Banned Books for All (the word "Banned" is crossed out) Teen Writing Contest. Deadline extended to December 29, 2023.

NYPL Asks Teens: Why Is the Freedom to Read Important to You?

This blog post is by Siva Ramakrishnan, Director, Young Adult Programs & Services at The New York Public Library, a Unite Against Book Bans partner.

UPDATE: The New York Public Library is excited to announce that the grand prize–winning entry will be published in Teen Vogue in spring 2024! The deadline has also been extended through Friday, December 29—so enter now! Read on to learn more about the contest and what participants would be eligible to win.

Book bans and censorship silence voices and threaten the freedom to read—and they're on the rise. The New York Public Library (NYPL) is partnering with the American Library Association (ALA), the Unite Against Book Bans initiative, and 826 National to give a platform for teens across the U.S. to make their voices heard and tell us: Why is the freedom to read important to you?

As part of our national Books for All initiative, teens can share their ideas in an essay contest through Friday, December 29, for publication in NYPL’s Teen Voices magazine and the chance to win up to $500.

As ALA has reported, last year saw the highest number of attempted book bans in the U.S. since records of book bans and challenges began more than 20 years ago. Preliminary data for 2023 show we're on track for another record number of censorship attempts, including more challenges to public libraries. The majority of the banned or challenged books are for young people and feature LGBTQ+ voices and people of color.

“I don’t see people who look like me and talk like me in the books at my school library in Fort Worth, Texas," says Da'Taeveyon Daniels, the youth honorary chair of Banned Books Week 2023, "and this problem is only getting worse."

"Banning books is the threat of banning histories, people, and dreams," says Stephanie Pachecho, 2023 NYC Youth Poet Laureate. "We must all stand firm in our opposition to the silencing of our authentic stories."

At The New York Public Library, we believe in the importance of representing all voices, especially those who have been historically underrepresented, and we believe that what teens have to say matters.

Do you work with teens? If so, we hope you can get the word out to them about this great opportunity to become part of the national conversation and share their ideas about why the freedom to read is so important. Are you a teen? Apply directly by December 22! 

NYPL is looking for essays and personal stories of 500–1,500 words. Resources for inspiration include the "Freedom to Read" Statement, this statement by Judy Blume, and 826 Digital, which has further ideas for working with this prompt in the classroom.

Be sure to check out more ways to get involved, details about our Teen Banned Book Club, and a free toolkit to help get the word out.

Good luck—and thanks for helping to protect the freedom to read!