If you’re keeping up with the headlines, you know that book bans are on the rise across the country. According to advocacy group PEN America, book bans in public schools increased 33 percent last school year. And if you follow our coverage on The Root, you know books written by authors of color and authors who identify as LGBTQ are conservatives’ primary target.
But Indianapolis-based author Leah Johnson is doing her part to make sure the books conservatives don’t want you to read are still available. Because for her, it’s personal.
Johnson, who identifies as a Black queer woman, knows firsthand that representation matters. “When you can see yourself in fiction, where you can see your experiences reflected back to you, it is an assertion that there is nothing wrong with you. You are not alone,” she told CNN.
Her 2021 YA novel “You Should See Me in a Crown” centers around a Black teen girl who goes after her high school’s prom queen title in hopes that the accompanying scholarship will help her get to the elite college of her dreams. But things get complicated when she finds herself falling for her competition.
Although the book received lots of acclaim, including being named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Best YA Books of All Time, “You Should See Me in a Crown” found itself the target of conservative book bans across the country, including in her home state of Indiana, where House Bill 1447 bans books considered “obscene” or “harmful to minors” from school libraries.
So last September, Johnson decided to take matters into her own hands and opened Loudmouth Books in Indianapolis to provide access to diverse literature and create a safe space for books “by, for and about marginalized people.”
“When we remove these books from the shelves, when these books are not able to be written for whatever reason…it’s the removal of queer people from public life,” Johnson told CNN. “And if we don’t allow kids to have access to stories where they see themselves on the page, what are we teaching them? That who they are is something to be ashamed of? Something to be scared of? That’s dangerous territory.”
In addition to selling books by marginalized authors, Loudmouth plans to host readings and other events that bring the community together.
“I know what it means to be somebody who moves through the world without ever seeing yourself reflected in the pages of a book. And I know the harm that that can cause,” Johnson said. “But I also know that if I have a platform of any kind, and I can use that platform to draw attention to the books that do disappear with no fanfare and their authors don’t have the means to fight it, then I should.”