When it comes to banned books, I once was ahead of the curve. I fell back. Now, I appeal for a boost from Florida governor Ron DeSantis.
In 1969-70, I taught English at a private school in San Antonio. I assigned a high school class Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winner To Kill a Mockingbird. The school director said no.
Unidentified parents took exception to a novel in which a white lawyer in a small Alabama town agrees to defend a Black man accused of raping a young white woman. Lyndon Johnson’s Civil Rights Act of 1964 had been passed. So had the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In 1968, Martin Luther King was killed. Riots erupted across the nation. But one family—possibly generous contributors to the school—held veto power. Attitudes towards African Americans were changing among some people, not all.
History had only repeated itself. From the late-19th century to the mid-20th, Boston notoriously banned films and books, including Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. In 1934, the National Legion of Decency was founded to tell Catholics what movies they should not see.
Today, the political far-left distorts the concept of free speech it claims to uphold when others offer contending views. It condemns books like Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which satirizes rather than promotes racism. The far-right opposes books that may prevent America from returning to the image of its white, Christian, heterosexual past.
Florida leads the way. On March 25, Governor—and presidential hopeful—Ron DeSantis signed into law House Bill 1467, “which requires school districts to be transparent in the selection of instructional materials, including library and reading materials.” To wit, conservative parents fighting a culture war now control curricula. I support parent involvement in schools, but Florida’s teachers and librarians have lost their voices.
Florida school districts have banned, permanently or pending review, a number of major books. Sheltered students lose valuable tools for exploring the world we live in by having unavailable Isabel Allende’s “The House of Spirits,” Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Iris Chang’s “The Rape of Nanking,” Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” Khaled Hosseini’s “The Kite Runner,” Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” and Toni Morrison’s “Beloved.”
But why leave out David Perlstein’s Lola Flores? Gov. DeSantis, see to it that my new novel is kept off Florida’s library shelves and out of its classrooms. The far-right will love you. After all, Lola, 1930s Havana’s hottest nightclub star, conceals two startling secrets: She is a Polish-born American Jew. And she has a penis. Lesbians, gays and transgender people? Oh my!
Better, burn my book. Buy a few hundred copies of Lola Flores—a thousand even better—and light a big bonfire in front of the historic Old Capitol in Tallahassee. As the embers soar, so will my sales. Precedents abound. Recently, Maia Kobabe’s graphic novel Gender Queer had an initial printing of only 5,000. Several states banned her work. She won awards and sold lots of books.
Governor DeSantis, look at the upside. Burning Lola Flores could win you the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. Maybe the White House. You can burn Lola Flores in the Rose Garden.
It’s a win-win. We’ll both be plastered across the front page of the New York Times.
Order my new novel Lola Flores in softcover or e-book from Amazon or your favorite bookstore.
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