On Saturday, September 28, Asheville Prison Books will partner with Firestorm Books & Coffee to celebrate National Banned Books Week (Sept. 22-28).
Between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. on that day, our collective will be tabling with information about our project and about the largest book ban in the country, which is taking place right now in prisons across every state. Firestorm will also match purchases of banned or “challenged” books with a donation of a second copy of the book to our project!
According to Firestorm Collective member Libertie Valance, “If you think that book banning is just the stuff of a parochial past or a dystopian future, you’re mistaken. Right now, tens of thousands of North Carolinians are being arbitrarily prevented from accessing reading material.”
Valance noted that North Carolina prison system, like other state and federal systems, maintains a banned books list. In 2018 the ACLU called that list—which included The New Jim Crow, an award-winning book by Michelle Alexander about mass incarceration dependent on discrimination against African-Americans—“shameful,” “wrong,” and “unconstitutional.” At that time, restricted titles included I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, The Stand by Stephen King, and Trans Bodies, Trans Selves by Laura Erickson-Schroth.
According to Asheville Prison Books organizer Julie Schneyer, prison censorship is only getting worse due to trends that make banning books not only easier but more profitable. “In the era of prison profiteers like JPay, we’re potentially seeing the dawn of a new era of prison censorship,” Schneyer noted. “For-profit companies are making big money by using the promise of tech-enabled education to sell e-readers and tablets to incarcerated people. But these devices only carry DOC-sanctioned content, which makes it much easier for DOCs to quietly ban books."
Even more concerning, she says, is that DOCs frequently use the availability of these new devices to justify banning books-to-prisons programs like hers from sending in free, physical books at all. "It’s a lose-lose,” she says. "The DOCs engage in de facto book banning through these devices they control, and then they put blanket bans on projects like ours from operating. The result is that people's access to content is curtailed, and prison profiteers get rich selling content we could provide for free."