Persimmon Tree Forum

Amanda Gorman’s poem, which she read at the inauguration of President Joe Biden, a number of books by Toni Morrison, including The Bluest Eye, and Isabel Allende’s classic The House of Spirits are among the books removed from the libraries of Florida public schools, on the grounds each made one parent uncomfortable.
The books pictured throughout this Forum have also been censored, removed from libraries, withdrawn from publishers’ catalogues, or re-issued in new “expurgated” editions.



Introduction: Censorship and Book Banning

“The importance of literacy,” the celebrated science-fiction author Octavia E. Butler (1947-2006) said in a 1998 discussion, “is that you can look around and find out more about what is true, as opposed to being confined to what somebody’s willing to tell you.” Looking around, investigating the sometimes discomfiting ideas and life experiences of others—through reading, listening, traveling, volunteering—is not only important to achieving a richer life; it is essential to making informed decisions in a democracy. Important for voters as well as those the voters elect to govern in our name.


Nonpartisan research institutions such as the Stockholm-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) and the U.S.-based Freedom House have been monitoring declines in democracy around the globe for years—a November 2022 IDEA report noting that “democratic institutions were being undermined by issues ranging from restriction on freedom of expression to increasing distrust in the legitimacy of elections” (emphasis added). In the United States, the American Library Association recently reported an unprecedented upsurge in attempts to ban books ( ). And, as recently noted in the Washington Post, at least seven states have passed laws making librarians subject to substantial fines or imprisonment “for providing sexually explicit, obscene, or ‘harmful’ books to children” — though the definition of “harmful” seems vague in all these laws. Similar bills are pending in other states. ( )

As a journal of the arts, Persimmon Tree is dedicated to freedom of expression (though we understand that does not include shouting “fire” in a crowded theater that is not, in fact, aflame). The growing threats to that freedom moved us to ask our readers to comment on censorship and book banning—and we have received many thoughtful and thought-provoking responses. As one of our commenters eloquently notes—and as we noted in our call for comments—attempts at censorship are coming from all areas of the political spectrum, although those on the right are being much more aggressive. How are we to deal with these growing restrictions?

We thank all those who have submitted comments. If you would like to add to this discussion, please use the comment form at the end of this page.




So someone was uncomfortable after reading an award-winning book or listening to an uplifting poem of hope? Cry me a river! Who said that life is about being comfortable? Life isn’t a leisurely ride on an inner tube down a lazy river. For anyone! So pull up your big girl pants and join the rest of us here in reality. 

We’re all uncomfortable with a whole lotta different things, Princess. But eliminating those books won’t make those uncomfortable situations go away. Those things happened. Some of those things are still happening and we still have to deal with them. But if we don’t understand the foundation which allows those things to come about, things will become exponentially worse —worse than you could ever imagine. Your discomfort today could turn into abject terror tomorrow and good luck with that. 

But, hey, if you do survive that future, maybe you can write a book about it.   

Mary Gayle Thomas
San Francisco, California




I know something about censorship. Having taught French literature for 40+ years, I took pleasure in opening my students’ minds to the talent of two authors who ran afoul of the censors, Gustave Flaubert and Charles Baudelaire. The famous trial of Madame Bovary, in which the writer stood accused of “insulting public morals,” ended in an acquittal; but six of the poems of Baudelaire’s first edition of Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil) were ordered removed “on the grounds of obscenity.” Ridiculous!

Obviously, protecting children from “evil” influences is another matter, and book banning has a long history in the U.S.A. But the current craze for banning books that make parents “uncomfortable” is beyond the pale, and the Utah parent who pointedly requested (wink, wink) that the Bible be banned on the grounds that some verses were too vulgar for young children has taught us all a lesson on the stupidity of extremism. Ironically, the same parents who flout the First Amendment with their censorship demands are staunch supporters of the Second Amendment, which they cite in defense of their opposition to gun safety legislation. What is more dangerous to our children, an AR47 or a book entitled The Bluest Eye? I’m not the first to have made this point. 

