Free People Read Freely™: Literacy, Inclusion, and Democracy

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The University of Illinois System will host a symposium in August that will feature speakers and panel discussions on topics including book banning, censorship, and the importance of reading and books to fostering public dialogue, inclusion, and engaged citizenship.

An opening keynote conversation, moderated by UIUC faculty member and Urbana poet laureate Ruby Mendenhall, will feature authors Clint Smith and George M. Johnson. The second day will open with a keynote from writer, activist, and professor Tony Diaz, who led the 2012 Librotraficante Caravan to smuggle banned books back into Arizona in defiance of the state’s ban of Mexican American studies at that time. Other features of the symposium are panel discussions and presentations addressing issues around book banning, censorship, and the importance of reading to inclusion and citizenship. We will also have UIUC theater students presenting performative readings from banned books, and other fun participatory activities. The opening keynote will take place in the Tryon Festival Theatre at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts in Urbana. The rest of the symposium will take place in the Illinois Ballroom at the I Hotel in Champaign.

™ Used with permission from the American Library Association

Attendance is free but advance registration is required. Box lunches are available for purchase during registration.

Visit our information tables from these organizations during the day: 

  • American Library Association 
  • Illinois Heartland Library System 
  • Illinois Library Association 
  • Reaching Across Illinois Library System 

And stop by the Free People Read Freely photo booth to get caught reading a banned book! 

Agenda

  Opening Keynote
Krannert Center for the Performing Arts
Tryon Festival Theatre
500 South Goodwin Avenue, Urbana
8:30 a.m. Check-in of pre-registrants and onsite registration begins
Krannert Center for the Performing Arts Lobby
9:00 a.m. Theatre opens for seating
Tryon Festival Theatre
Show registration (electronic or printed) and ID to be seated
9:30 a.m. Welcome from Timothy Killeen, University of Illinois System President
10:00 a.m.

Opening Keynote Conversation: Reading Freely

This opening keynote conversation with two award-winning authors, moderated by the current Urbana poet laureate, will set the stage for a two-day exploration of literacy, inclusion, and democracy. Clint Smith and George M. Johnson will consider questions central to “reading freely,” such as what is the role of books in a democratic society? What is the importance of being able to create freely? What happens when books represent the full range of human experience? What happens when they don’t?

Clint Smith, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the award-winning book How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America

George M. Johnson, award-winning author of the Young Adult memoir All Boys Aren’t Blue

Moderator: Ruby Mendenhall, Kathryn Lee Baynes Dallenbach Professor in Liberal Arts and Sciences and Urbana Poet Laureate

11:00 a.m. Book signing with Clint Smith and George M. Johnson, Krannert Center Lobby
noon Event moves to Illinois Ballroom, I Hotel and Illinois Conference Center, 1900 South First Street, Champaign
12:15 p.m. Ticketed box lunch
Lunchtime
feature

When Children Read Freely—Stories about what reading freely meant as a child 

Remember walking into the library as a child?
Remember the freedom to choose your own books?
What did you read? Learn? Hear? Explore?
How did the library make your world bigger as a child? 

When you were a child, did you read freely? In these times of debate over what and how people should read, children can’t always speak for themselves. Collecting stories from adults who read freely as children is a fresh and hopeful way of addressing censorship. Please share your story about reading freely as a child and tell others about your experiences of growth, learning, and deciding for yourself what to read.

Kate McDowell, associate professor at the School of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois, where her teaching received the international ASIS&T Outstanding Information Science Teacher Award in 2022. 

1:30 p.m.

PANEL: Literary Cultures of Inclusion and Exclusion

This session explores literary arbiters, producers, and communities to interrogate how reading becomes a cultural battleground around racialization. Tamara Bhalla examines white female celebrity book club culture to reveal how nominally empathetic reading practices normalize white middle-class comfort while erasing critical experiences of difference. Esmeralda Arrizon-Palomera rereads writings by undocumented authors to consider what counts as literature and how that matters. Charlesia McKinney unpacks the empowering, connective tissues of Black feminist literacies.

Tamara Bhalla, associate professor of English, University of Maryland Baltimore County

Esmeralda Arrizón-Palomera, assistant professor of English, University of Illinois at Chicago

Charlesia McKinney, assistant professor of English, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Moderator: Laurie Matheson, director, University of Illinois Press

2:45 p.m. Break
3:00-4:15 p.m.

Roundtable: Freedom to Read

Rebecca Ginsburg, director of the Education Justice Project of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, moderates a conversation with alumni of the EJP around what access to books and education has meant to them. The panelists will also discuss a 2019 episode of more than 200 books being removed from the shelves of the EJP library at Danville Correctional Center.

