LeVar Burton slams censorship at National Book Awards: ‘Books are under attack’

In his opening remarks at the recent 74th National Book Awards & Benefit Dinner, host LeVar Burton didn’t mince words when it comes to one right-wing reactionary group’s continued efforts to ban books, shutting it down with humor and wisdom as only he could.

“Before we get going, are there any Moms for Liberty in the house? Moms for Liberty? No? Good. Then hands will not need to be thrown tonight,” he joked at the start of his speech, as reported by Publishers Weekly. The extremist group has been outspoken about its book-banning efforts, along with attempts to control discussions of race, gender, and sexuality in public schools, since its inception in 2021.

Burton has used his platform as an advocate for literacy and actual freedom of education and expression for decades, most famously serving as an author and the host of Reading Rainbow. He was also named as the 2023 Honorary Chair of Banned Books Week, an especially poignant title during a year when book banning efforts are at an all-time high in the United States. In his speech, People reports that Burton noted that literary freedom “feels especially fraught in this global political moment.”

“On the home front, we are fighting for control of truth and how we interpret truth in this country,” he said. “Books are being banned, words are being silenced, and writers and others who champion books are under attack.”

He used the opportunity to credit his mom, an English teacher, who taught him that “if you can read in at least one language, you are, by her definition, free,” as well as his sister, Letitia, for teaching him how to read as a child. He also noted that he believes “books are under attack because they’re so powerful,” he said. “Stories are the tool that enable us to better understand ourselves and, yes, our history. To live over the course of a few pages in the experiences of another and to create a world where we can all be free.”

For their part, Moms for Liberty missed the humor in Burton’s call-out, issuing a response on X (Twitter). “American moms weep as a childhood favorite, Reading Rainbow, calls for physical attacks against us because we are protecting the innocence of our children.”