Mary Donaldson-Evans
Media, Pennsylvania




I just signed the contract for my first novel. My joy was so incandescent, so powerful, so long-awaited, that I cried for three days and am still partly afloat somewhere on a pink cloud. I have had a handful of stories and poems published, but this is my first novel. My hope is, of course, that it finds its way into readers’ hands and hearts. My book would not exist without the books that came before it and are far superior: Charlotte<’s Web, A Wrinkle in Time, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, To Kill a Mockingbird, Handmaids Tale. All banned. All books that shaped me as a child, formed me as a young woman, and remain my cherished companions. My rage at their banning matches my incandescent joy at my first novel’s acceptance. It is outrageous, frightening, and beyond unacceptable that books are banned by factions of limited and fearful minds. Literature gives us freedom; banning it puts us all at risk. Of losing our way, of losing our ability to learn, of forfeiting our way forward into a better humanity. 
Lynne Shaner
Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin
Author, Finding Home: Everland Bay Series, Book One (Spring, 2024)




What is the purpose of a book? Far from being a tool of indoctrination, as some have suggested, it is an invitation to discover another vantage point, to be exposed to complexity, to enter a world heretofore unknown. A voyage.

Combine that with critical thinking and you have education.

And to reassure those who oppose the free dissemination of ideas, it is good to remember that readers too are free. They needn’t espouse the ideas they encounter, they are not forced to blindly adopt an author’s point of view. In fact, just an awareness of different viewpoints and their validity is enough to expand the mind.

Unfortunately, I fear the book banners are not readers. If they were, they would know that a book does not carry the truth, but it contributes something to seekers of a truth. And the act of discerning meaning – mulling it over, considering it, ultimately to refine it, alter it, or even to reject it – is in itself a valuable act on the road to understanding.

May I paraphrase un bon mot of Fran Leibowitz? “Before you speak, think. And before you think, read.” And I might add: read the whole thing. 

Meredith Escudier
Oakland, California




In the late 1990s, my older sister contracted breast cancer, so in order to ease her load, she was transferred from teacher to librarian in an elementary Catholic school in British Columbia, Canada. She is a devout Catholic, married to a fanatic Catholic who controlled her life and their five children. Becoming a librarian was strange because she didn’t read books, not even the religious ones her husband read exclusively. Her first acquisition task was to ban Judy Blume’s books. I asked her at the time why she was doing this to a brilliant writer of topics that protect children. She had no answer, as she didn’t know their content. It was simply that the Church had banned them for the past two decades. I reminded her that our own mother, who prayed the required daily rosary, owned books listed in the Index, forbidden books I grew up with in 1950s Philippines. She had rejected blind submission to some belief. 
I wonder today how this absurdity persists. 
Lakshmi Gill
Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada




Sadiqa Johnson spoke at my local library a few months ago to promote her book, Yellow Wife, but I missed her appearance. Grateful for the display set up in the lobby the next day, I checked out a copy. I was mesmerized by the story of an enslaved woman named Pheby Delores Brown through the decades of her long, fictionalized life. Horrified by the cruelty the character witnessed or endured, yet inspired by her great gift of self respect and maternal devotion, I realized a reaction similar to that experienced when, as a teenager, I read The Diary of Anne Frank. Like the empathy I felt for the girl forced to hide from Nazis during the Holocaust, I experienced an uncomfortable level of sorrow and sadness for the plight of this American slave. I had not read books such as Yellow Wife when The Diary of Anne Frank was available to me. I might have sought out people of color as I had welcomed those with Jewish heritage, because those friendships have enriched my life. While To Kill a Mockingbird, Gone with the Wind, and Uncle Tom’s Cabin populated my booklist during high school, none resulted in so powerful a response. To think that any one of these works may be outlawed is unfathomable.
Mary Schelling Burke
Natick, Massachusetts




I welcome the discomfort that comes from free and open discourse. I find it especially distressing when authors themselves promote censorship and book banning in the name of respecting everyone’s feelings.
Nancy Shiffrin
Santa Monica, California




