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Markus Dohle, CEO of publishing giant Penguin Random House, announced plans on Wednesday to make a personal donation of at least $500,000 to PEN America in an effort to fight book bans in the United States.
Book bans, Dohle said in an interview with The New York Times are “dangerous” and “unimaginable”. He added that the fight against book bans “is very urgent and linked to the future of our democracy”. In recent months, book bans have increased across the United States, with school districts banning a wide range of books, from Art Spiegleman’s Mausa graphic novel about the Holocaust, to George Matthew Johnson Not all boys are bluea “memory-manifesto” about being a queer black man.
“Book bans are canaries in the coal mines – indicators of the direction in which a society is moving,” Iranian-American author Azar Nafisi recently wrote in The Washington Post. “In recent years we have seen how truth is replaced by lies and how dangerous cultivated ignorance can be, especially when embraced by our most vocal political leaders and media commentators, those with the bigger mouthpiece. Banning books is a form of silence, and it’s the next step in a continuum — a step that, even in the United States, portends a further slide into totalitarianism.”
Dohle, 73, knows firsthand the importance of fighting ignorance. Born in Arnsberg, West Germany, growing up after World War II, he was aware of the country’s “dark times and dark history” – thanks to free speech and access to books of history.
His gift to PEN America – at least $100,000 for the next five years – will open the Dohle Book Defense Fund, with the goal of supporting communities where books are contested. PEN America, founded in 1922, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to defending freedom of expression in the United States and around the world. Dohle, who became CEO of Random House in 2008 and then of Penguin Random House after its 2013 merger with Penguin Books, serves as executive vice chairman of the board of PEN America.
PEN says the Dohle Book Defense Fund will strengthen its initiatives “to educate the public, partner with local community groups to advocate against censorship, track and expose the egregious attacks on books and ideas that take place in classrooms. class, state legislatures and other arenas”.
“What I found so striking about him is that he is this exuberant, larger-than-life personality, and such an optimist and kind of a cheerleader for the publishing industry” , said PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel. The New York Times. “But he’s also deeply sensitive to the dark sides that lurk in a society and how quickly things can change.”
At the Frankfurt Book Fair 2021 last fall, Dohle spoke about the connection between freedom of expression and democracy.
Reading, Dohle said, is what the world needs to stand up for democracy, explaining that complex stories help readers “really see the world from another perspective,” encouraging empathy with others.
“Let’s make all children read the long version, and I think we can make a good contribution to help our democracy, as we have enjoyed for the past 75 years after World War II, to survive,” Dohle said. “I really believe in the value of publishing but also in our responsibility to help our society, to come together and to heal from what has become a really, really polarized world.”
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