During the last few years, one of the continuing challenges in literary citizenship has been frequent attempts to remove books by writers of color and LGBTQIA+ writers among others from school and public libraries. According to the American Library Association, there were more attempts to remove books from libraries in 2022 in the United States in a single year since the American Library Association started tracking book challenges more than 20 years ago. In response to these organized challenges, “Unstoppable Stories: A Banned Book Festival” urges everyone, readers and writers especially, to recognize the value of literary citizenship, advocating for and celebrating the voices of marginalized groups whose stories are continually being silenced. “Unstoppable Stories” understands these stories to be crucial; they connect us across our differences and teach us to be better people. So, when Anna Stolley Persky, a contributor to FCPS Pride—an organization of LGBTQIA+ staff, parents, guardians, and families of LGBTQIA+ students, LGBTQIA+ family members and allies in the Fairfax County Public Schools— and steadfast supporter of free literary expression received an email about the festival, she immediately volunteered to help.
The daughter of a librarian, Persky has always passionately supported the idea of unrestricted access to books. “As a writer and reader, I care deeply that all our stories can be shared,” she states on her interest in working with the banned books festival. “I love the idea of gathering together the community in celebration of books [and] I wanted to help us all push back against the recent efforts to stifle the voices of marginalized writers and remove books that make some people ‘uncomfortable.’ There are stories out there that may make us uncomfortable but are important to learn, nevertheless.”
George Mason University’s MFA community also contributed tremendously to her work with the banned books festival, promoting the event and connecting her organizing group with people in the literary communities and libraries. “I felt supported and encouraged in my efforts to fight book banning from the moment I mentioned the festival to MFA leadership,” she states. According to Persky, for everyone—but for writers especially—the fight against our country’s current efforts to remove books from schools and libraries is of upmost importance. “How will removing books affect children and young adults?” she asks. “How do these efforts affect writers, and maybe encourage them to censor themselves for fear access to their books will be restricted if they say what they want to say? Are marginalized authors being specifically targeted because their stories are uncomfortable for some people? Who gets to decide what we all, including children, are able to read?” As part of an MFA community which values diverse voices and stories, Persky encourages writers to seriously consider these questions and fight for silenced storytellers to be heard.
“Unstoppable Stories: A Banned Book Festival” is part of the Teaching Truth Campaign and coincides with Banned Book Week, which takes place October 1st through October 7th, 2023. The festival occurs over two days, Saturday, September 30th and Sunday, October 1st, with a variety of events which intend to celebrate the books and stories that reflect and change people’s lives. On Saturday, September 30th at 11am., Persky will be moderating an author panel featuring Juana Medina, J.P. Der Boghossian, and Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, where she’ll be discussing book banning efforts and the importance of accessing and elevating the stories of marginalized writers. The festival is organized by the Unitarian Universalist faith communities working in partnership with other groups and people like Anna Stolley Persky, who believe that it is our right not only as literary citizens, but as people, to end book banning and efforts to silence the voices of marginalized communities. “Anyone who writes should attend," Persky states. “Anyone who reads should attend. Anyone who values books should attend.”
For more information on the festival, visit https://uucf.org/unstoppable/
September 27, 2023