When I heard the reports about the attack on Amanda Gorman’s poem, I remembered a striking young woman in a tailored yellow coat, a column of gold, speaking confidently on Inauguration Day, as our country’s leaders listened intently. I remember the beauty of her hands, beckoning all of us towards justice.
The objecting parent says the poem includes “hate messages,” and could “cause confusion and indoctrinate students,” but I don’t remember words of hate. I don’t remember thinking “Oh dear, this could be really confusing for young children.” But I am an old woman and I forget where I put my phone or my favorite pen, so perhaps I needed to re-read the words. I read the poem aloud, pausing often, asking myself, “Is this phrase full of hate?”
I found no hate. Instead, I found hope wound in and out of the hard work required of us all.
I believe children generally know what they are ready to read–usually more than what we give them credit for. People who want to ban books often claim to do so to protect their children. Instead, I believe those parents are protecting themselves from exploring hard questions [and] confronting their own fears. 
Nancy L. Agneberg
St. Paul Minnesota




I have read and will keep reading that marvelous poem. I am saddened to tears that the school, based on one woman’s complaint, removed it from the library/classroom. How can young people form their own judgement/understanding if they are not even permitted to read? Sadly, 
Cookie Svingos
Walnut Creek, California




I was saddened and sickened to hear that Amanda Gorman’s inaugural poem The Hill We Climb  has been removed with other titles from the libraries of Florida public schools. I was awestruck when I saw her deliver the poem on inaugural day, yellow-coated with a glittery red headband and shining eyes, gesturing with her hands like a magical conductor. She delivered those words with a cadence reminiscent of Hamilton.

I wrote my own poem, Super Nova, dedicated to her.
When she declared
we will rebuild, reconcile and recover,”
her message of reconciliation and consolation
rang bells sounding across our nation, 
We witnessed, awestruck,
as she streaked across the sky,
a rare super nova,
leaving contrails of possibility and positivity
in her furious wake.


This talented young poet, standing arm in arm with five other illustrious inaugural poets including Robert Frost and Maya Angelou, gave solace to our nation at a most precarious moment when we were poised on a precipice. How can her precocious wisdom be questioned? How can her voice be blocked? This travesty, all because of the misguided right-wing political agenda. Simply put, I’m afraid for our nation. Where are we headed when books are banned? 

Joanne Jagoda
Oakland, California




Read Anything Good Lately?


If walls of homes, schools, and libraries could talk, they’d beg to be covered with

shelves filled with a rainbow of books written by an even wider rainbow of authors so vast as to comfort during calamity, provide panaceas for problems, immerse minds in the imaginable, uncover the uncertain/unimaginable, wake the wonders of the world so we can continue to grow, breed, perfect, make, speak, invent, refine, discover, protect, conceive, legislate, enforce, adjudicate, create, invite, love, admire, while remarking how much we need each other to change the world.

From a book I learned the Irritant’s job, quite important–distract, stir up, pique, and challenge, typically actions that are discordant. Looking deeper, Latin reveals the Irritant’s influence can be good: it can excite, stimulate, encourage, clarify what perhaps has been misunderstood.

So, here’s to the Irritant, the banner of books, who is challenging the norm.  

I wouldn’t dare deter the beach bully who kicks sand in the face of the 97-lb. weakling, not knowing (s)he’s read stories—“David & Goliath,” “The Lion and the Mouse,” and “The Iron Ladies.”  

There’ll be pushback. For it is the Irritant that causes, over time, a pearl to form. 

Suzanne S. Austin-Hill
Ruskin, Florida




The right, and especially the Christian right, has forgotten what that committed Christian, Milton, proclaimed back in the seventeenth century in Areopagitica, perhaps the best argument against censorship ever penned: that you cannot combat what you consider “evil” by banning it, but rather by having arguments against it: 

I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue… that never sallies out and sees her adversary… we bring not innocence into the world, we bring impurity… that which purifies us is trial, and trial is by what is contrary.


And he warns – without using the word – against a dictatorship of thought:

if… we are so timorous of ourselves and so suspicious of all men as to fear each book and the shaking of every leaf, before we know what the contents are; if some . . . shall come now to silence us from reading, except what they please, it cannot be guessed what is intended by some but a second tyranny over learning.