Alumni of Education Justice Project

Moderator: Rebecca Ginsburg, director of the Education Justice Project, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

8:30 a.m. Registration check in, Illinois Ballroom, I Hotel and Illinois Conference Center, 1900 South First Street, Champaign
9:15 a.m. Welcome from Dr. Nick Jones, Executive Vice President and Vice President for Academic Affairs, University of Illinois System

Recorded message from Illinois Secretary of State and State Librarian Alexi Giannoulias 

9:30 a.m.

Opening Keynote: The American Dream Through Our Books

Most readers are familiar with the national headlines describing attacks on Freedom of Speech, especially in Red States. Professor Tony Diaz, El Librotraficante, provides a firsthand account from the ground in Texas, where a wave of Censorship Culture has led to restrictive laws and policies at every level of government and education. These tactics are making it harder and harder for community members to gain access to books through the traditional bastions of intellectual freedom such as schools and libraries. The attack on intellectual freedom is no longer simply about book bans, these approaches are creating book deserts across all demographic lines. Diaz illustrates this through his experience as a Mexican American youth who gained access to the American Dream through books handed to him by teachers and librarians. He makes the case that today, in red states like Texas, access to the American Dream through books and education is in danger, and these attacks are spreading. However, he also posits a path forward. In 2012, the Librotraficante Caravan smuggled back into Tucson books from the Mexican American Studies curriculum outlawed by the Arizona legislature to fuel a counter-movement that would support the students who overturned that unjust law. Today, Librotraficantes are taking their book smuggling skills to new levels, accelerating community cultural capital through technology that will unite champions of free speech across the state lines. His call to action is clear: It is time for Blue States to unite with Red States to make it rain libros in book deserts.

Tony Diaz, El Librotraficante, is the author of The Aztec Love God and The Tip of the Pyramid: Cultivating Community Cultural Capital.

10:30 a.m. Break / Book signing with Tony Diaz
11:00 a.m.

PANEL: Education and Access

This session offers a thought-provoking conversation about culturally responsive pedagogy, the racial politics of literacy, and structures and counter structures that shape systems of inclusion and exclusion in the educational sphere. Centering the Odyssey Projects at Illinois Humanities and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the Humanities without Walls project at the Humanities Research Institute, UIUC, this session takes a broad look at community access to education, pathways for exchange between the University and surrounding communities, and systemic structures that shape opportunities and obstacles.

Rebecca Amato, director of Odyssey project for adult education, Illinois Humanities

Augustus Wood, assistant professor in the School of Labor & Employment Relations, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Antoinette Burton, Maybelle Leland Swanlund Professor of History at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign

Noon Ticketed box lunch
Lunchtime feature: Performative readings from banned books
Graduate students in the Department of Theater, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Coordinator: Laney Rodriguez, MFA candidate, Department of Theater, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Noon
Lunchtime
features

Performative readings from banned books

Graduate students in the Department of Theatre, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Coordinator: Laney Rodriguez, MFA candidate, Department of Theatre, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

When Children Read Freely—Stories about what reading freely meant as a child 

Remember walking into the library as a child?
Remember the freedom to choose your own books?
What did you read? Learn? Hear? Explore?
How did the library make your world bigger as a child? 

When you were a child, did you read freely? In these times of debate over what and how people should read, children can’t always speak for themselves.  Collecting stories from adults who read freely as children is a fresh and hopeful way of addressing censorship. Please share your story about reading freely as a child and tell others about your experiences of growth, learning, and deciding for yourself what to read.

Kate McDowell, associate professor at the School of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois, where her teaching received the international ASIS&T Outstanding Information Science Teacher Award in 2022. 

1:30 p.m.

PANEL: Book Banning and Libraries

Intellectual freedom is the right of unrestricted access to information and ideas. U.S. library workers ensure that Free People Read Freely in our democracy by upholding the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights, the Freedom to Read Statement, and the Freedom to View Statement. However, we are seeing attacks on intellectual freedom continue to escalate, not only through the rise of local material challenges by individuals and groups, but also through political pressure and through adverse state legislation that limits the work of librarians and causes fear for their job security and even criminal complaints.

Learn why being an advocate for intellectual freedom is important, how to become an advocate, where to find information on support from ALA, and the importance of building community support when facing these challenges.

Emily Knox, Associate Professor. School of Information Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Barbara Jones, Research Affiliate, School of Information Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, former Director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom, and Executive Director of the Freedom to Read Foundation, American Library Association

Joyce McIntosh, Assistant Program Director, Freedom to Read Foundation, American Library Association

2:45 p.m. Break
3:00 p.m.

Closing Keynote: Rapporteur

A synthesizing reflection on the themes of the Symposium through the lens of privacy.

Lisa Hinchliffe, professor/coordinator for Research Professional Development, in the University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a leading voice and researcher on privacy in libraries.

3:30-3:45 p.m.

Wrap-up

Anne Craig, Senior Director of CARLI

Laurie Matheson, director of University of Illinois Press