AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin resident Olivia DeVore, 16, was interning at Reverie Books in the spring of 2021 as conversations about challenged or banned books in classrooms began to emerge. She wanted to create a space where other teens could meet and think critically about contested titles, and how those perspectives could be a learning tool that people could access.
That spring, she started a reverie-based young adult book club to highlight those perspectives. It’s a tactic other community members have adopted to keep the disputed books circulating within the community, even if they’re restricted to local classrooms.
“I think it’s really, really important for people to understand other people’s stories and to be able to fully understand the world around them in their place in it,” she said. “And without those books, it becomes really difficult.”
It’s a momentum that has been building in central Texas as questions about what credentials students should have access to have grown. Last November, Governor Greg Abbott sent a letter to the Texas Association of School Boards regarding concerns expressed by Texas parents regarding books, graphic novels and other materials in libraries and school systems across the country. ISD.
His letter followed an investigation launched by Texas Republicans into school district curricula and books used on campus, particularly those that address race and sexuality. In an Oct. 25 letter to the Texas Education Agency obtained by the Texas Tribune, Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) noted book deletions in state DSIs and compiled a 16-page list of nearly of 850 pounds that he had concerns. regarding their content.
Research by the non-profit organization PEN America found that more than 700 titles were banned or under investigation in Texas schools between July 1, 2021 and March 31, 2022. Locally, some DSIs have removed titles from their classroom libraries because of books deemed sexual or inappropriate. in nature.
While classrooms are beholden to decisions made at the ISD or state level, more Central Texas bookstore owners have looked to their own iterations of banned book clubs to help keep titles in circulation and public debate.
Book withdrawals within Bastrop ISD prompted local bookstore owner Ryan Holiday to donate thousands of disputed titles during banned bookmobile events earlier this year at his bookstore, The Painted Porch Bookshop.
“As booksellers, obviously it’s alarming,” he told KXAN in February. “As a writer, it’s alarming; but, as human beings, we think words matter. And the truth matters.
Last summer, the Austin Public Library partnered with independent bookstore BookPeople to host Banned Camp, a series inviting residents to engage and discuss disputed titles with other readers. What started as a summer series has now expanded into a year-long schedule, APL announced in late August.
“We are very pleased to be able to bring this series of events to the community to celebrate freedom to read, free and open access, and the exchange of ideas,” said APL Director Roosevelt Weeks. in a press release. “Libraries exist to give people access to all kinds of information, stories and ideas – and sadly this is increasingly under threat.”
Black and woman-owned Austin bookstore Black Pearl Books established a nonprofit in 2021 to “promote diversity, inclusion, and representation through literature.”
This nonprofit, Put It In a Book, launched a GoFundMe in August to raise money for its Redacted Reads Book Club, which is focused on making these titles available to students in the Austin area.
“Young people right now, we are the future,” DeVore said. “Being exposed to these kinds of things, at our age that we are, is really important for us to gain a better worldview and a more inclusive worldview, and to create a more educated and inclusive society.”