Defending Diverse Voices: Four Best-Selling Authors Talk Banned Books

Supporting banned books and their authors is vital in the fight against censorship.

Ms. Classroom wants to hear from educators and students being impacted by legislation attacking public education, higher education, gender, race and sexuality studies, activism and social justice in education, and diversity, equity and inclusion programs. Cue: a new series from Ms., ‘Banned! Voices from the Classroom.’ Submit pitches and/or op-eds and reflections (between 500-800 words) to Ms. contributing editor Aviva Dove-Viebahn at Posts will be accepted on a rolling basis.

In the world of literature—where words have the power to ignite minds, challenge beliefs and shape the future—the battle against book bans has never been more critical.

Authors like Tiffany D. Jackson, known for her powerful young adult novel Monday’s Not Coming, have firsthand felt the sting of censorship. Jackson has seen her work banned in many areas and shared her anguish, saying:

“It’s very painful to have people say your books are corrupting children when your whole life’s mission is to uplift and empower Black girls. I try to focus on the stories. But I’m still licking my wounds.” 

Jason Mott, the author of Hell of a Book, which won the 2021 National Book Award for fiction, sheds light on the recent surge in book banning.

“I feel like the recent wave of book banning is a response to the events of the summer of 2020, marked by widespread protests and activism following the death of George Floyd. The demographic who was not a fan of 2020 reacted by banning books and trying to quiet the voices that suddenly got so loud. But banning books will not make racial complexities and the world’s complexities disappear; instead, it erodes compassion and understanding. We all want to protect our children. We all want to keep them safe. Part of doing that is keeping the world populated by books that reflect them all.” 

Nicola Yoon, author of best sellers like Everything, Everything and The Sun Is Also a Star, underscores the transformative potential of literature. She believes that books breed understanding and empathy.

“You can’t spend 300 pages in someone’s head and hate them. It is hard to hate what you understand. As artists, I think we have to keep writing respectful, truthful literature. Dictators and strong men burn books because books have ideas and the power to change the world. I want to be a part of that change.” 

Kimberly L. Jones, the author of I’m Not Dying with You Tonight and How We Can Win, is part of a collective of 1,300 authors who have called upon Congress to defend the richness of literature. Jones says:

“There is a misconception that these books radicalize children or erode the self-esteem of white children. That thinking is uninformed. These books nurture empathy in kids who are reading about people who don’t look like them. They build understanding.” 

The issue of book banning has resurfaced with renewed vigor. More than 1,600 books were banned in 138 school districts across 32 states between 2021 and 2022, according to a report by PEN America. Most challenged and banned books feature BIPOC or LGBTQ+ characters; discuss gender, sexuality and race in America; or are written by Black and POC authors.

An “anti-woke” agenda has also emerged, aiming to suppress and censor discussions of Black history and silence the voices of Black writers and educators. 

Last week, the U.S. commemorated Banned Books Week (Oct. 1-7, 2023)—an opportunity to resist attempts to suppress books written by Black authors and diverse voices. Banned Books Week celebrates the freedom to read, promotes titles that have been banned or restricted, and raises awareness about censorship.

The resurgence in book banning has been fueled by debates over critical race theory and efforts to censor discussions of Black history and racial justice in schools. It reflects a broader “anti-woke” agenda to suppress the stories and voices of Black writers and educators, with award-winning books like The Color Purple and The Hate U Give among those banned from libraries and academic curricula. 

Supporting banned books and their authors is vital in the fight against censorship. Literature has the power to inspire, educate and promote empathy and understanding. By protecting freedom of thought, we ensure readers of all backgrounds can see themselves reflected on the page. 

Banned Book Reading List

Support Black authors and those challenging the status quo by buying banned books.

Below is a list of banned books and where to purchase them:

Angela Davis: An Autobiography by Angela Davis 

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates 

Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy by Heather Ann Thompson 

The Breakaways by Cathy G. Johnson 

Flamer by Mike Curato 

Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019 by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain (editors) 

Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe 

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes 

Girls Like Us by Gail Giles 

A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée 

Go with the Flow by Lily Williams and Karen Schneeman 

How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith 

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi 

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado 

Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts) by L.C. Rosen 

Just Another Hero (Jericho Series, book 3) by Sharon Draper 

King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender 

Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo 

Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison 

Losing the Girl (Life on Earth series, book 1) by Mari Naomi 

Lucky by Alice Sebold  

Michelle Obama: Political Icon by Heather E. Schwartz 

Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur 

Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson 

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult 

New Kid and Class Act (series) by Jerry Craft 

None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio 

The Nowhere Girls by Amy Lynn Reed 

Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez 

The Popularity Papers (series) by Amy Ignatow 

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson 

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward 

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds 

A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard 

To Be Perfectly Honest: A Novel Based on an Untrue Story by Sonya Sones 

Weird Girl and What’s His Name by Meagan Brothers 

What Girls Are Made Of by Elana K. Arnold 

White Bird by R.J. Palacio 

Woke: A Young Poet’s Call to Justice by Mahogany L. Browne, Elizabeth Acevedo, et al. 

The 1619 Project by Nikole Hannah-Jones and the New York Times Magazine 

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison 

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood 

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas 

AllegedlyTiffany D. Jackson 

Dear MartinNic Stone 

Monday’s Not Coming, Tiffany D. Jackson 

More Happy Than Not, Adam Silvera 

Up next:

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J.D. Myall, an author and contributor to renowned publications such as Ms. magazine, Writer's Digest and HuffPost, draws inspiration from her upbringing as an 'army brat.' Raised in various corners of the globe, Myall's writing reflects her journey of embracing and celebrating the beauty of diversity. She is passionate about teaching creative writing and crafting feminist fantasies that explore race and class. When she's not writing, Myall indulges in her love for chocolate and all that sparkles. Find her at