This interview has been edited for clarity, length, and flow.
MH: Can you talk to me about the first time you heard from the dark Was it blocked or objected to and how did you feel or react at the time?
AHP: Halfway through the pandemic, I heard from PEN America that my book was among 20 or 30 books being challenged in the Central Texas School District. Then it was pulled from the reading program and there was some kind of revision going on. Then in August, my book was among those officially banned from being used in book clubs. This was the first of many removals.
I think the first is always the hardest on the book because it’s just a shock. And for me in particular, from the dark It was published in 2015. It has been published in school libraries and has received many awards.
MH: Can you chat with us about how you see the book ban fit in with the broader attack on rights by conservatives?
AHP: The political nature of these right-wing groups has appropriated book bans as a strategy. It’s not about books. It’s about signaling disapproval of certain identities and creating chaos in public schools.
MH: Do you see any overlap with Republican efforts to ban books, the recent attack of anti-transgender bills, and the critical race theory hysteria?
AHP: There’s a very powerful group called Utah, Barents United, that has been very influential, you know, driving this agenda. But the one thing that those of us who were watching these groups saw was that these groups pivoted very quickly from one issue to the next.
Many of them formed around anti-disappearance efforts, then focused on anti-CRT, then book bans…obviously and often have common identities targeted by right-wing groups.
Parents who, you know, basically feed these narratives, into conservative spaces online or on TV, that’s very reminiscent of anti-integration language. I don’t want this book near my child, and they are holding a book with a black character in the foreground or a strange character. It is a sign. They wish to exclude those identities from their children’s experience of the world. Nor can they say, I don’t want black or queer kids to go to my child’s schoolBut they can appear and say, I don’t want these books in my child’s school.
MH: Why is it so important for young readers to have books written by people who are different from themselves and themselves? Especially when they are dealing with difficult or sensitive topics, such as sexual violence, discrimination or abuse?
AHP: What happens is that they use sexual content as an excuse to challenge books that engage with the experiences of non-dominant societies that address important things like police brutality and, in my case, racial violence and sexual assault.
These are important topics for young people to have the opportunity to explore and reach. And what these people are suggesting is that having all these challenging themes and literature is somewhat of an endorsement to them when in fact it creates a space for young people to responsibly interact with realities that may not be their own living facts but are. Somebody Reality live.
It’s kind of a really simplistic framework, the kind of idea that because you don’t agree with something that shouldn’t be explored in the literature. I write about many behaviors and choices that I disagree with because that’s how I can detect what’s wrong with them. For this from the dark It is important.
It’s not only important for black and Latinx readers. White readers read it and have a different understanding of how friends their age experience the world, and how it can be very different from the experiences of their friends of color.
MH: Was there any pressure from people in publishing like your agent or editor to avoid certain topics or write something different due to concerns about book bans or censorship? Did you get a lot of methodological support from the industry?
AHP: I have a great editor who is very committed to exploring human experiences and where that exploration takes us. My agent, too, is awesome.
But people realize that librarians are now afraid to buy some books. I think that for people who are more of a writer early in their career, this is definitely something that makes people fall back on important issues that they would otherwise write about.
MH: Are there any anecdotes or interactions with readers that have commented with you?
AHP: I am very grateful. As all of this unfolded, I got so many harassing messages that I’m so much better at keeping positive messages because you have to face it. I am very impressed with the readers who take the time to get involved.
The direct line of feedback I have received from readers is that their hearts are broken and they are also grateful for the experience of reading the book. It is a very difficult book. It’s heartbreaking but there are ways they fall in love with the characters they want the world for. It gives readers a chance to build a world in which people like the characters in my books are safe to love, live, and thrive.
I think one of the gifts of a book like from the dark What readers often ask is that it helps them understand the changes we need to keep working towards because they want certain things. Readers look at it and say, I don’t want this to be like my worlde. I want a world that makes room for people.
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