By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
Programming note: Penguin Random House worldwide CEO Nihar Malaviya headlines our Publishing Perspectives Forum at Frankfurter Buchmesse in an opening Executive Talk on Wednesday, October 18 at 10 a.m. More details below.
Malaviya: ‘A Direct Threat to Democracy’On Monday (August 14), Andrew Paul at Popular Science wrote, “Iowa educators are turning to ChatGPT to help decide which titles should be removed from their school library shelves in order to legally comply with recent Republican-backed state legislation.”
The two events’ timing is coincidental. What’s intentional is a rising willingness among major book-business players to speak forthrightly to such politically inflamed issues.
PRH’s worldwide CEO, Nihar Malaviya, says on today’s release of its new campaign, “We believe in the power of books and their ability to make us better—as individuals and as a society.
“Books give us perspective; their stories allow us to feel seen and provide us with the opportunity to learn from each other’s lived experiences.
“The acceleration of book bannings, challenges, and related legislation sweeping across the country is a direct threat to democracy and our constitutional rights. Diverse stories deserve to be told, and readers deserve the autonomy to choose what books they read.”
To that end, the special site set is up as a consumer-facing presentation, ending in a selection of banned books grouped by category and intended to be rotated at regular intervals.
‘What We’re Doing’
There’s a series of “What We’re Doing” sections first, and Publishing Perspectives readers will be familiar with many of the listed legal challenges in which PRH has been a party, often under the aegis of the Association of American Publishers. This is followed by a listing of relevant organizations the company works with; a section on the company’s support for its authors; and another section on teacher and librarian support.
Technically, that portion of the “banned book resource site” is a corporate-responsibility piece, albeit clearly one that displays some of the good works and associations made and maintained by the company in the service of resisting a censorious era’s darkest dynamics.
‘Resources for Everyone’
Where the piece shows its depth is in the next section, which offers Malaviya’s introductory commentary on the problem. Look for the section called “Resources for Everyone.”
Here you’ll find him linking to reputable (American Library Association) survey results indicating that 70 percent of American parents asked say that they’re opposed to book banning.
Even more enlightening is his use of Hannah Natanson’s May 23 report for the Washington Post in which investigative journalism found that LGBTQ content is the most frequent trigger in book-banning incidents and that the core challenges to the freedom to read in school-setting book challenges were filed, in the Post‘s analysis, by just 11 people in the 2021-2022 school year cycle. Each of these people created 10 or more challenges in their school districts—one lodging 92 challenges in a year.
Natanson’s article calls these the “serial filers” who launch those blizzards of complaints that send school boards reeling and books vanishing from shelves, with librarians and teachers caught in the crossfire.
In Malaviya’s article, he pledges, “We will always stand by those fighting for intellectual freedom.”
And that’s followed by useful links for consumer action, including setting up a Google alert to be notified of issues in the topic; recommendations for writing to government representatives and reporting censorship; reporting book challenges and bans; finding out “if your library is experiencing censorship”; your own school board’s elections schedule; and a useful link out to UnitedAgainstBookBans.org‘s “How To Talk About Book Bans” advice.
This section is actionable, and many may find useful pointers here.
For Authors, Parents, Students, Librarians, Booksellers
A bit like the Canada Reads program, the piece then goes on to assign “advocates” to more consumer-informative help sections.
“Resources for Authors and Creators” will give you the Penguin Random House author Jacob Tobia, who makes an appeal to authors to avoid self-censorship, writing, “As authors, we must resist not only their efforts to ban our books, but also their efforts to make us afraid.
“Now is not the time to cower. Now is not the time to stop writing. It is the time to double down on our creative joy, on the power that comes with expressing the ideas and stories shimmering in our hearts.”
This section’s resource suggestions include PEN International and its many activities and initiatives in the world arena.
An introduction to “Resources for Parents” comes from Keiawnna Pitts of Round Rock, Texas, the chief community connector for the Round Rock Black Parents organization.
Pitts makes the apt point that being able to leverage readily networked citizens was a boon to stopping an apparent effort at racially motivated book banning. “When we learned that a teacher in our district started a petition to stop Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi from being removed from schools,” she writes, “it was easy to mobilize quickly to help.
“We had connections and relationships we could call on to speak to the need for diverse literature in schools.”
Her commentary is followed by another helpful list of resources, including the investigative journalism unit ProPublica—best known for its recent revelations of the US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ alleged acceptance of lavish gifts—and to the National Coalition Against Censorship.
Librarians, we should note, are represented by Becky Calzada, the district library coordinator in Leander, Texas, and a co-founding member of a group you may know, the #FreadomFighters of Texas librarians who are activists in the right to read.
If the Web designers at PRH can work to isolate the Let Kids Read “banned books resources site” a bit more from the rest of the PRH domain, it will help to keep users from slipping off into parts of the company’s site that aren’t part of the anti-censorship presentation. Some disorienting drop-offs tend to occur. Trying to back out of a page can throw you entirely off the site. Some minor navigational work might be helpful.
But once a user is inside any of those “Resources” sections, there are ready connections to helpful options and connections.
“Whether your child (or your book, or your district) is directly affected by book bans or you simply want to learn more about the issue,” the site’s main copy reads, “we’ve partnered with experts on the front lines–authors, teachers, librarians, parents, students, and booksellers–to highlight some of the most impactful ways you can get involved.”
This is the world’s largest trade publisher, Penguin Random House, as a corporate activist citizen, a sign of the times and a timely signal to the world’s publishing community.
A programming note: The Publishing Perspectives Forum at Frankfurter Buchmesse on October 18 at 10 a.m. will feature our program headliner Nihar Malaviya, worldwide CEO of Penguin Random House, in an Executive Talk discussion – for many, a first chance to hear this new leader of the world’s largest trade book publishing company on the industry, the challenges, and opportunities. As last year, the PP Forum is in the bright, tree-lined Room Spektrum on Level 2 of the Messe Frankfurt Congress Center, and admission is free to all trade visitors and exhibitors.
More on the Forum and its programming is here, with speakers being added as we confirm them and programming descriptions being developed as they’re ready.