Author landed on US book ban list because her surname is ‘Gay’

Read Me A Story, Stella book cover

A children’s book author found her work accidentally blacklisted in Alabama because her surname.

The book Read Me A Story, Stella, by Marie-Louise Gay, was reportedly removed from the children’s section of the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library (HCPL) in Alabama after being mistakenly labelled as “sexually explicit” due to author’s last name.

According to Gay’s publicist, Groundwood Books, this is a first for the author, who has never been “mistakenly censored.”

Kirsten Brassard, a publicist at Groundwood Books, told local publication that as much as the censorship mistake was “obviously laughable,” it shouldn’t detract from the “ridiculousness” of the state’s censoring system.

“This proves, as always, that censorship is never about limiting access to this book or that one. It is about sending the message to children that certain ideas – or even certain people – are not worthy of discussion.

“This is a hateful message in a place like a public library, where all children are meant to feel safe, and where their curiosity about the world is meant to be nurtured.”

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‘There was no debate. There was no conversation’

Executive director of HCPL, Cindy Hewitt, noted that the book should not have been put on the censorship list and confirmed it was done so because of the keyword “gay.”

According to the library’s circulation manager, Alyx Kim-Yohn, the books were ordered to be cross-referenced with the Alabama Public Library Service’s list of challenged books.

But after discovering that the list of challenged books does not yet exist, Kim-Yohn, the library instead banned books based on a number of keywords, including the phrases gay, transgender, gender identity, or gender non-conforming.

Read Me A Story, Stella, is reportedly one of 233 books currently suspended for review, Hewitt said, but public criticism against the bans caused the process to be halted. Many of the books have been moved to the adult section, while others are yet to be publicly available.

The children’s book, aimed towards children aged five and below, tells the story of character Stella and her brother Sam who learn about the excitement of reading. It is reportedly currently in the adult section of the library.

“We wanted to be proactive and allow our library staff to look at our collection and make decisions about moving material to an older age group and not have someone from outside dictating that for us,” Hewitt said.

“We understand and appreciate our community and the needs of our collection to reflect our community,” she continued. “We were never eliminating any book. We were just looking at it as a whole.”

‘If you’re mad, what we need to do is to come check these books out’

Kim-Yohn described the situation as “cosmically ironic” considering it took place during Banned Books Week.

They added that there was no conversation among library staff about whether censoring the books was a good idea.

“The decision had been made,” they said. “There was no debate. There was no conversation., This is what was happening.

“Why are we just unilaterally moving all of this before anyone’s even complained about these books yet?”

After the decision was made, Kim-Yohn said library officials refused to participate because it violated their professional and personal ethics. Following the incident, they hope it can encourage the public to visit libraries more often.

“If you’re mad, what we need to do is to come check these books out, come to story times, put in purchase requests for books that you want to see, they continued. “We need you to keep supporting the library.”

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