No doubt in today’s USA, Milton’s tractate would also be banned from libraries on the grounds that it makes some people uncomfortable. 

Judy Koren
Haifa, Israel




I find your forum offer disingenuous. What free discourse can occur when you weigh the scale by your launch statement “If, as some on the right seem to now advocate, we erase or restrict access to information on troubling aspects of the past-and present-how do we avoid falling into similar troubles in the future…….”?  Does this apply to only one group?  Where is the bilateral regard for history? 
The Editorial Committee for Persimmon Tree from the outset has placed a finger on the scale. The left has also censored or banned books. Please refer to the following sources:

CNN February 21, 2023, “Changes to Roald Dahl’s classic children’s books spark censorship spat” (> )
ABC January 12, 2023, “How conservative and liberal book bans differ amid rise in literary restrictions”
Philadelphia Inquirer Oct 25,2022, “Liberals decry book bans—then ban ‘Huckleberry Finn’” ( decry book bans )
Newsweek “When it comes to Banning Books, Both Right and Left are Guilty,” ( )
CNN” Banning Books Is a Nasty Habit Whether It Comes from Right or Left.”  ( )
A research study published online in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology April 9, 2020, titled “Censoring political opposition online who does it and why,”  ( ) was very enlightening.  

Patricia Sheppard
North Carolina




We were given brains in order to make our own internal censorship of life. There is no need for governments or others to help us along that path. Don’t blame the authors if you stumble along the way. We must see the complete sky to know the directions of the storms and sunny days. 
Christine Emmert
Valley Forge, Pennsylvania





This is all so disheartening. I feel like we are returning to the 1600s. This is not new. Religious persecution has been going on for centuries. Now the religious are doing the persecuting. Designing society based on one person’s feelings is dangerous. This also has been going on for some time. I think it all relates back to the white middle-class society’s idea that a person has the right to feel comfortable all the time. Thank you, therapy and support groups.

American society has been falling behind the rest of the world because of this entitlement idea Americans have—that whatever you need for comfort is a right, not something to be worked for. Life is work. It is up to individuals to act on their own behalf. Americans need to realize that nothing is a given.

We must get rid of the idea that we are owed anything at all. The oppression of others has functioned to allow the people at the top to believe they have earned or deserve a good life. 

Sally Tatnall 
Lyndhurst, Ohio




Florida and Arizona governments are not capable of making informed choices among conflicting ideas. They have no negative capability, vis-á-vis Rilke. If we can forgive them, these who have been brainwashed and are under-socialized and who were raised by autocratic parents who themselves were blind to any view other than their own, then we quietly reinforce our own negative capability, and strengthen our resolve to do the right thing. The more and more we produce acceptance, the closer we get to solving this.
Alberta Lee Orcutt
St. Paul Minnesota




The U.S. Constitution leaves education to the states. Some state officials and school boards claim to uphold “democracy” and “freedom of speech and expression” even while banning “offensive” books or removing them from public or school libraries and curricula. In fact, personal digital devices and a wireless Internet have made such tools of censorship ineffective. Book bans can’t “erase” pupils’ access to “information about troubling history or present issues.” Indeed, online controversy has boosted sales of Amanda Gorman’s poetry, publicized “banned” classics, and stimulated discussion of intersectional conflicts throughout the United States. 

With federal regulatory agencies eroded, campaign financing corrupted, and funding for public broadcasting reduced, the greatest threat to “making informed choices” via elections is economic. Private, for-profit corporations dominate the mass-media outlets from which most Americans get “information.” News reports, weather forecasts, drama series, quiz shows, sports competitions, movies (historic to recent), political analysis, election results–all are reduced to “entertainment” on screens of many sizes. Viewers may never know who funds these shows, whose interests they promote, or how accurate they are. Millions of Americans can’t distinguish between fantasy and reality, let alone evaluate candidates, officials, ballot questions or proposed legislation—if and when they can vote. 

