Miami’s Literary Community Gives Away 1200 Banned or Challenged Books

Currently there are over 100 Florida banned books, or books that have been challenged and thus considered to be banned. There is a complete list here and if you look at it, some of the titles might have you shaking your head.

Regardless of your position on banned and challenged books, the movement has backfired and triggered both community action and a massive increase in sales for local bookstores everywhere.

Miami in particular is galvanized. On June 6th, over 500 people gathered in Coral Gables to show support. The crowd included an enthusiastic lot of parents, children, teachers, community leaders and civil rights organizations.

Event attendees received free bags of challenged books. Titles included The Hill We Climb by Amanda Gorman; The ABC’s of Black History by Rio Cortez and Lauren Summer; and, Love to Langston by Tony Medina and R. Gregory Christie.

Books & Books, Miami’s oldest independent book seller, helped organize the event and distribute the books. Due to the generosity of Amanda Gorman, over 1200 books were distributed for free.

Speakers included Richard Blanco, Miami-Dade County’s Poet Laureate and an inaugural poet himself. Dr. Marvin Dunn, author, historian and founder of the Miami Center for Racial Justice. Also, representatives from PEN America, the ACLU of Florida, National Coalition Against Censorship, and the United Teachers of Dade.

Florida Banned Books

At the book giveaway, Richard Blanco read Amanda Gorman’s The Hill We Climb from Joe Biden’s 2021 inauguration. Gorman holds the distinction of being the nation’s youngest inaugural poet.

Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat read Grandma’s Stories from Love to Langston. This book for young readers highlights 14 poems by renowned Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes.

“These book bans go beyond limiting access to Black, Brown and LGBTQ voices and stories,” noted Director of PEN Across America William Johnson. “They cultivate a culture of shame for queer kids… They cultivate a culture of shame for kids of color.”

O, Miami Poetry Festival Founder Scott Cunningham drew laughs from the crowd as he recited one-liners and short poems from Miami elementary school students. “Life is weird, mean, and loud, Ha! But that’s the adults’ problem.”

Mitchell Kaplan, Books & Books owner also spoke.

“I am delighted by the outpouring of community sentiment. Tonight’s speakers are passionate advocates for freedom of expression and for the understanding of diversity that comes through unrestricted access to books. It’s truly heartwarming.”

Karla Hernandez-Matz, President of United Teachers of Dade, spoke passionately on behalf of local educators. As teachers, she said, “we cultivate critical thinking skills and expand our students’ horizons through the power of reading…We strongly condemn book bans… We condemn the censoring of teachers, the removal of teachers’ rights so that they can’t push back against book bans and censorship…”

Locals and Activists Fight Back

This May, a parent of two children attending the MDPS K-8 Bob Graham Education Center in Miami Lakes filed a complaint that resulted in The Hill We Climb. Three other books were challenged and removed from the elementary level part of the library. The parent who made the request to remove it had not read Gorman’s book The Hill We Climb. The parent mistakenly attributed it to Oprah Winfrey.

Amanda Gorman is speaking out. “If you look at the research, the majority of books that have been been banned fall into two camps. Either they have characters of color that talk about race in some way. Or, they have characters that are of the LGBTQ community or touch upon those themes in some way.

Ultimately, Gorman feels, the book restrictions are about “creating a bookshelf that doesn’t represent the diverse facets of America.”

The celebration and book giveaway held at Coral Gables Congregational Church represents pushback against increased efforts to narrow the bookshelves of America’s school libraries and to continue restricting access to books that showcase diversity.

During the first half of the 2022-23 school year, PEN America’s Index of School Book Bans lists 1,477 instances of individual books banned, affecting 874 unique titles.

Florida and Texas lead the nation in such restrictions.

To learn more about Florida banned books click here.

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J.J. Colagrande

Has written about Miami culture for almost twenty years, first with The Miami Herald, then Miami New Times and Huffington Post. He's the publisher of The Jitney and a full-time professor.