Parents and lawmakers are ramping up legislation that could remove hundreds of books from public-school curricula and library shelves. On Wednesday, PEN America announced that the CEO of Penguin Random House Markus Dohle personally donated $500,000 to the organization to combat nationwide book bans. Regarding the ongoing censorship in America, Dohle told the New York Times, “It’s unimaginable. And it is very urgent, and it ties into the future of our democracy.” His donation comes on the heels of an American Library Association report that stated Americans issued 330 book challenges — calls to remove a book from a school or a library — in the fall of 2021. Dohle’s contributions will go toward a specialized fund called the Dohle Book Defense Fund, which seeks to support communities where books are being challenged.
Dohle’s donations may be in good faith, but the onslaught of book censorship could potentially mess with his bag. Many of the recent book bans target titles printed by Penguin, including The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood, and Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher. Penguin also promotes “Banned Books Week” every September with a sweepstakes contest that disseminates literature from their imprint. After the widely publicized Tennessee school-board ban on Art Spiegelman’s Maus early in 2022, Americans have enacted more bans targeting literature that tackles topics of race and sex.
Many of the complaints were issued by conservative parents who fear that LGBTQ+ literature will push their kids toward “alternative lifestyles.” Ah yes, the avid-young-reader-to-homosexual pipeline. The bans are also intrinsically tied to recent debates around whether or not critical race theory should be taught in schools, resulting in classics like Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye being removed from library shelves. Hearkening back to simpler days for student readers, Reading Rainbow host Levar Burton went on The Daily Show to condemn the absurdity of banning books like And Tango Makes Three, a story about gay penguins that has received flack for encouraging “sexual perversion.”