Jacqueline Lapidus
Brighton, Massachusetts




Educators often refer to books as both mirrors and windows. As a child, reading books was my way of understanding worlds beyond my own immediate world in a small apartment in Queens, New York. Books helped me to learn about, and think about, what life would have been like for a girl like me in another time and place. They provided some of the insight that traveling would provide later in my life when I had the opportunity to visit, work, and live among people different from me. Books also helped me to like myself. I was brainier and more curious than the kids in my neighborhood. In books I understood that there would be a place for me in the world.
Never would I deprive a parent of the right to decide what books her own children can read. But I ask myself how many parents are able to restrict ideas and images that their children have access to in social media. Professional librarians and educators are certainly more discerning about what is appropriate for children and adolescents than the disseminators of social media content. 
Susan K. Glassman
St. Louis, Missouri




The Rights of our Souls and Minds


Books broaden our minds, expanding our resources to think and feel, enabling us to make better decisions in our actions. Free reading exposes us to situations we may not be aware of, providing us with tools for sympathy, empathy, and action. In a democracy, open access to literature is imperative for freedom of thought, an inalienable right for each individual to fulfill her/his potential to become the best human being one can be.

Growing up in a family with little concern for books, struggling to make a living, we did have an encyclopedia, The Book of Knowledge, which I perused with pleasure. We must not forget the pleasure of reading and learning for our well-being. This banning of books reminds me of Fascist Germany leading up to WWII. Small-minded people allowed and participated in book burnings and the banning of what they considered degenerate art. Joseph Goebbels, minister of propaganda for Hitler, was a fan of modern art, but soon switched, siding with the latter to destroy what was considered degenerate. There is no difference between this action and the banning of books in our schools and libraries. It is crucial to fight for our rights, to insure our children’s chances for a bright future spread before them like the opening of a new book.   

Paula Goldman
Milwaukee, Wisconsin





“Because even if they don’t let them read books, their bodies are still going to change. And you can’t control that. They have to be able to read, to question.”  
—Judy Blume, on recent book censorship in Florida


Speaking Out for Margaret   
Sherri Wright 
April 3, 2023
Evening sun warming our shoulders 
we stand in long lines edging our bodies 
closer to the red carpet lining the street 
in front of the Tropic Cinema in Key West  
the girls who read Are You There God so many times 
when they were asking the same questions 
as Margaret did   mothers of those girls 
who thought we’d finished the fight   
for women’s rights when our girls were young 
Tonight we all wait to see the stars who have brought 
Margaret to the big screen more than fifty years 
after she became a hero to pre-adolescent girls  
all over the world  but mostly we’re waiting 
for a glimpse of Margaret’s creator 
Judy Blume who braved the censors
who weathered the bans and kept on writing  
what young girls wanted to read 
books about jealousy bullying religion 
divorce budding sexuality menstruation 
and masturbation interest in boys
And who now in Florida in 2023 where  
she lives works writes runs a book store 
has to fight to keep her books in schools 
has to keep on speaking out making her voice heard 
over the loud din that is so afraid of the truth 
Sharon Wright
Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
Key West, Florida




Who bans book? 
Autocrats, dictators.  
Not elected officials of a democracy.
What can be done?
Vote him out.
Or what is next? 
Book burning.
Florida, the state where people go to die.
Minnie Biggs
Kurrajong, New South Wales, Australia



The Zen of Art
by Carolyn Schlam
  Carolyn Schlam invites artists and non-artists alike to engage their imaginations and explore a pathway to affirmative living and joyously creative art making. This is a book that can be read and reread and would make a wonderful gift for a contemplative person or for anyone who enjoys making or appreciating art. Carolyn is the author of THE CREATIVE PATH: A VIEW FROM THE STUDIO, ON THE MAKING OF ART and THE JOY OF ART: HOW TO LOOK AT, APPRECIATE, AND TALK ABOUT ART, and the forthcoming sequel MORE JOY OF ART. She is a working painter and sculptor. Learn more about her at
A captivating exploration of the intersection between creativity and self-discovery. Each chapter delves into different facets of life and art, offering profound insights into acceptance, non-attachment, imperfection, and gratitude . . . Whether you’re an artist or someone seeking inspiration and wisdom, The Zen of Art is a treasure trove that resonates with the soul, fostering a newfound appreciation for the art of living. — Mark Reid, host of the podcast Zen Sammich
Available from, Amazon,, and other major booksellers.


