This week, Gov. Greg Abbott directed the Texas Education Agency, the State Board of Education, and the Texas Library and Archives Commission to develop standards to prevent the presence of what he called “pornography and other obscene content” in Texas schools.
On Wednesday, he stepped things up with a letter to TEA commissioner Mike Morath calling on more immediate action while standards are being developed. The governor’s move comes after State Rep. Matt Krause, who is seeking to become state attorney general, launched a House committee investigation on the books in school libraries.
While the governor has been unclear on what he means by “pornography,” a group of highly-respected Texas authors has issued an open letter warning that the move — among other things — is a threat to already marginalized Texans and others.
Sergio Troncoso is president of the Texas Institute of Letters, a non-profit Honor Society founded 85 years ago to celebrate Texas literature and literary achievements. He spoke with the Texas Standard on the institute’s response to the governor’s moves.
Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: You say more than 175 members of your organization have signed this open letter. How would you characterize their response?
Sergio Troncoso: The members have enthusiastically endorsed our letter to all school districts in the state of Texas to warn against book banning or the threats of book banning and censorship by Governor Abbott and also by Matt Krause, the Fort Worth Representative. You know, it was an amazing response by terrific writers and some of them, in fact, on the list of the Krause potential banning of books like Benjamin Alire Sáenz, whose book ‘Aristotle and Dante’ sold over a million copies. And I think the TIL membership was very enthusiastic to take this on.
The letter says not only is the governor’s move a prelude to book banning and censorship, but you go on to say that this is an attack on already marginalized Texans. Could you say more about that?
I think one of the things we saw is that many of these lists, when people suggest lists, feature books by women, by people of color, by LGBTQ writers. The Krause list, for example, has a lot of books on Latinos and Latinas, Texas writers, writers writing about girls and gender identity, feminism. And so all of these communities, I think, that are being threatened by book banning will be even further marginalized. And so the young readers, 17, 18 year-olds or others who want to read a book by some of these communities and find themselves in these books and feel the need and in an excitement to read about themselves. You know, those books might not be there if we have this continued threats to ban and basically strong arm librarians and school officials.
Why is this focus on books in school libraries happening now?
I believe the letter touches on this. These are really political tactics in preparation to gin up support from an electoral base that will support Governor Abbott and possibly Matt Krause. Because, of course, Matt Krause is running for state Attorney General. He declared himself. And so is Governor Abbott — is running for reelection in 2022. And so these threats to ban, these suggestions to ban, I think, are part of that political process, which I think is very destructive. And the letter, I think, talks about that. And of course, parents should get involved and read some of these books, not just base their ideas or fears on some list. But you know, many of these books I’ve read, I haven’t read every single one of them, but certainly the ones I’ve read are entirely appropriate to high school libraries and high school students.