orders have no place in our schools, period.

Had HB 2634 become law, Arizona teachers might have been unable to assign materials that depict historical or literary instances of discrimination to educate students about why discrimination is wrong — such as the Supreme Court’s Plessy v. Ferguson decision or the works of Pulitzer Prizewinning author Toni Morrison. We should never seek to impose content-based restrictions on teachers through the force of law. Doing so violates the principle of free expression and impoverishes student learning in the classroom.”



Over 20 Distinct Awards and Grants are Conferred Each Year: $380,000 to be Awarded to Writers & Translators in 2023.


(NEW YORK)– The literary and free expression organization PEN America today announced the opening of submissions and nominations for the 2023 PEN America Literary Awards. Submissions for book awards will be accepted in 10 categories, from fiction, poetry, biography, essays, and science writing to debut novel, short story, translation and multi-genre. Publishers and literary agents are invited to submit books published in the 2022 calendar year.

Since 1963, the PEN America Literary Awards have honored outstanding voices in literature across fiction, poetry, science writing, essays, biography, children’s literature, and drama. With the help of their partners, the PEN America Literary Awards confer over 20 distinct awards and grants each year, and will be awarding some $380,000 to writers and translators in 2023.

PEN America also opens submissions to the PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers, and the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, offered every two years. Nominations are now open for the PEN/Nora Magid Award for Magazine Editing and the PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award

Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf, Senior Director of Literary Programs, said: “It was a special honor for all of us at PEN to celebrate the extraordinary writing among this year’s winners of our literary awards, as we returned to the Town Hall stage for the first time in two years. We can’t wait to do it all over again next spring to honor a new group of literary stars whose novels, biographies, memoirs, poems and translations will define the meaning of excellence for readers everywhere.”

Award and prize winners will be celebrated live during the Literary Awards Ceremony, which will take place in-person in the spring of 2023.

Detailed submission guidelines and instructions for the 2023 PEN America Literary Awards are available here. For more information on the Literary Awards, visit our website.

The 2022 PEN America literary awards were celebrated in New York City’s Town Hall on Feb. 28 the first in-person awards ceremony since March 2020. Emmy Award-winning late night host Seth Meyers hosted the event, with writers and translators receiving 11 juried awards, grants and prizes. PEN America conferred its annual career achievement awards to Elaine May and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, two visionaries whose influence has resonated across generations, and Jackie Sibblies Drury, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright.

Kentucky library bill potentially jeopardizes our freedom to read

from PEN America

Bill Allows County Executives to Reject Appointees Recommended by Library Boards and Appoint Whomever They Want


(New York)– PEN America has issued the following statement in response to a new bill passed by the Kentucky Legislature, Senate Bill 167, which would, in effect, politicize county library boards, allowing county executives to reject recommended appointees and take control of the boards through political appointees. The bill becomes law in January 2023.

In response, Summer Lopez, Senior Director of Free Expression programs at PEN America, stated: “Though often unheralded as such, public libraries are the beating heart of democracy, making access to the universe of knowledge and information open and equitable for all. At a moment when book bans are sweeping the nation, this effort to hand power to politicians to wield vast control over libraries in Kentucky should be viewed as a massive alarm bell. These attempts to politicize decisions about what information the public can access and what books they can or can’t read, pose a direct threat to the freedom to read.”

Under the bill, county library boards would make initial recommendations of appointees for the boards. Previously, the county judge or executive was required to choose from among the library boards’ recommendations. Under the new law, the county judge/executive can reject all the recommended names and reject the next set of recommendations from the state Department of Libraries and Archives, and then appoint whomever they want.

Senate Bill 167 appeared dead last week following a veto from Governor Andy Beshear and not enough votes from the state House of Representatives. But it was revived by supporters through an override vote and passed on Tuesday.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.


Pen America News Release

One-time grant program to support writers in financial need


(New York, NY) — PEN America today announced the reopening of its U.S. Writers Aid Initiative, a direct grant program for writers facing acute financial need. Part of the broader PEN America Writers Emergency Fund, the initiative extends one-time emergency grants to U.S.-based fiction and non-fiction authors, poets, playwrights, screenwriters, translators, and journalists.

