Publishing CEO donates $500,000 to fight book bans

Markus Dohle, CEO of Penguin Random House, will personally donate at least $500,000 to the free speech organization PEN America in an ef...


Markus Dohle, CEO of Penguin Random House, will personally donate at least $500,000 to the free speech organization PEN America in an effort to fight against Banning books in the United StatesPEN announced on Wednesday.

Dohle said in an interview that he hopes others will follow suit, donating to the new Dohle Book Defense Fund, which will provide support to communities where books are challenged.

In recent months, there has been an increase in the number of parents, activists and lawmakers across the country demanding the removal of certain books from schools, and challenges that have traditionally been confined to school board meetings have exploded into the political sphere. Legislation has been drafted that would reduce books on topics such as sexual orientation or gender identity, and the governors of Texas and South Carolina have asked state education officials to eradicate what they call pornographic material from school libraries.

There has also been an effort to legislate what can be taught in classrooms, with prohibitions aimed at critical race theory, which examines the role of laws and other institutions in racial inequality.

People trying to remove books from schools say some of the texts at issue contain material that is not appropriate for children. Opponents say, however, that removing books from schools violates the rights of parents and students who want access to them. Exposure to a variety of books, they say, is important for children to learn about themselves and the world around them.

For Dohle, the issue of book bans is a professional and personal issue. Raised in Germany after World War II, he said he grew up aware of the country’s “dark times and dark history”.

During his career at Bertelsmann, the German media conglomerate that owns Penguin Random House, he worked in a number of restrictive environments, including Poland in the 1990s, Russia in the early 2000s and today’s China.

Of the bans and restrictions he sees on books in America, he said, “It’s dangerous. It’s unimaginable. And it’s very urgent, and it’s related to the future of our democracy.”

Suzanne Nossel, chief executive of PEN America, called the increase in book bans “unprecedented” and said the organization had to hire more workers and consultants to deal with it.

“Previously, we dealt with a few of these situations per year. Now we face new challenges and bans every week, and on a much larger scale,” she said. “It’s not just parents appealing to principals and librarians, it’s the legislation introduced in state houses to impose sweeping bans on the types of books available to students. And it’s entangled in a much larger political battle over what stories are accessible in this country, which storytelling communities want to elevate and suppress.

The new fund, she said, would be used to help cover expenses related to PEN’s efforts to combat these challenges, including consultants, lawyers and costs associated with public campaigns and media events. Dohle, who is the executive vice president of PEN America’s board of directors, has pledged to donate at least $100,000 to the organization each year for five years.

“What I found so striking about him is that he’s this exuberant, larger-than-life personality, and such an optimist and kind of a cheerleader for the publishing industry,” Nossel said. “But he’s also deeply sensitive to the dark sides that lurk in a society and how quickly things can change.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Publishing CEO donates $500,000 to fight book bans
Publishing CEO donates $500,000 to fight book bans
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