AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin resident Olivia DeVore, 16, was interning at Reverie Books in the spring of 2021 as conversations on challenged or banned books in classrooms began to emerge. She wanted to create a space where other teenagers could meet and think critically about the titles challenged, and how those perspectives could be a learning tool for people to access.
That spring, she launched a young adult book club based out of Reverie to highlight these perspectives. It’s a tactic other community members have taken to keep challenged books in circulation within the community, even if they’re restricted in local classrooms.
“I think it’s really, really important that people do understand others’ stories and are able to fully comprehend the world around them in their place in it,” she said. “And without those books, that becomes really difficult.”
It’s a momentum that’s grown in Central Texas as questions surrounding which titles students should have access to have risen. Last November, Gov. Greg Abbott issued a letter to the Texas Association of School Boards regarding concerns voiced by Texas parents on books, graphic novels and other materials in ISD libraries and school systems.
His letter followed an investigation launched by Texas Republicans into school districts’ curriculum and books used on campus — specifically those addressing 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 removals in ISDs around the state and compiled a 16-page list of nearly 850 books that he had concerns with regarding their content.
Research conducted by the nonprofit 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 ISDs have removed titles from their classroom libraries due to 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 leaned into their own iterations of banned book clubs to help keep titles in circulation and public discussion.
Book removals within Bastrop ISD prompted local bookstore owner Ryan Holiday to give away thousands of challenged titles through banned bookmobile events earlier this year at his bookstore, The Painted Porch Bookshop.
“As booksellers, obviously, this is alarming,” he told KXAN in February. “As a writer, this is alarming; but, as human beings, we think that words matter. And truth matters.”
This past summer, the Austin Public Library partnered with independent bookstore BookPeople to host Banned Camp, a series inviting residents to engage with and discuss challenged titles with fellow readers. What began as a summer series has now extended to a yearlong program, APL announced in late August.
“We are very excited to be able to offer this series of events for the community to celebrate the freedom to read and free and open access and exchange of ideas,” said APL Director Roosevelt Weeks in a release. “Libraries exist to give people access to all kinds of information, stories, and ideas — and unfortunately, that is increasingly under threat.”
Austin’s Black and woman-owned bookstore Black Pearl Books established a nonprofit in 2021 to “promote diversity, inclusion, and representation through literature.”
That nonprofit, Put It In a Book, launched a GoFundMe in August to raise proceeds for its Redacted Reads Book Club, centered on making these titles available to Austin-area students.
“The youth right now, we’re the future,” DeVore said. “Being exposed to this stuff, at our age that we’re at, is really important for us to gain a better worldview and a more inclusive worldview, and to create a more educated and inclusive society.”