Banned Voices: Innosanto Nagara


Doing a series such as this is a real growth experience. In a way, I get to work with people I’ve not even met before. That can make it challenging when it comes to creating an interview. Through reading this the #bannedvoices series, I’ve hope everyone is coming to terms with the individual and collective consequences of book challenges.

Photo by Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group

Today, I’m speaking with Innosanto Nagara. He was born and raised in Jakarta Indonesia and moved to the US in the late 1980s. He attended UC Davis where here became a graphic designer. You may recognize his name from books such as A is for Activist; M is for Movement; Counting on Community,and My Night in the Planetarium. He’s an author, illustrator, activist and graphic designer. Innosanto writes for the children of the 99%.

Thanks for agreeing to this interview! I have to admit, I’ve been following your work for years! We’ve also included your work on the We Are Kidlit Summer booklist. First, how are you doing?

In the scheme of things, I’m doing fine. With so much suffering going on in the world, so far I have family, community, home and health. Thank you for asking!

How would you explain why the right wing chooses to target children’s books?

That’s a big question and I don’t want to oversimplify the answer. But broad strokes I’d say right wing philosophies find appeal in doctrinaire, authoritarian, and culturally insular ideas. They adhere to texts believed to be infallible, are attracted to top-down control in family and societal structures, and have a deep-seated belief in the supremacy of their culture and way of life over others. So it follows that they are opposed to those things that are known to broaden perspectives, cast a critical eye on history, and challenges orthodoxies. Namely: books. And Children’s books are particularly vulnerable for the obvious reasons.

How do you choose what stories to publish?

All my books basically start with being the stories I want to tell my child, and the conversations that have ensued.

I think you separate stories from books, the political from the commercial. To you, where does the banning and censorship of books fall?

If I understand your question correctly, I’d see banning and censorship of books as a political thing. We can tell whatever stories we choose to, including about the banned books and why. But in the US, challenging books is about making a political statement about those titles. The books on banned books lists are almost always still commercially available and nobody is going to jail for owning a copy. But it sends a clear message about on who the powers that be in these communities think should be centered and who should be marginalized. It’s a statement of values and it is a political act.

What do you need to say that I haven’t asked?

We’ve been talking about banned and censored books in relation to challenges to schools and libraries from Right Wing organizations (often masquerading as local communities). But that only covers books that get past the gatekeepers of the publishing world in the first place. There’s a whole other piece to this in relation to how diverse voices have and continue to not even make it through the front door. There have been some efforts to address this in recent years, mainly spurred by activists and librarians. But we have a long way to go.

What’s coming next from you and how can readers follow your work?

My latest book is one that I illustrated, written by my friend Mona Damluji, called Together. It’s another board book that goes with A is for Activist and Counting on Community. And my previous book that came out in the middle of the Pandemic (so I’m still trying to get the word out) is Oh, the Things We’re For!.

All available from your local independent bookseller!

Thanks so much! I do wish you continued good health and prosperity.