Nonprofit organization PEN America, which identifies its directive as to “raise awareness for the protection of free expression” in the United States and worldwide, has released its list of banned books in the 2022-2023 school year.
Of the books banned, titles include contemporary and well-known books such as The Handmaid’s Tale, Twilight, and American Psycho, but also included They Called Themselves The K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group, Striving for Equality: LGBTQ Athletes Claim the Field, Transgender Lives: Complex Stories, Complex Voices, and many other titles either applying a critical lens to the history of discrimination the United States holds or providing greater context on concepts such as sexuality and gender.
Since the Texas School Board altered education guidelines this year, book bans are likely to become more common as the years progress. As the effectiveness of teaching critical race theory (CRT) is refuted by representatives, comprehensive climate science lives under threat of being conflated with incomplete information on fossil fuels, and full gender expression has been prohibited in many public spaces, further bans are likely to further hinder education on these topics as well.
The list includes banned books across Texas, with no documented bans this year for Dallas Independent School District. However, surrounding cities and suburbs have taken on bans on books handling topics on struggles of racial discrimination worldwide, evolutionary theory, and subjects classifiable within LGBTQ+ history.
Frisco ISD has followed suit with much of the rest of the state, banning the works of Stephen Hawking as well as books such as Before We Were Free, a novel set to the backdrop of the time of the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic and the massacre of thousands of Haitian citizens in 1937. The district also banned The Diary of Anne Frank.
As the topics have been subject to increasing politicization in Texas, it’s no surprise that more than 1 in 3 banned books contain core themes of race, gender, and sexuality. With around 67% of books banned through administrative measures, the remaining 33% is split almost evenly between formal and informal challenges submitted to the Board of Education. Books are typically challenged on grounds of sexual content, offensive language, or assertion that content is unsuitable for any age group.
Among specific authors, the bans force the exclusion of the works of prolific Black writer Sapphire, Chicana author and poet Sandra Cisneros, novelist Neil Gaiman, and literary giant J.R.R. Tolkien. Additionally, feminist writers such as Octavia Butler, Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood, and Allison Bechdel have been banned from schools and libraries.
Bans in Texas account for 18.6% of the entire country’s book bans. While the state takes greater steps in censoring topics offering critical perspectives on race, white privilege, trans/nonbinary identity, sexuality, and and gender dynamics, eliminating any chance that students may encounter material provoking critical discussion allows the state to guide perspectives on these topics more effectively.
As Texas state government has passed laws to prohibit trans individuals from accessing virtually any gender-affirming care, limit lessons on race and civil rights, and close down DEI offices (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion) at colleges all across the state, the BOE likewise restricts public access to crucial works that could potentially help developing students to understand associated concepts.
Books holding themes of race and sexuality have been banned in several districts in previous years, however, bans have been spreading closer and into densely populated cities such as Houston and San Antonio. Mayor Eric Johnson has expressed his view that cities in America need Republican policies to succeed, and likewise, Dallas sits at a point of vulnerability with dwindling access to educational resources slowly approaching byway of surrounding districts.