▶ Watch Video: Poet and author Amanda Gorman on “The Hill We Climb” being restricted in a Florida school
Poet Amanda Gorman appeared on “CBS Mornings” Wednesday for her first interview since her poem and book, “The Hill We Climb,” was restricted in a Florida school in May.
Gorman read the poem at President Joe Biden’s 2020 inauguration. A parent of two children attending Bob Graham Education Center, a school in Miami Lakes that serves students in kindergarten through eighth grade, filed a complaint that resulted in the book being removed from the elementary level part of the library.
The parent — who alleged in her complaint that the material is not educational, has indirect hate messages and indoctrinates students — said she had not read the book and incorrectly identified its author as Oprah Winfrey. Three other books were also restricted.
Gorman said that in addition to the book being moved to the middle school section of the library, students now have to specifically ask for “The Hill We Climb” and prove to a media specialist they have the correct reading level for the book.
“There’s a huge loophole that exists where we expect if a book isn’t burned behind the school and thrown away, that’s not a ban … I think we have to broaden our understanding of the restriction and removal that’s going on,” Gorman said.
“Just because a book is still technically in circulation doesn’t mean that the access to that book has been preserved,” she said. “If anything, we’re seeing a lot of rolling back of that access.”
Gorman said she experienced “a mix of shock and sadness” when she heard her book was being restricted.
“I couldn’t understand a reason for rendering this piece as inappropriate for elementary school students … When I wrote ‘The Hill We Climb,’ it was so important for me that young people would see themselves represented in a significant moment in our democratic history, and that the reality of that, in that moment, would be erased for young people who deserve to see themselves at a place and station like that, that was just really disappointing,” Gorman said.
“The Hill We Climb” is one of many books that have recently been removed from, or limited in, libraries. Over 1,600 titles were banned from school libraries in the 2021-2022 school year, according to a report from PEN America, affecting 138 school districts in 32 states. CBS News previously reported that Florida and Texas lead the nation in such restrictions.
Gorman cited an analysis from The Washington Post that showed most book bans in the country were filed by just 11 people.
Advocates for book restrictions say it is a matter of parents’ rights, and that parents should be able to have a say in what their children have access to at school.
“What that underscores for me is with how the structure works … All it takes is one person, one quickly written complaint, to render that book inaccessible for everyone in that community,” Gorman said. “I see it less as an issue between parents and schools, because when you think about it, every parent has the right to make decisions about what their child can read. I’m fine with those parents not liking my poetry, that’s completely in your right. But when we get to a situation where that one person’s dislike of my work leads to everyone else not having access to that, that is a huge issue, I think, because it encroaches on our freedom to really absorb and love and enjoy literature from where we are.”
Gorman also highlighted research that shows many complaints target books that feature LGBTQ+ characters or characters of color, or discuss LGBTQ+ or race-related topics.
“I have to think about what messaging that sends to young readers. It’s as if you’re saying, ‘you are inappropriate if you’re African American. You are inappropriate if you are gay. You are inappropriate if you are an immigrant,'” Gorman said. “And there’s this huge argument that it’s about protecting and sheltering our children from ideas that are just too advanced for them, but when you look at the majority of the books that have actually been banned, it’s more about creating a bookshelf that doesn’t represent the diverse facets of America.”
Gorman told CBS News she is working with PEN America, which advocates for free expression and defends writers around the world, to have the book restored to shelves. She and the organization have launched a campaign asking people to send letters to the school district calling for “The Hill We Climb” to be made available to all students.
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