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Teen Writers Explore the Importance of the Freedom to Read

The New York Public Library (NYPL) has announced the 21 winners of its National Teen Writing Contest, which asked teens across the country, “Why is the freedom to read important to you?”

The contest, which ran from October to December last year, is part of NYPL’s Books for All campaign that celebrates and raises awareness about the freedom to read in response to the alarming rise in book bans and challenges around the country.

A majority of the books being banned or challenged in the U.S. are for young people and feature LGBTQ+ voices and people of color. The writing contest gave a voice to teens across the U.S. who may have been affected by this censorship. Some teens shared stories of how they stood up to book bans by speaking at school board meetings. Others wrote about how books have shaped and affirmed their identities.

The grand prize–winning entry, “The Luminosity of Reading” by 18-year-old Tara Isabel Lago of New York, was also published by Teen Vogue and is available to read online now. In her essay,  Lago explores how the Morningside Lights parade, an annual lantern parade in New York City’s Morningside Heights neighborhood, inspired community through literature—something only possible with free access to books. Lago writes:

"Defending the freedom to read may be difficult. It may be heavier than a lantern and darker than a cloudy city night. It may have foes scarier than entrapping branches and trickier than uneven ground. Yet as a community, our efforts and the light of our lanterns and our stories shine brighter than these problems combined."

Contest winners were selected from a pool of almost 500 submissions from 36 different states and will be published in a special edition of NYPL’s Teen Voices magazine.

Visit NYPL’s blog for a list of the winners and to learn more about the Books for All campaign.

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