Judy Blume, James Patterson and other authors are helping PEN America open Florida office

NEW YORK – Judy Blume, James Patterson and Michael Connelly are among 24 prominent writers who have raised more than $3 million to help PEN America open an office in Miami and expand it efforts to counter Florida’s surge in book bannings in recent years.

“What PEN America is doing in Florida is very important to us and our neighbors,” Connelly, who spent part of his childhood in Florida, said in a statement issued by PEN on Wednesday. “We have been astonished to see books ripped off the shelves and students forced into the middle of a fight they didn’t ask for or deserve. All of us, especially those of us who make our living in the literary world, are called upon to defend against book bans and legislation that suppresses new voices.”

Other authors contributing money include Amanda Gorman, Nora Roberts, David Baldacci, Nikki Grimes, Suzanne Collins and Todd Parr. The announcement comes in the midst of Banned Books Week, when schools and libraries highlight works that have been subjected to challenges or removals, and follows reports last month from PEN and the American Library Association on school and library censorship.

“Seeing some of America’s most beloved and avidly read authors step to the front of the fight against book bans is inspiring. These are writers, not politicians or activists,” PEN CEO Suzanne Nossel said in a statement. “While the book banners’ campaign is national in scope, Florida has become the laboratory for censorship laws and the intimidation of teachers and librarians. It is extraordinary to witness a group of our nation’s favorite authors pick up their pens to draw a line in the sand.”

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The idea for the Miami office emerged out of conversations among PEN officials, including board member Michael Pietsch, the CEO of Hachette Book Group, Connelly’s publisher.

During a telephone interview, Connelly told The Associated Press that supporting the PEN initiative was an easy decision, a “pitch over the plate,” and has pledged $1 million. He cited not just the cause of free expression but personal feelings about libraries, where he would cool off during muggy summer days in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. One librarian introduced him to a novel that changed his life, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a frequent target for censors.

“If I didn’t read that book I would not be writing books like ‘The Lincoln Lawyer,’” Connelly said of his bestselling crime fiction novels, now adapted into a Netflix series.

According to a PEN study released in September, there were more than 3,300 instances of book bans in U.S. public school classrooms and libraries between July 1, 2022 and June 31, 2023, a 33% increase over the previous school year. Over 40% of the bans took place in Florida. Meanwhile, the American Library Association recorded 695 challenges to library materials and services over the first eight months of 2023, the fastest pace since the association began tracking challenges 20 years ago.