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ABFE Free Speech Report

ABFE Free Speech Report, vol. 2, no. 5, October 2016

Bookstore Displays and Events Celebrate Banned Books Week

Once again this year, booksellers played a central role in Banned Books Week, which ended on October 1.  More than 500 stores mounted displays of banned and challenged books using promotional materials provided by American Booksellers for Free Expression (ABFE).  Bookstore and library displays have always been the centerpiece of the week.  “Our front window is getting lots of buzz around town,” Roger Cottingham, the community relations manager for Maria’s Bookshop in Durango, Colorado, reported.

For the first time this year, bookstores in different parts of the country held a Banned Books Week event on the same night.  “A Night of Silenced Voices” featured readings and panel discussions about challenges to diverse books, which include characters that are minorities because of their race, ethnicity, sexuality, or other characteristics.  In New York City, a large crowd turned up at Housing Works Bookstore Café to hear readings by five authors.  Readings were also held at Skylight Books in Los Angeles, Books & Books in Miami, and The Book Cellar in Chicago.  Politics and Prose in Washington, Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver and Powell’s City of Books in Portland, Oregon, organized panel discussions about the importance of diversity in books.

All of the booksellers involved were enthusiastic following the events.  “Just finished our banned books event!  It was a lot of fun,” Kelsey Nolan at Skylight reported.  Lily Taylor of Politics and Prose agreed.  “We had an audience that wanted to talk,” she said.  Mitchell Kaplan, owner of Books & Books, praised the authors at his event.  “They gave beautiful readings and emboldened members of the audience to read from challenged books.  All of this spurred some wonderful informal discussions following the formal event,” he said.

ABFE is asking booksellers to help plan next year’s Banned Books Week now by filling out a short survey evaluating this year’s event and making suggestions for the future.  It also welcomes pictures of displays and comments at  

Booksellers Knock Out Unconstitutional Louisiana Law

Two New Orleans bookstores have won their legal challenge to a Louisiana law that would have required them to verify the age of visitors to their websites. A federal judge in Baton Rouge on Friday, October 7, permanently enjoined the law for violating the First Amendment rights of both website owners and their customers. Judge Brian A. Jackson also ordered state and local officials who were defendants in the case to reimburse the plaintiff attorneys’ fees and other costs incurred in challenging the law.  Garden District Book Shop and Octavia Books joined the American Booksellers Association, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, and Anti-gravity, a Louisiana magazine, in filing the lawsuit in November, after the state legislature passed the law.

“This is an important victory for me as a bookseller and for my customers,” Tom Lowenburg, co-owner of Octavia Books, said. Britton Trice, owner of Garden District Book Shop, agreed.  “This law would have had a definite chilling effect on our business, depriving our customers of books that they have a First Amendment right to browse and buy," Trice said.

ABA Urges President Obama to Protest Turkish Censorship

On September 1, the American Booksellers Association joined American publishers, authors, and librarians in a letter urging President Obama to protest the widespread suppression of free speech in Turkey during a meeting with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.  Since a failed coup in July, the Turkish government has shut down 29 publishers, 16 television stations, 23 radio stations, 45 newspapers, and 15 magazines. It has also issued arrest warrants for 40 journalists and 47 employees of a newspaper.  According to news reports, Obama did not discuss the crackdown during the meeting, focusing instead on trying to heal a rift in relations between Turkey and the U.S.

Free Speech Victory in Virginia School Fight

On September 7, a review committee created by the Chesterfield County School District in Virginia recommended that the school board reject demands for the removal of several books from its libraries that some parents and a state legislator had described as  “pornographic” and filled with “vile, vile, nasty language.”  The committee said Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park, Coe Booth’s Tyrell, and Walter Dean Myers’ Dope Sick should remain in middle school libraries.

The committee acted following widespread protest over the removal of the titles from a summer reading list.  The Kids’ Right to Read Project (KRRP), which is co-sponsored by ABFE and the National Coalition Against Censorship, joined the protest.  KRRP has been active in earlier school censorship cases in Virginia and recently helped persuade the governor to veto a bill that would have required school officials to notify parents whenever “sexually explicit” books are used in the classroom.

In other news...

Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi, declared a First Amendment Sales Tax Holiday in late August in an effort to encourage the state legislature to add books to future tax holidays.  Mississippi already has a three-day “Second Amendment Holiday” that waives the sales tax on the purchase of firearms and hunting supplies.  The store promotion will be expanded next year.

In July, a government review board recommended the release of  Mohamedou Ould Slahi, the author of Guantánamo Diary (Little, Brown and Company), who has been an inmate of the United States prison in Cuba for 14 years.  Slahi strongly denied committing terrorist acts, although he did briefly confess to crimes after suffering months of torture.  His attorneys used the Freedom of Information Act to force the government to release the diary.

Free Speech Triumphs in the “Battle of Boston”

In his latest “Free Speech” column, ABFE Director Chris Finan brings to a close his history of the landmark battle for free speech in Boston in the 1920s.  Sadly, the victory was won only after another outrageous prosecution forced the closing of a well-loved Cambridge bookstore, the Dunster House Bookshop.      

The American Booksellers for Free Expression, a program of the American Booksellers Association, is the bookseller's voice in the fight against censorship. Please visit our resources page for information about how booksellers can prepare for a variety of free speech emergencies or email In a crisis, call me, ABFE Director Chris Finan, at (917) 509-0340.
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