Strike Up the Banned

Bookseller Tiffany Razzano Relishes Dealing in Banned Titles

Razzano's store, This Bookstore Kills Fascists, has set up shop in Sarasota with a selection of “anything they don't want you to read in school.’’

By Jim DeLa/Community News Collaborative August 31, 2023

In the corner of an artist's co-op near downtown Sarasota, there's a small, inviting kiosk with a few bookshelves, a red velvet couch and a T-shirts-for-sale rack. 

And then the name of Tiffany Razzano's business reaches out and slaps you: This Bookstore Kills Fascists.

Razzano, who lives in St. Petersburg, is a New York transplant with a passion for books and performance art. She says she's annoyed with what she calls the "horrible, horrible legislation" coming out of Tallahassee.

For the last 15 years, Razzano has been holding events at book fairs across Florida, hosting literary-themed drag and burlesque shows and putting on "murder mysteries and immersive theater stuff around Halloween," she says.

"This bookstore project grew out of that—and quite simply out of sheer annoyance at the state of the world, and primarily the state of Florida," she says.

Many of the books on her shelves have been banned in libraries and schools across the United States. Titles on her shelf one afternoon included Pageboy, a memoir by actor Elliot Page; Push by Sapphire, a novel about a girl dealing with sexual abuse; and So You Want To be a Lesbian by Sydney Pokorny and Liz Tracey.

This new store, at The Bazaar at Apricot & Lime on Lime Avenue, is the next step in her educational crusade.

Her shop’s name is her take on a slogan made famous by Woody Guthrie in the 1940s and now, like then, was designed to get people's attention. "I thought it would be kind of a funny way to get people thinking about what is happening here," she says.

Folk singer Guthrie often appeared on stage with “This Machine Kills Fascists” written on his guitar.

Razzano says her store is a commentary on how art and books are a form of protest and expression.

"We're feminist, anti-racist-type folks, focusing on diverse voices and literature, particularly those that have been taken out of school and libraries, which we've seen way too much of in schools over the past year or two," she says.

Nationwide Trends

The American Library Association recently released data documenting 1,269 demands to restrict library books and resources in 2022, the highest number since ALA began compiling data more than 20 years ago.

Pen America, a community of writers, publishers and devoted readers and supporters, released a report noting a record 2,571 titles were targeted for censorship, a 38 percent increase from the 1,858 unique titles targeted for censorship in 2021.

Of those titles, the majority were written by or about members of the LGBTQIA+ community and people of color. Bans are increasingly affecting a wider swath of titles, including those that portray violence and abuse (44 percent), discuss topics of health and well-being (38 percent), and cover death and grief (30 percent).

Instances of book bans are most prevalent in Texas, Florida, Missouri, Utah and South Carolina, the data shows, with Florida in the thick of the debate over school curriculum and what's on library shelves.

House Bill 1069, which took effect July 1, includes requirements for specific terminology and instruction in health and sex ed in schools. It forbids classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.

The bill also makes it easier for parents to limit student access to materials they deem objectionable. The bill requires the suspension of materials alleged to contain pornography or obscene depictions of sexual conduct, as identified in current law, pending a review.

However, critics of the bill say many of the books affected include titles needed to take the College Board’s Advanced Placement literature exam and dual-enrollment classes.

PEN America has joined with parents and students from Escambia County to file a federal lawsuit challenging this law that removes and restricts books from school libraries.

"PEN America pushes back against the banning of books and the intolerance, exclusion, and censorship that undergird it," its website says.

Continuing the Conversation

Razzano says she's still looking for titles to include in her store. "Anything that they don't want you to read in school, we'd be very happy to have it here," she says.

She adds that she hopes the store sparks conversations beyond books.

"There are so many pieces of legislation that touch on many different things—from drag to trans rights to medical access to abortion to access to schools. This is just one of many issues," she says. "I think [the legislation] was intended to divide people who care about those things."

Books Banned in Local Schools

On the Suncoast, local school districts have confirmed the following books have been removed, either in response to complaints or recent legislation:

Books Banned or Restricted in Manatee County:

I am Jazz by Jazz Jennings

When Aiden Became a Brother by Kyle Lukoff

Red Hood by Elana Arnold

Tricks by Ellen Hopkins

Push by Sapphire

L8r, g8r by Lauren Myracle

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jessie Andrews

Ready or Not by Meg Cabot

Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart

Sold by Patricia McCormick

The Talk by Alicia D. Williams

What on Earth is a Pangolin by Edward Ricciuti

The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater

The Art of Junji Ito: Twisted Visions by Junji Ito

My Hero Academia Origin: Volume 5 by Kohei Horikoshi

Friends Forever by Shannon Hale

Books banned or restricted in Sarasota County:

Choke by Chuck Palahniuk

Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison

Looking for Alaska by John Green

Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi

Jim DeLa is a reporter for the Community News Collaborative. You can reach him at [email protected].

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