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Syracuse author speaks out about book banning

Author Seamus Kirst displays his book "Papa, Daddy, and Riley"
Seamus Kirst
Author Seamus Kirst displays his book "Papa, Daddy, and Riley"

Syracuse native and author Seamus Kirst is speaking out against a decision to ban one of his books.

Kirst’s book “Papa, Daddy, and Riley” was on the American Library Association’s list of banned and challenged books just months after it was published in 2020.

The book is about a little girl named Riley who comes home from school upset after a classmate questions her about having two fathers.

Her fathers’ response addresses the question of what makes a family a family:

“'Neither of us gave birth to you Riley,’ said Papa, 'But we carried you in our hearts.' 'We belong together,' said Daddy."

Kirst said when he found out his book was under fire, he wasn’t surprised because of how polarized the country has become.

"We should all want our children to be inclusive and empathetic and kind, and it just makes me sad that right now, there are so many adults who are modeling behavior that is the exact opposite of that," said Kirst.

“Papa, Daddy, and Riley” appears on the list alongside well-known titles like “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Of Mice and Men,” and “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”

Kal Alston, Associate Dean and Professor in the School of Education at Syracuse University, said the decision to ban certain books is a way of politicizing art and literature in a way that needs to be continuously challenged.

"One of the goals of education is to propel students into thinking, 'I'm a part of the world because I understand this argument or this is really intriguing, or maybe this is what I want to study when I get out of middle school,’” said Alston. “We're supposed to be opening up worlds and not closing them down."

Alston said she believes there’s a concerted effort to use tactics like book banning to whip up cultural anxiety. But she said she feels hopeful when she sees that people are pushing back, from parents and librarians to the students themselves.

"(Students) want the choice to read,” Alston said. “They want the opportunity to experience the world beyond the restrictions of a curriculum."

As for Kirst, he said he has four more books coming out over the next two years, and he plans to continue to spread his message of kindness and acceptance, in spite of efforts to ban his work.

"You can have that representation specifically for the LGBTQ community, but also have a book that's inclusive to everyone and have a message that's ultimately about love and inclusion and empathy," said Kirst.

Kirst said the book “Papa, Daddy, and Riley” can be found at local bookshops, including Golden Bee Bookshop in Liverpool, or online retailers.

Jessica Cain is a freelance reporter for WRVO, covering issues around central New York. Most recently, Jessica was a package producer at Fox News in New York City, where she worked on major news events, including the 2016 presidential conventions and election. Prior to that, she worked as a reporter and anchor for multiple media outlets in central and northern New York. A Camillus native, Jessica enjoys exploring the outdoors with her daughters, going to the theater, playing the piano, and reading.