It's #BannedBookWeek and we should talk more about this nation's largest book ban.
Right now 2.3 million people confined by the U.S. prison system are subject to sweeping and arbitrary restrictions on what they can read. Banned book lists—some specifying tens of thousands of titles—are maintained by individual prisons and states with little or no independent review. These lists have been shown to disproportionately disallow books on race and civil rights, but even if a book is technically permitted, individual inmates may be denied access on a discretionary basis or due to highly bureaucratic requirements.
A 2019 list of books banned by the NC Department of Public Safety includes many you can find at Firestorm, for example: Kindred by Octavia Butler, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, I Am Not Your Negro by James Baldwin, and Trans Bodies, Trans Selves by Laura Erickson-Schroth.
Want to support access to literature for incarcerated individuals? This week a foundation is matching every book purchased from the Asheville Prison Books Program wishlist!
We also recommend a recent article by fellow bookseller Julie Poole, "Contraband Books: What Texas prisons have against Michelle Alexander, Frederick Douglass, and Alice Walker" (Scalawag Magazine).
From the article: "Perhaps the words of Alice Walker, Michelle Alexander, and Joyce King threaten to expose the unsettling connections between slavery and the systemic overpolicing of Black people in this country... It's striking to remember that in "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass," the book deemed inappropriate by the John B. Connally Unit, Douglass' owner scolds his wife for teaching Douglass to read, because he thought literacy would inspire the desire for freedom."