“Amid the pandemic, writers struggled, losing teaching jobs, bookstore gigs, adjunct roles, and the other financial lifelines that help many writers stay afloat,” said Dru Menaker, COO of PEN America. “While the U.S. Writers Aid Initiative isn’t a panacea, it can provide crucial economic assistance that some writers, even with an economic recovery, still require. PEN America is a community of writers and their allies, and we believe in solidarity with those in need.”

Writers can learn more at PEN.org. Applicants will be asked to outline their professional history and indicate how a one-time grant will help them to cope with a financial crisis. During the first year of the pandemic, PEN America disbursed some $655,000 in funds to some 700 individuals, with grants ranging from $500 to $1,000. This cycle, PEN America will increase the amount of the grants available, up to $3,500 per applicant depending on need. Earlier this spring, the NYC Literary Action Coalition—of which PEN America is a convening member—found that some 27 percent of writers based in New York City reported losing more than $10,000 in income over the past year, and one-third had to cancel at least 10 income-generating opportunities.

PEN America’s U.S. Writers Aid Initiative, part of the PEN America Writers Emergency Fund, is made possible by generous support from the Lannan Foundation, The Haven Foundation, MacKenzie Scott, PEN America Members, and other donors. Questions may be addressed to writersfund@pen.org.


January 26, 2021 News Release from PEN America

(New York, NY) — Today PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection is releasing its Safety Guide for Artists, a comprehensive, first-of-its-kind guide available in English, French, and Spanish to help artists navigate, counter, and overcome threats and persecution from those seeking to silence their voices. In 2019, ARC—a project that connects imperiled artists worldwide with resources— had its highest number of caseload referrals since its founding in 2017 and has already broken that record in 2020, indicating the dire situation globally for artists and advocates.

The recommendations in the guide were informed by ARC’s experience connecting artists at risk to assistance as well as the vast knowledge of its global network of partners working to defend artistic freedom, whose research, campaigns, and collaborations provided instrumental information.

“This year, we’ve seen an explosion of protest movements worldwide, but also the desperate attempts by governments to unjustly and at times violently muzzle artistic freedom and dissent,” said Julie Trebault, director of ARC and one of the guide’s lead authors. “Artists have been leaders in the global movement for rights and justice, and are often targeted for arrest, detention, kidnapping and even murder. The potency of creative expression in kindling passions and changing minds is what makes regimes view artists as threatening. We hope that our guide will be a go-to resource for those facing danger and for the organizations worldwide doing their utmost to protect artistic freedom expression.”

“Facing risk can be an incredibly isolating and confusing experience,” says Mai Khoi, a dissident Vietnamese musician who had to flee her country after experiencing persecution related to her pro-democracy activism in 2018. “A resource like this guide, which can help artists understand their vulnerabilities, learn how to overcome them, and hear from artists who have been in similar situations, will surely help future artists at risk feel less alone and better-equipped to withstand pressures.”

In the past year, artists have helped lead protest movements in the U.S. following George Floyd’s murder, as well as in Chile, Hong Kong, Nigeria, Belarus, and elsewhere around the world. The rise in global activism has led to a simultaneous rise in the risks of speaking out. Freemuse’s State of Artistic Freedom report earlier this year counted over 700 incidents in which artists’ rights were violated in some 93 countries, including censorship, assault and harassment, arrest and imprisonment, kidnapping, torture, and even murder.

These realities have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, as many governments have exploited the health crisis to crack down on dissent through national security and disinformation laws, while other governments fail to take proper steps to protect the health and livelihood of cultural workers. As part of the manual, ARC interviewed 13 leading artists to help inform the guide, surfacing the strategies they’ve used to counter repression, what resources exist, and what guidance or help others might need.

The guide offers robust recommendations to help protect artists and creative professionals who are being silenced for their work. Topics covered include:

  • Tactics governments and non-state agents use to attack artists
  • Methods of identifying and assessing risks
  • Digital security threats and best preventative practices
  • Strategies for developing a personal safety plan
  • Actions artists can take to gather evidence and ensure accountability
  • Overview of the field of support available to artists at risk, as well as a list of resources

“Over the past four years, we’ve seen that artists are at the forefront of the growing global movement to speak out: singing songs, penning slogans, painting murals, staging exhibitions and performances,” said PEN America’s Trebault. “The costs of such artistic freedom have risen dramatically. And while there are thousands of courageous artists who speak out despite the dangers, there are untold creative minds who live in fear, self-censored into silence.”

