Ariana Grande, Phoebe Bridgers, Gabrielle Union, Guillermo del Toro and more than 200 other celebrities have signed an open letter denouncing the recent wave of book bans in schools across the United States.
The letter, which was published by PEN America, a nonprofit organization that defends free expression, urges school boards, administrators, teachers and parents to resist the pressure to censor books that deal with topics such as race, gender, sexuality and history.
The letter states: “We believe that books are essential tools for learning. They help us understand ourselves and others, explore new perspectives, challenge assumptions, spark curiosity and foster empathy. Books also provide a safe space for students to grapple with complex and sometimes difficult issues that affect their lives and their communities.”
The letter comes amid a surge of attempts to remove or restrict books from school libraries and classrooms, especially those that feature diverse characters and themes. According to the American Library Association (ALA), there were 156 challenges to books in 2020, up from 377 in 2019. Some of the most frequently challenged books include The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, George by Alex Gino, All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, and The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison.
The letter warns that book bans not only violate the First Amendment rights of students and educators, but also harm the quality of education and the development of critical thinking skills. The letter argues: “Book bans deprive students of the opportunity to learn from and engage with a wide range of ideas and experiences. They also undermine the professional judgment and expertise of librarians and teachers, who are trained to select appropriate books for their students based on educational standards and best practices.”
The letter calls on all stakeholders to uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and academic excellence, and to reject any attempts to censor or limit access to books in schools. The letter concludes: “We urge you to stand with us in defense of books, in support of students, and in service of democracy.”
The letter has been endorsed by celebrities from various fields, such as music, film, television, literature, sports, journalism and activism. Some of the notable signatories include Amanda Gorman, Billie Eilish, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Lizzo, John Legend, Stephen King, Margaret Atwood, Roxane Gay, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Trevor Noah, Megan Rapinoe and Malala Yousafzai.
The letter has also received support from several organizations that advocate for free speech and education, such as the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), the American Booksellers Association (ABA) and the Association of American Publishers (AAP).
The full text of the letter and the list of signatories can be found on the PEN America website. The letter has also been covered by various media outlets .
Some additional sentences are:
- The letter has sparked a positive response from many readers and educators who have shared their appreciation for the celebrities’ stance on social media using the hashtag #DefendBooks.
- The letter also invites anyone who wants to join the campaign against book bans to sign a petition on Change.org that demands an end to censorship in schools.
- The letter is part of a larger effort by PEN America to protect free expression in education through its Literature Locked Up initiative, which aims to raise awareness and mobilize action against book bans and prison book restrictions.