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You’re Invited to a Free Banned Book Fair and Read-In on May 3

In response to recent censorship legislation, the public is invited to join in a book fair to increase access to books, read banned ones and connect.

By Kim Doleatto April 27, 2023

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

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

Florida has seen a recent spike in censorship, leading to book bans across the state’s public school districts.

Access to books, particularly those that touch on race, gender and sexual orientation, has become increasingly politicized, and new legislation has led to limitations on which books school libraries can stock. The Banned Book Fair and Read-In will bring many of those titles to light, with book giveaways, three-minute read-ins, and a place to meet local, like-minded folk and organizations pushing back against censorship.

New College professor Queen Meccasia Zabriskie is one of the organizers of the event.

“This event is an opportunity for the community to come together in a celebration of educational freedom. The American Federation of Teachers is providing 800 to 1000 books and titles representing African American, Jewish, Muslim, Asian and Indigenous experiences,” says one of the organizers, Queen Meccasia Zabriskie, who is also an associate professor of sociology and theater, dance and performance studies at New College of Florida. “There will also be Spanish titles. We’re excited because they'll reflect the diversity in our community that we don’t always see and hear from.”

Titles will include Once Upon an Eid: Stories of Hope and Joy by 15 Muslim Voices; Julián is a Mermaid; Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag; Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You; The Bluest Eye and Antiracist Baby (plus its Spanish translation, Bebé Antiracista), among others.

Local bookstore Shelf Indulgence will bring its banned book bus so people can purchase used books and also donate books. Staff from Bookstore 1 Sarasota will also be there to educate the audience about Florida book bans and how readers can resist them. And organizers from the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) and the African American Cultural Resource Center will talk about their work in the local community and provide opportunities to get involved.

The idea comes from a national call to action, called Freedom to Learn, put forth by the African American Policy Forum. Banned book fairs are scheduled not just at Forgartyville in Sarasota, but nationwide on May 3. Locally, it’s organized by various groups and headed by the Manasota Anti-Racism Coalition.

There were 2,532 instances of individual books being banned in 32 states, with Texas and Florida leading the nation, according to PEN America’s 2022 Banned in the USA report.

When the new censorship regulations went into effect in January, some area teachers removed or covered up books that hadn’t been vetted by certified media specialists, whose approval for each book is now legally required. To play it safe, some teachers removed their in-class book collections until the titles could be reassessed. That’s because the policies are vague. One thing is clear, however: violation of the law could be punishable by up to five years in prison.

“We want to create a space for people in particular whose identities are being challenged,” Zabriskie says. “Students have a right to access ideas and information. As a Black mother and an educator, I want my child to be able to access books and characters that represent him [and show] what’s possible for him, but also people who are very different from him.”

Doors will open at Forgartyville Community Media and Arts Center at 5 p.m., on Wednesday, May 3. From 5:30 to 6:00 p.m., participants will read from banned children’s books. Books for all ages will be read from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Speakers will share insights about educational censorship and food will be available for purchase. The event is free and located at 525 Kumquat Court in Sarasota. Sign up here to read a banned book to the audience. Or, share information and connect by emailing [email protected].

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