  1. These comments are so well expressed – Thank You. I remember at about ten or eleven, I became fascinated by a book telling the story of survival of a Native American girl lost in the mountains or maybe, the desert, and how she survived with her knowledge of plants and animals, rocks and streams. She started bleeding and knew Reading this book started my lifelong interest in Native American. The bleeding was incidental

  2. Another selection, which I framed at one time, from Aeropagitica. It needn’t be read with religious overtones about God, as Milton writes, in order to matter today:

    >> I deny not, but that it is of greatest concernment in the Church and Commonwealth, to have a vigilant eye how Bookes demeane themselves as well as men; and thereafter to confine, imprison, and do sharpest justice on them as malefactors: For Books are not absolutely dead things, but doe contain a potencie of life in them to be as active as that soule was whose progeny they are; nay they do preserve as in a violl the purest efficacie and extraction of that living intellect that bred them. I know they are as lively, and as vigorously productive, as those fabulous Dragons teeth; and being sown up and down, may chance to spring up armed men. And yet on the other hand, unless warinesse be us’d, as good almost kill a Man as kill a good Book; who kills a Man kills a reasonable creature, God’s image; but hee who destroyes a good Booke, kills reason it selfe, kills the Image of God, as it were in the eye. Many a man lives a burden to the Earth; but a good Booke is the pretious life-blood of a master spirit, imbalm’d and treasur’d up on purpose to a life beyond life. […] <<

  3. Book banning is unpatriotic supposedly we live in a democratic country. People should be able to decide what is appropriate for them or their children to read or not.

  4. While I realize that the main thrust here is public censorship, as it properly should be, I’d like to add that our families also set an example.
    About 1960 or so, at a public library on Cape Cod, the librarian wouldn’t allow teenage me to check out the bestseller, “Love Is a Many Splendored Thing.” I was so surprised, I didn’t demur or protest, but that evening, my father exploded at the librarian’s prissy chutzpah. A year or two later, I was reading “Mr. Roberts” (the WWII bestseller) and some family friends admonished my parents about allowing me to read that one, and again, my father stoutly defended my right to read whatever I wanted. I think now that he set a very important example which might be stated: You are the only person who should decide what you read. No one has a right to make that decision for you.

  5. This week there have been articles in both the NYT and Financial Times about Elizabeth Gilbert, (‘Eat, Pray, Love’ Author Pulls New Book Set in Russia) Elizabeth Gilbert delayed her new novel indefinitely after an online backlash condemned the book’s publication while Russia is at war with Ukraine.) … While I am passionate in my support for Ukraine and its despair and yes, hatred for Russia’s invasion and occupation of its land and devastation of its peoples…I find this delay or withdrawal of Gilbert’s book a very troubling sign of yet a newest wave of censorship, in this case, self censorship in motion. ….

    Troubling. tragic. torturous…I say this as a fellow writer who has experienced publishers demanding changes in texts of mine as well…one glaring instance…I used the word “tribal” in a story title in my recent book, and was told, no, I could not, because I am not American Indian. Crazzzy. But true, of these our torturous times.

    Years ago, invited to Russia by the former Soviet Writer’s union, I wrote a novella about a xenophobic woman who accompanied her pleading, idealistic daughter on a peace exchange to Russia (this was at the beginning of Perestroika…) The woman in my story has a heart attack while on Russian soil, and requires a heart transplant…and she refuses the surgery, because it would be a Russian heart. ) I never published that story but thought about doing so again this year…only to read this debacle about Elizabeth Gilbert… and clutched in my own heart now, realizing how nothing has changed…it has only gotten worse. In fiction, and in real life. The monstrous vermin of our collective hatreds have crawled out from under the rocks they hid in for a while. If we as humanity are to survive these, our tragic times…we may all need heart transplants!! :((( xxx, margo

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *