In the dystopian world of Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” the thought of books going up in flames and being forbidden to the public felt like a chilling work of fiction. Yet little did I know, it’s a reality echoing louder today and not a once-fictional scenario.

Recent reports from ABC News show a disturbing trend: nearly half of the books targeted by bans in recent times revolve around LGBTQ+ themes and people of color. Additionally, according to Poets, Editors, Novelists PEN America , the 2022-2023 school year saw an alarming surge in censorship, particularly centered on discussions about race, history, sexual orientation, and gender. It’s not just a few isolated incidents; it’s a nationwide epidemic with more book bans currently recorded than ever before.

This isn’t just about what books students can or can’t read. It’s about the kind of society we want to live in — one where diverse voices are celebrated, not silenced.

In a recent interview with The Justice, best-selling author Julian Winters shared insights into the impact of censorship on LGBTQ+ and 

Black, indigenous, and people of color literature. Reflecting on his involvement in Lambda Literary’s LGBTQ+ Writers in Schools program, Winters addressed the decline in opportunities for authors to engage with young readers due to mounting censorship pressures.

Winters revealed, “Since the rise in book bans, I’ve seen fewer school visits year over year.” He attributed this decline to educators’ fears of backlash for hosting authors with books associated with BIPOC and LGBPTQ+ narratives. Personally affected by these trends, Winters acknowledges his privilege as an established author. He recalls his high school days, where access to books beyond those provided by the library or assigned in class was limited by financial means, “I didn’t have money to buy those hardcover novels.”

These personal encounters inform Winters’ understanding of the impact of book bans, particularly on younger readers. He noted, “It’s hard to watch as these books continuously be pulled from shelves because I know the people that identify that way or see themselves in those pages, and [libraries are] the only access they’re going to have to those things.” This underscores the real impact of book bans on students’ access to diverse narratives, an impact often overlooked by adults seeking to censor narratives by taking books out of context. 

In addressing the out-of-context censorship surrounding diverse narratives, Winters offers insights into the real impact of book bans on students’ exploration of personal identity. He highlights the failure of adults to recognize the repercussions of such actions on young readers, compelling them to shy away from celebrating their identities in public spaces.

“These adults don’t recognize that when you put the teens or these young readers into that position, it makes them want to shy away from who they are,” Winters asserts. He underscores the importance of safe spaces in schools and libraries, where students can freely explore and celebrate their identities without fear of judgment or censorship.

Winters draws attention to the irony of the situation, citing the example of the Netflix series “Heartstopper,” which originated as a graphic novel. Recalling his own experiences following the series’ development on Tumblr, he emphasizes its profound impact in resonating with diverse audiences despite featuring two white protagonists from the United Kingdom.

“It was healing. It was wonderful to see those things,” Winters reflects. However, he expresses dismay at the series being among the most banned in schools and libraries due to its portrayal of themes like homophobia and bullying. He condemns the tendency to misconstrue such narratives as inappropriate for younger readers, rather than addressing the underlying issues they confront.

“We’re taking these things out of context, this wonderful, beautiful story,” Winters laments. He calls attention to the misplaced focus on censorship instead of addressing the real-world issues reflected in literature. 

By labeling uncomfortable topics as inappropriate, Winters argues, society fails to confront and address the systemic problems they represent.

Winters’ mission as a writer is to change the narrative and create main characters that center on the identity of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ individuals. For him, writing became a means to fill the void and offer representation to marginalized voices. Winters’ states, “One of my things I hope to convey is that we exist in these spaces and therefore we should exist on the page.” 

Winters believes that it is essential for marginalized characters to be at the center of literature whether as the hero of the story, the love interest, or even just being normal. Winters says, “I think that the biggest part for me is a lot of queer and BIPOC people when they’re portrayed in the media. It’s almost like they have to climb this big hill in order for them  that happy ending. And I want to write more stories where we just get to do normal things.”

Prior to enrolling in my first college course on Asian American literature, my literary journey lacked the voices and stories of notable Asian American Pacific Islander authors. Throughout middle and high school, the absence of characters who reflected my heritage left me yearning for representation. It wasn’t until I stepped into that college classroom that authors like Maxine Hong Kingston and Chang-Rae Lee were introduced to me, marking a pivotal shift in my reading experience.

This exposure to diverse narratives illuminated the profound impact of representation in literature. It underscored the importance of seeing oneself reflected in the stories we read, validating experiences and identities that had previously felt marginalized. While there has been some progress in recent years, with an increasing number of AAPI authors featuring protagonists from diverse backgrounds, there remains a glaring gap in the availability of such literature within the educational curriculum.

Winters’ insights underscore the profound impact of representation in literature and the urgent need to safeguard the accessibility of diverse narratives for young readers. As we confront the challenges of censorship, his words serve as an important message of the power of storytelling in shaping identities and fostering empathy.

As we navigate the literary landscape, it is imperative that we continue to advocate for inclusivity and representation. By doing so, we not only enrich the reading experiences of individuals from all walks of life, but also foster a more compassionate and inclusive society.