The guide breaks down how to manage threats from governments, but also from political groups, the police, and military, as well as the threats posed by extremist groups, fundamentalist communities, and even one’s neighbors or family. It comes as ARC itself has seen a skyrocketing caseload, with the vast majority of those accessing ARC’s network of supporters seeking help with relocation and emergency grants. 

The full guide is available here and a downloadable PDF is available here.


Losing the News – Local News in Peril

As local news outlets are gutted and shuttered, reporters laid off, publication schedules cut, and resources tightened across the country, Losing the News: The Decimation of Local News and the Search for Solutions sounds the alarm about the existential threat facing local watchdog journalism and proposes big-picture solutions for its revitalization.

Source: Losing the News – PEN America

This important report shows how news coverage of local issues in local newspapers is being lost: “Most Americans do not yet realize that their local news sources are on the brink of collapse and only a small minority pay for local news.”

“Local” is–obviously–where we live, and as we lose local watch-dog reporting and coverage of on-going issues, we are entering a paradoxical situation where we know more about what’s going in Washington, D. C., and other major cities than we do in the towns where we live.

Why does local journalism matter and what must we do to save it? If this subject resonates with you, click on the link above to see the report and its conclusions. As a former college journalism instructor, you have my gratitude if you read and share this report.



For discussion: do you support this view of publishing and writing?

from PEN America



(New York, NY) – Following news that the publisher of American Dirt plans to cancel its book tour, PEN America issued the following statement:“We have been closely following the debate concerning American Dirt, which implicates concerns at the heart of PEN America’s mission. Our organization has long been committed to the vital work of amplifying lesser-heard voices, and we are staunch advocates of increased diversity, equity, and inclusion in publishing. In our public programming, we strive to present the broadest array of writers from across the country and around the world. We have dedicated programs focused on fostering writing among individuals who are incarcerated, undocumented immigrant youth, and others who might be locked out of the literary community due to resources, background, or other factors. And we have engaged deeply over the last two years in combating online harassment, and recognize its particular silencing impact on women writers and writers of color.“As writers, we believe in the necessity of reasoned discourse across differences. The breadth of passionate perspectives unleashed by this controversy has sparked an overdue public conversation. We urge that this dialogue unfold in the realm of ideas and opinions, and avoid descending into either ad hominem attacks or caricature. As defenders of freedom of expression, we categorically reject rigid rules about who has the right to tell which stories. We see no contradiction between that position and the need for the publishing industry to urgently address its own chronic shortcomings. If the fury over this book can catalyze concrete change in how books are sourced, edited, and promoted, it will have achieved something important. It is past time to equip, resource, and elevate a wider group of voices to speak for themselves and about their experiences. As a nearly 100-year-old organization, we have our own historic legacies, blind spots, and challenges to reckon with. We look at this debate through the lens of how we can continue to evolve to better fulfill our mission.

“Finally, we reject all threats of violence, as well as vitriol aimed to shut down discussion and enforce silence. In our digital discourse, harsh invective too easily gives way to threats and intimidation that have a chilling effect not only on their targets, but on entire topics or points of view. We believe such approaches impair, rather than advance, what is an urgent and essential debate.”


If you haven’t been following the “American Dirt” controversy, you can find information here.

PEN America to Focus on the Right to Read in the Nation’s Prisons 

“America’s prison system implements that largest book ban in the United States. This year, as part of national Banned Books Week (Sept. 22 – 28), the free expression and literary organization PEN America will launch a weeklong initiative to shed light on the practice of banning books in the nation’s prisons and jails. ‘Literature Locked Up: Banned Books Week 2019’ will feature events across the country, online activities, and public education to highlight restrictions of the right to read for the 2.2 million people currently incarcerated in the United States.”

Source: As Part of National Book Banning Week, PEN America to Focus on the Right to Read in the Nation’s Prisons – PEN America

We hear about prisoners’ lack of access to books from time to time, but it always seems isolated to one jail or another. That obscures the issue. Book banning in prisons is worse than all the book challenges in all the school and public libraries put together.

We’re not talking about books with titles like “How to Tunnel out of Sing Sing” or “Bomb Making for Dummies.” I often wonder under what authority does the warden or those he reports to ban the same titles the rest of us are reading.

I hope PEN America’s initiative brings the problem to the attention of more people and shows how pervasive it is.