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Kansas City author Adib Khorram tries not to obsessively watch where his books have been banned.
“I don’t think it’s really a badge of honor,” he says. “And I tend to pay more attention to things that are closer to home, where I can write to school boards or representatives or whatever.”
But last week a friend casually asked which of his books had been challenged. After all, Khorram’s young adult novels tackle the exact topics targeted by recent book ban campaigns: sexuality and race.
Khorram already knew that his 2020 YA novel, “Darius The Great Deserves Better,” was added to a list of hundreds of titles under investigation by Texas State Rep. Matt Krause.
In October, the Republican lawmaker sent a 16-page spreadsheet to the Texas Education Agency with a “preliminary” request for a detailed inventory of all titles on school premises. Krause noted that his interest in books was tied to House Bill 3979, a new Texas law that prohibits educational materials that may cause “discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress due to race or sex of the individual”.
Beyond his inclusion on this list, Khorram had not heard of any additional challenges for his books.
“I was like, ‘Wait, have I been banned from other places?’ So I googled it,” Khorram recalls.
What he discovered was a digital triumph: Darius, the protagonist of his first two novels, has a Wikipedia page.
Darius is a biracial American child whose mother’s family lives in Iran. In Darius’ first book – ‘Darius the Great Disagrees’, released in 2018 – the teenager meets his Persian grandparents for the first time and confronts his own depression.
In the sequel, an older, more confident Darius navigates a teenage romance — with his first boyfriend.
For Khorram, seeing this fictional character, loosely based on his own story, earn Wikipedia status was a thrill.
yesterday I found out that DARIUS THE GREAT IS NOT OK has a wikipedia entry?!?!?!!?!?
—Adib Khorram (@adibkhorram) February 6, 2022
What caught my attention, however, was how casually he confessed that he did not know if these books were still allowed in American schools.
It may be part of an author’s life, but Khorram doesn’t take book bans — or book-sweeping threats — lightly. He finds this moment deeply disturbing.
“It’s really hard to separate how it affects me as an author from how it affects me as a reader, and especially the reader that I was,” he explains. “Being queer, being Iranian, in post-9/11 America, the kind of books I was reading, that were in our curricula, that teachers were talking about, and librarians were encouraging — they all erased people like me .”
Khorram grew up in Gladstone, Missouri in the 1990s. His father had come to the United States from Iran for college in the 1970s. While in school, he met Khorram’s mother, an American student. The two got married and considered moving to Iran to start a family, but, as Khorram told me in 2018: “When the Islamic revolution happened, they kind of put a stop to it and raised me and my sister here.”
Khorram recalls feeling like he stood out, despite his white appearance, because of what his classmates perceived as a foreign-sounding name. After the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, which happened when Khorram was in high school, this neutral sense of difference became more politically charged.
“I grew up not knowing that I could even be an author. I didn’t see the media with Iranians except as terrorists,” Khorram says. “I grew up thinking that being gay meant I was going to live a sad life and die of AIDS.”
Khorram has published three books over the past four years – two YA novels and an illustrated children’s book. Darius the Great Disagrees, his debut album, won the American Library Association’s William C. Morris Award, honoring a book written for young adults by an unpublished author.
Khorram writes and publishes at a breakneck pace to fix this narrative he grew up with, setting his own truth aside for the next generation. He is part of a large cohort of writers who bring their diverse lived experiences to the page for children and young adult readers — narratives that are now being targeted for erasure, around Kansas City and elsewhere, by conservative parents. .
“I think of all the young black and brown, gay and disabled children who see themselves in books for the first time, who share, share pieces of themselves with their classmates through literature,” says Khorram . “Having all of this challenged is really painful.”
When people want to ban literature, they often claim that books make students uncomfortable. But Khorram asks: Who, exactly, are these students made uncomfortable by diverse perspectives?
“The White is unspoken,” Khorram says. ” The right is unsaid. the Christian is unsaid.”
The students did Following comfortable with this literature are also students – a point that is often overlooked.
For Khorram, another part of this trend that attracts even less attention. Public outrage over book bans has tended to focus on snubs to long-established classics by beloved authors — books like Art Spiegelman’s “Maus,” a heartbreaking graphic novel about the traumas of survival of the Holocaust, not only for the survivors but for their offspring.
A few weeks ago, “Maus” was removed from a Tennessee school district’s 8th grade curriculum after board members argued it contained “objectionable” language and nudity.
Or Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye,” banned last month by a school district in Wentzville, Missouri. A St. Louis bookstore owner, speaking to the Kirkus Review, described “The Bluest Eye” as a book about “a young girl confronting her darkness in a black-hating world.” “The ACLU of Missouri recently announced plans to file a lawsuit against the district for its actions.
When books like “Maus” and “The Bluest Eye” are pulled from library curricula or shelves, Khorram points out that dedicated readers rally behind them. “A lot of times people go out of their way to find out what it’s all about,” he says. In the case of “Maus,” sales skyrocketed nationwide after the Tennessee ban.
But the books of new authors, who have not yet cultivated a passionate public, meet another fate.
“That list that came out of Texas had 850 books in it. Maybe five of them, people will check. The other 845 will just quietly disappear without anyone knowing,” Khorram told me solemnly.
“And a thousand books like those books will just never be bought by a library or added to a classroom collection,” he continues, “because people are going to be scared of the repercussions and say it’s not worth it. Texas has big school districts, so maybe hundreds of thousands of students who will be denied literature because it’s “dangerous” for them.
“At the same time, they’re going to practice shelter-in-place drills every month or two, because we do ban books, but not guns.”
In Khorram’s own disputed book, “Darius the Great Deserves Better,” a straight father has the obligatory awkward sexual conversation with his son – a gay teenager who is just starting to date. And the father handles it perfectly – arguably, a little too perfectly. The children of Darius’ football team surprise him with their excellent ally.
These were very intentional plot points.
“Sometimes I feel like my job as a writer is to show the world as it is. And sometimes my job is to show the world as it could be,” Khorram told me in 2020, when “Darius the Great Deserves Better” was first published. “I always want to tell young people, ‘You deserve better.’ They have a right to expect those good things from the people around them.Even though people around us sometimes let us down, we still deserve the best.
Underrepresented children — those who might hope to see themselves reflected in new literature — aren’t the only ones losing out from book bans. America in these disputed books is the country that all students will inherit – that is, a diverse America with a complicated and, yes, often unfair history, full of people with different viewpoints and experiences.
They will have to navigate this reality, whether their schooling has prepared them for it or not.
Khorram’s next novel, “Kiss and Tell,” could very well earn a place in that education. “It’s a novel about Hunter Drake, who is the only gay member of a boy band. They’re doing their first big arena tour,” Khorram explains.
Presented as a perfect gay teenager, Drake’s image is damaged when leaked texts from a past relationship go viral. Coming in March, “Kiss and Tell” includes fake Buzzfeed quizzes and a second-chance romance, but on a deeper level, Khorram says it’s about ‘how we consume young people’s identities’ – and how to keep their spirits up when it does you arrive.
Dare I say, a useful lesson for people of all ages in today’s world. And a hope it stays on the shelves once it’s released.