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Black Queer Author Leah Johnson Shares the Inspiration and Rage Behind Opening a Banned Books Store

Black Queer Author Leah Johnson Shares the Inspiration and Rage Behind Opening a Banned Books Store

Indianapolis Book Store Loudmouth Books Owner Black Queer Author Leah Johnson
Images: instagram @loudmouthindy

“Loudmouth is, at its core, a product of rage,” says Johnson, whose books have been the subject of book bans.

You may have heard of queer Black author Leah Johnson from her debut young adult (YA) novel You Should See Me in a Crown, which won a Stonewall Book Award, and was named one of the 100 best YA books of all time by TIME Magazine. But last month, Johnson started a new chapter in her career as a bookstore owner, when she opened Loudmouth Books, an Indianapolis-based indie bookstore dedicated to banned books and marginalized authors.

“Loudmouth is, at its core, a product of rage,” says Johnson, whose books have been the subject of bans. In 2022, for example, You Should See Me in a Crown was one of more than 50 books that were classified as "obscene" and placed under investigation by the Attorney General's office in Oklahoma.

“There is a certain powerlessness to being an author who is being made to watch your book get banned time and time again for the simple crime of featuring queer characters, but Loudmouth felt like my attempt to reclaim that power,” says Johnson. “Loudmouth is a declaration—no matter how hard they try to silence us, no matter how hard they try to push us further into the margins, we will always be here. And we're only getting louder and prouder.”

Book bans are on the rise across the country not just at the school level, but also at the state level. For example, this year, Indiana legislators passed a bill to allow educators to be punished for sharing “harmful reading materials,” which, according to the ACLU, is defined vaguely enough to include materials about LGBTQ+ issues.

Related: There's Been a 33% Increase In Book Bans Across the U.S., Says PEN America

“One of the scariest [bills] for me as a writer . . . [is Indiana’s] book banning [law], which makes it easier for books about queer and BIPOC folks to not only be challenged, but also makes it easier to criminalize teachers and librarians for keeping those books available to young people,” says Johnson. “This bookstore, this space, felt so urgent that I knew if ever there was a time to open it, it would be now.”

In June of this year, Johnson began fundraising for the bookstore via GoFundMe, and she has already surpassed her $10,000 goal with more than $17,000 in donations from over 300 people.

The money raised from the GoFundMe has been used to open the store, but will also support the bookstore’s Clear the Shelves initiative, which allows young people across Indianapolis to come in and grab a diverse title for free. As of publication, the GoFundMe is still open for donations, as well as an online storefront at

Above all, Johnson encourages folks to visit the store in person if they are able. “The thing about independent bookstores that's so incredible is that we can do for readers what no algorithm can,” says Johnson. “We can meet and interact with readers and help steer them in the direction of titles that they may not have heard about on TikTok or seen a targeted ad for on Instagram.”

“And as an added benefit, all of the money you spend at an indie goes back into your community and not towards sending billionaires to space,” she jokes.

Despite Johnson’s new chapter as a bookstore owner, her writing career is far from over. Earlier this year, she debuted her first middle school novel, Elliot Engle Saves Herself, which follows a Black, queer 12-year-old girl who loves comic books.

In addition, Johnson is currently working on a YA rom-com with non-binary author and advocate George M. Johnson, whose book All Boys Aren’t Blue was the second most banned book of the 2021-2022 school year. Leah describes the book as being “full of small town hijinx with a queer BIPOC cast of characters set against the backdrop of New Year's Day.”

As books like these continued to be attacked by extremist politicians as a means of control, Johnson is excited to be a source of knowledge and support for young children and adults.

To those politicians, she says: “If you care about children, support their journeys to understand their identities with the help of life-affirming stories. Don't use them as pawns in a political quest for power.”

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