The United States is facing a storm of protests for passing new laws and regulations leading to book bans across the country. Texas alone has become the second-highest state for banning books in public schools. Overall, book bans have increased by 33% over the last year, according to a September report by Pen America.
In light of recent developments, Penguin Random House has partnered with other like-minded NGOs to announce a collection of Creative Writings awards in poetry, memoir, fiction/drama, and the spoken word.
They have also announced a Freedom of Expression prize in protest against the book bans. All the awards and prizes grant $10,000 to the winners, along with support for ongoing mentorship opportunities. The prizes are aimed to help students pursue university in 2024.
The Freedom of Expression prize invites teens to write about how one banned book has changed their lives, explaining their reason with personal experiences. It was found that most of the banned books were targeted against authors who were women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ individuals.
Heather Stout, representing a non-profit organization protesting against book bans, has stated that it threatens the “very essence of education, the free exchange of ideas, critical thinking and empathy.”
“This year, it is of particular importance that we honor diverse young voices. As book bans proliferate across the country, we celebrate the power and importance of the written word,” said Caroline Richmond, executive director of We Need Diverse Books, a non-profit partnering with Penguin Random House on the award. “Students today deserve to be heard. With this award, we celebrate and amplify their perspectives.”
Many others have stated that the regulating bodies imposed personal preferences onto the young generation. Publishers have voiced that books are a means to change one’s life and everyone should deserve to see themselves in a book.
Some of the books banned in more than 20 districts include The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J Maas, Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.
The competition was announced and opened to the public on 16th October 2023. It will continue to receive submissions until 16th January 2024 or when they reach the quota of 1000 applications.
Claire von Schilling, director of corporate communications and social responsibility at Penguin Random House, said:
“In the midst of censorship efforts, it’s crucial that we protect and celebrate freedom of expression, especially for young people whose voices we need and want to lift up now more than ever.”