St. Pete theatre company opens banned book library

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) — In a nook under a staircase in the corner at St. Petersburg College’s Downtown Center is American Stage’s response to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and the state legislature.

“The fact that we even have to have a banned book library is pretty saddening,” said Avery Anderson.

Anderson is part of American Stage, the local theatre company that recently put up a banned book library right in the heart of the downtown St. Pete.

“You can come in, you can take a book,” explained Anderson. “You can read it, you can buy another book, and you’ve done something to help.”

While it doesn’t look like much right now — the shelves are mostly empty — supporters have purchased nearly 100 books from a local bookstore’s registry to fill those shelves. Some of the books, like The Bluest Eye, are banned in Pinellas County, while others, like To Kill a Mockingbird, are facing challenges across the state and county.

Last year, the Florida legislature passed a bill that required elementary schools to post all material in the school or assigned to a reading list and that each material be selected by a certified educational media specialist. It also required school district personnel that choose books to complete training on age-appropriate books.

In Manatee County, district officials sent a memo last month stating:

Per the new statutory changes to House Bill 1467 – Section 1006.40 (3) (d), F.S. All material in school and classroom libraries or included on a reading list must be:

  1. Free of Pornography and material prohibited under S. 847.012, F.S.
  2. Suited to student needs and their ability to comprehend the material presented.
  3. Appropriate for the grade level and age group for which the materials are used and made available.

Afterward, teachers covered their libraries or pulled books from the shelves.

Last July, Governor Ron DeSantis spoke at a conservative nonprofit, Moms for Liberty, event about education.

“We have drawn a very clear line in the sand,” DeSantis said. “That says our school system is for educating kids, not indoctrinating kids.”

But Maureen McDole from Keep St. Pete Lit disagrees.

“I think that there are a lot more pressing issues in our state to focus on,” McDole said. “Than trying to control what books people are reading.”

The books are free for anyone to take. They ask if you do grab one, donate another one if you can.

“Anytime we create a narrative where certain people’s stories are not valued,” said McDole. “We’re showing them that they are not important.”

The goal for the library is to have five copies of every banned or challenged book in Pinellas County.

“A threat to any form of story telling,” said Anderson. “Is a threat to all story telling.”

The library’s grand opening is Saturday, coinciding with Localtopia, an outdoor market and festival across the street in William’s Park. American Stage will put on drag shows in their theatre that afternoon.

If you’d like to help buy books for the library’s shelves, Tombolo, a local bookstore, has a list online where you can learn more.