How You Can Fight Censorship: Resources for Booksellers

An introduction from indie bookstore owner Mitchell Kaplan and resources for booksellers in the fight against book bans.

How You Can Fight Censorship: Resources for Booksellers

This resource is a part of a collection about combating book bans. See more of what we’re doing and learn how you can help here.

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Mitchell Kaplan, a native of Miami Beach, opened the first Books & Books in 1982 in Coral Gables, Florida. Now with four South Florida locations, Books & Books hosts over 400 events per year. In addition, the original Coral Gables location is home to the well-established Café at Books & Books, and there are Books & Books affiliated stores at the Miami International Airport, and in Key West, where he collaborates with the noted author Judy Blume and her husband, George.  

Among his honors, Mitchell served as president of the American Booksellers Association, and he received the Literarian Award from the National Book Foundation. Books & Books was also Publishers Weekly’s bookstore of the year. He now serves on the Board of the National Coalition Against Censorship.

As co-founder of the Miami Book Fair in 1985, Mitchell has served as the chairperson of its Board of Directors and continues to guide the programming team at the Fair which takes place on the campus of Miami Dade College in the heart of downtown Miami.

Mitchell, with his partner Paula Mazur, established The Mazur Kaplan Company to bring books to the screen, both film and television. His most recent release is Let Him Go starring Diane Lane and Kevin Costner.

Mitchell also hosts the podcast The Literary Life with Mitchell Kaplan, broadcast from Miami, where he lives with his wife, Rachelle. They have three children, Anya, Daniel, and Jonah.

Censorship leaves us in the dark. These words are central to a mural that dominates a wall in the courtyard of our bookshop. Surrounding this truth are painted titles of books that have been challenged in some fashion over the years. One of our artist booksellers came up with the idea to commemorate an earlier Banned Books Week.

It was an important statement to make then, of course, but I distinctly remember it being met with a kind of wonderment from our customers who were incredulous that some of the most iconic books of the last 100 years were subject to removal from libraries and schools. Who would ever want to keep To Kill a Mockingbird, Grapes of Wrath, The Color Purple, or The Great Gatsby away from students? It all seemed so quaint, so absurd as to be a bit unbelievable.

There were certainly times in our recent history that the censors were working with diligence, but, surely, we had moved past that and could rest assured that the free flow of ideas was secure. Our First Amendment rights universally agreed to be sacrosanct. When the right to read certain books was threatened, those doing the threatening were usually from the fringe.

In retrospect, even though I’ve lived through very tumultuous times as a bookseller on the frontline advocating for these rights I’ve always held so close – whether keeping copies of The Satanic Verses in our front windows or monographs of the work of Robert Mapplethorpe in our photography section or fighting as a member of the American Booksellers Association against the hazards posed by the Patriot Act – I was naïve. I thought the worst was behind us.

The truth is we’ve never been through a period as perilous as right now.

We in Florida are ground zero in this new, cynical attempt to gain and maintain political power through the weaponization of books. It’s no longer fringe groups we’re fighting –  instead, it’s the government itself. Our governor, legislature, school boards, mayors, and city councils are enacting laws and edicts that are meant to distort the histories and silence the voices of so many.

There is no subtlety in these efforts. Authors are openly being singled out and vilified. Their books are being removed from libraries and curricula. They face intimidation, and these laws are having a chilling effect on teachers and librarians.

The speed and intensity of the assault on the First Amendment caused a kind of shock and awe. Many in our community felt powerless against what was clearly a well-funded and coordinated effort.

Things changed almost overnight, though. When books by Amanda Gorman and about Langston Hughes and the ABCs of Black History were effectively banned from an elementary school library, the racist and pernicious nature of these new laws was revealed. 

A resistance was born.

We decided as booksellers that we could help galvanize our community to come together and recognize the opposition that was finding its voice. We did what we do best: we organized an event. We called upon the partnerships we have relied on for over 40 years: a church that is proud to call itself a sanctuary for banned books, the ACLU, the local chapter of PEN America, the National Coalition Against Censorship, The Florida Freedom to Read Foundation, publishers, and authors.

We gathered at the Coral Gables Congregational Church and held a FREADOM reading of the books that were challenged. We gave away over 1,200 copies of those very same books. Five hundred people came out that night: teachers, librarians, families, and the diverse community that is South Florida was on full display.  

The FREADOM Coalition, made up of grassroots groups like Moms 4 Libros and Families Against Banned Books (FABB), is now meeting regularly, coordinating messaging, and strategically attending school board meetings. Leaders are emerging. Our community is galvanized and I’m as confident as ever that, just as has happened in the past, the right to read will reassert itself and we will never ever allow anyone to be left in the darkness brought on by the menace of censorship.

– Mitchell Kaplan

Here are some resources we recommend in fighting censorship. Follow the prompts for inspiration: 

“I Want To Get Involved But I Have Limited Time” 

“I Want To Stay Informed About Current Legislation and Become An Advocate” 

“I Want To Better Understand the Issue and the Resources That Are Available to Me” 

“I Want To Inform My Customers and Staff About the Issue” 

  • Share Book Resumes – resources to justify keeping frequently challenged titles on shelves