Banned Books Week: PRH’s ‘Banned Wagon’ Rolls Out

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

As Banned Books Week opens, Penguin Random House is taking some of its most heavily attacked books on the road.

The ‘Banned Wagon’ has been outfitted and liveried by Penguin Random House as what it calls a “vehicle for change.” It makes its maiden road trip during Banned Book Week, October 1 to 7, stopping at bookstores in some of the American South’s deepest centers of debate around far-right censorship of books – most frequently literature for children and young adults. Image: Penguin Random House

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Taking the Fight on the Road
At Frankfurter Buchmesse (October 18 to 22), programming on tap in many parts of the world’s largest book publishing trade fair reflects the fact that politically driven censorship—frequently targeting children and young adult content and readers (YA)—is much on the minds of book professionals this year.

Amid the international sweep of right-wing censorship in young people’s literature and textbook assaults—in Brazil’s State of São Paulo; in the vast educational system of Mexico; and in the Caribbean’s Dominican Republic–the waves of book bannings powered largely by organized activists in the United States have drawn sharp and understandable attention.

The arrival of this year’s Banned Books Week—led by one of the most comprehensive coalitions of free-expression organizations in the business–is themed Let Freedom Read. Engaged in the effort are the American Library Association, Amnesty International USA, the Authors Guild, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, the National Book Foundation, PEN America, and the Center for the Book at the Library of Congress, among others.

Hearing the call, Penguin Random House–the world’s largest and most internationally positioned of trade publishers– is gassing up something new: its “Banned Wagon: A Vehicle for Change.”

The goal is to take the debate right into the American South during Banned Books Week. Putting wheels on its “Read Banned Books” message, the vehicle not only will showcase a selection of 12 of the publisher’s frequently challenged books but will also distribute free copies of those books to attendees in each of the cities in which the tour makes a stop.

#TheBannedWagon’s Itinerary

Atlanta: Sunday, October 1
1 to 4 p.m. ET

  • Charis Books & More, 184 S. Candler Street, Decatur (a close-in Atlanta suburb)
    Featuring: An author signing and Q&A with Nic Stone, author of ‘Dear Martin.’

Nashville: Tuesday, October 3
3 to 6 p.m.
CT

  • The Bookshop, 1043 West Eastland Avenue

New Orleans: Thursday, October 5
9 a.m. to 12 p.m.
CT

  • Baldwin & Co, 1030 Elysian Fields Avenue
    Baldwin & Co has created an “(Un)Banned Book Festival” with music, refreshments, book signings, and panel discussions with authors including Jumata Emill and Ani DiFranco.

Houston: Saturday, October 7
1 to 4 p.m.
CT

  • Kindred Stories, 2304 Stuart Street

In addition to those stops, the Banned Wagon has partnered with the Little Free Library network—”Take a Book. Share a Book.”—and will be dropping off copies of banned books along its route and at each of its major stops.

Carly Gorga

In a comment for the news media on the announcement of the new Banned Wagon’s road trip, PRH director of brand marketing Carly Gorga says, “We’re thrilled to be teaming up with Freedom to Read Foundation, PEN America, and Little Free Library, as well as our independent bookstore partners, to increase access to books in communities being affected by censorship and to shine a spotlight on this critical issue.

“Books make us better—as individuals and as a society—and people deserve access to a wide range of perspectives so that everyone can see themselves represented in books.”

And PRH’s firm stance on free expression comes as little surprise to Publishing Perspectives readers, of course, who’ll recall the company’s release in August of its special “banned books resources site,” Let Kids Read. PRH’s growing resistance to anti

Aboard the PRH’s Banned Wagon

These are the 12 books published by Penguin Random House and being loaded into the Banned Wagon as it rolls through the American South during Banned Books Week.

Book banning and censorship are among the topics that Nihar Malaviya, Penguin Random House’s worldwide CEO will speak with Publishing Perspectives about on Frankfurt Wednesday, October 18, in the headline Executive Talk opening the 2023 Publishing Perspectives Forum. (Details on that event are below.)

National and International Scale

As the September 21 release of PEN America’s latest study, Banned in the USA: The Mounting Pressure to Censor, indicated, several key points are emerging about the storm of bannings in the States, and you find them being referenced frequently in the Penguin Random House team’s messaging about its new “Banned Wagon” mission to hand banned books to readers.

Briefly:

  • The targeting of young minds—children and young adults—is evident in the fact that of the 3,362 books reportedly banned in the States in the 2022-2023 school year, 1,263 were banned from classrooms and school libraries compared to 333 books in this category last year, an increase of almost 400 percent.
  • Among the most impressive responses has been a rising pushback from young people. PEN’s report writes, “Youth resistance to book bans in numerous school districts has included protests, speaking out at school board meetings, and the establishment of national organizations dedicated to defending access to literature in schools.”
  • Demonstrating the organized operations often behind these events, in the 153 school districts across the country that banned a book during the 2022-23 school year, 124 (81 percent) have a chapter or local affiliate nearby of one or more of the three most prominent national groups pushing for book bans—Moms for Liberty, Citizens Defending Freedom, and Parents’ Rights in Education. Those districts are calculated to have comprised 87 percent (2,912) of book bans.

And as an example of how internationalized concerns about political issues and publishing are, on Frankfurt Thursday, October 19, at 3 p.m., the International Publishers Association (IPA) is staging an international panel at the trade show in Frankfurt Pavilion at the heart of the fair’s Agora titled “Pressure on Publishers: Challenging Norms and Navigating Controversy.” Publishing Perspectives will moderate a group of executives from the Europe, the Middle East, and Europe, featuring:

  • Sherif Bakr, Al Arabi Publishing and Distributing, Egypt
  • Trasvin Jittidecharak, Silkworm Books, Thailand
  • Michiel Kolman, Elsevier and IPA’s chair of the Inclusive Publishing and Literacy committee, the Netherlands
  • Åse Ryvarden, Aschehoug, Norway

As Publishing Perspectives reported Thursday, the International Publishers Association (IPA) has issued a statement of “extreme concern” to see the government of the Dominican Republic becoming the latest administration reported to be seizing the creation and distribution of the country’s textbooks, Dominican publishers telling the press that the move has produced at least 79 state-produced and -approved textbook titles.

In Mexico, the Associated Press has said that “the debate over school textbooks has gone ballistic” in a notably short time, the Andrés Manuel López Obrador government idling its educational publishers to put out classroom content that opponents claim is political propaganda and woefully inadequate as educational material.

In Brazil, the government of the State of São Paulo tried to veer into creating its own educational materials. That foray onto the turf of legitimate, long-admired publishers was stopped only when the publishing community took the state ministry to court, where Judge Antonio Augusto Galvão de Franca halted the government’s effort in its tracks–a ringing victory, in that case. The state was ordered to rejoin the national program, honoring the process of allowing educators to work with publishers in choosing the best literature for students.

Image: PRH Banned Wagon campaign


Nihar Malaviya

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.

More from Publishing Perspectives on book bannings is here, more on censorship in the broader context is here, more on the freedom to publish and freedom of expression is here, more on the work of PEN America is here, and more on the International Publishers Association and its Prix Voltaire for valor in the fight for freedom to publish is here.

Publishing Perspectives is the International Publishers Association’s world media partner.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.