By Miriam Moore-Keish
As book challenges and bans in 2022 are on track to exceed the already historically high number from 2021, distinct trends have emerged. Books for young people are being targeted most fiercely. Narratives with characters of color and/or LGBTQIA+ issues or identities are the most likely to be challenged or removed entirely.
Throughout Banned Books Week, we will be sharing thoughts and insights from queer creators directly affected by the widespread, unprecedented effort to suppress their stories. For today, here’s part one:
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Miriam Moore-Keish: Some authors are proud to be banned authors. Alex, about a year ago you said that you aren’t. That that pride often reflects a certain amount of privilege. I wonder if you could speak more about that. And how does everyone else feel?
Alex Gino: It’s an awkward place to be, absolutely. So I understand that sometimes people want to give congratulations, to go, oh, it means you “made it.” But to feel good about being banned makes it about the author—somehow the author is cool, the author is special, the author is transgressive. Particularly, what’s “transgressive” [makes air quotes with their fingers] about my books is that people exist. Trans people exist. People like me and not like me exist.
Kyle Lukoff: Where it’s like 50% understandable to be proud is for all those people who are getting banned for writing outside of their own lived experiences. Because their goal is to say, “look how great I am. I am this brave soldier doing this work for these poor voiceless people who can’t possibly talk for themselves. And the fact that my book is getting banned means that I am sacrificing myself for these poor people.” Whereas when I am writing a book about myself and someone says, “Congratulations, you [got banned],” I’m like, yes, but they are also coming for me as a human being and that is what this book is symbolizing. I think maybe the congratulatory tone is mistaking a political manifesto for a novel that draws upon my own experience of humanity…Any positive that I’m getting is coming from other people’s pain and my own precarity.
Cathy G. Johnson: I feel like there’s a certain part of [celebration] that’s like almost distracting culturally to think about book bans, because it’s like a fluffier way of talking about actual anti-trans, anti-LGBTQ legislation. Like Texas is banning a lot of our books—well multiple districts, I don’t want to spread one color across Texas because there’s a lot of Texas that’s fighting—but they just had the school sports law where transgender kids can’t play on sports teams with the gender they identify with. It’s frustrating to only talk about myself as an author getting banned, and I’m like, “I care about the kids! We make books for kids! We want kids to have good lives.”
Noah Grigni: People have [the] perception [that book bans mean sales], and that’s why they congratulate me…And if people are purely like, “Congratulations, you’re making more money,” that’s really sad and really gross that more profit for the author comes at the expense of kids in red states or conservative areas being unable to access the book. It completely undermines what we want to achieve when we are putting these stories into the world, that the kids who need them will be able to read them. The kids are the ones who suffer.
Mike Curato: If you have a new title that people aren’t as familiar with, maybe a librarian won’t take a chance if their job is on the line. I wanted to make my book so that a young reader could read this and feel good about themselves, but because it’s on the banned list, [for] the people that would most associate with this book—it’s just reinforcing that “there are a lot of people that don’t want you here.” It’s weird. This reaction is a case in point to why these books need to exist, but at the same time it’s traumatic to a young reader because it makes it very real for them.
Mike Curato is the award-winning author and illustrator of the Little Elliot series, Where is Bina Bear, and the graphic novel Flamer, and has illustrated a number of other books for children, including What If… (by Samantha Berger), Worm Loves Worm, and All the Way to Havana.
Alex Gino loves glitter, ice cream, gardening, awe-ful puns, and stories that reflect the diversity and complexity of being alive. Their first novel, Melissa, was a winner of the Children’s Stonewall Award, the Lambda Literary Award, and the Children’s Choice Book Award. For more about Alex, please visit them at alexgino.com.
Noah Grigni is a queer, trans, freelance artist and illustrator from Atlanta, Georgia (stolen Muskogee land). Noah makes art for, about, and in collaboration with their communities, who they define as trans kids, queer southerners, and sexual trauma survivors. Noah creates children’s books, comics, paintings, zines, and whatever else brings them joy! They are best known for their exhibition “Protect Trans Dreams” at the Boston Children’s Museum, and for illustrating the children’s book It Feels Good To Be Yourself by Theresa Thorn.
Cathy G. Johnson is an award-winning cartoonist, printmaker and educator residing on occupied Narragansett land in Providence, Rhode Island. Her comics delve into the complicated worlds of young people, exploring the hardships and joys of adolescence. She holds a master’s degree in art education from the Rhode Island School of Design. She received the 2014 Ignatz Award Winner for Promising New Talent. Past works include the graphic novels Jeremiah (2015), Gorgeous (2016), and The Breakaways (2019). The Breakaways won the 2019 Dorry Award for Book of the Year in Children’s/YA. Cathy has also published numerous smaller works through self-publishing and independent presses. Her newest comic, Black Hole Heart, self-published in 2020, won the 2020 Ignatz award for Outstanding Minicomic. Cathy regularly exhibits at comic book conventions, holds speaking engagements, and enjoys being a visiting author at libraries and schools. Portfolio: www.cathygjohn.net | Education: www.comicarted.com
Kyle Lukoff is the author of many books for young readers. His debut middle-grade novel, Too Bright To See, received a Newbery honor, the Stonewall award, and was a National Book Award finalist. His picture book When Aidan Became A Brother also won the Stonewall, and his book Call Me Max has been banned in schools across the country. He has forthcoming books about mermaids, vegetables, death, and lots of other topics. While becoming a writer he worked as a bookseller for ten years, and then nine more years as a school librarian. He hopes you’re having a nice day.
Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, Miriam Moore-Keish received her B. A. in English from Macalester College in St. Paul, MN, and her MPhil in Education and Critical Approaches to Children’s Literature from the University of Cambridge in Cambridge, UK. She has written and edited books for all ages, consulted on manuscripts, taught creative writing classes, guest lectured, and engaged in general bookwormery. Miriam currently publishes children’s books at Capstone, designs anti-bias preschool curricula, and curates libraries’ children’s collections. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where they don’t (but she does) sweeten their tea.