Read-in Puts Ban on Banned Books
“‘If Monday was a color, she’d be red...’”
Kent State University senior communication studies major Jaelyn Brown’s voice echoed across the room as she read from her selected banned book, “Monday’s Not Coming” by Tiffany D. Jackson.
With the anticipation of each reader that followed, the room fell silent, eager to soak in the challenged works specifically chosen for this evening.
The third annual Read-In @ Kent State was held on Sept. 27, in Taylor Hall. This open-mic event gave students, faculty, staff and alumni the opportunity to read excerpts from or speak briefly about banned and challenged books that are important to them.
Director of the Women’s Center, Cassandra Pegg-Kirby, approached the microphone dressed as Offred from “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood. Before Pegg-Kirby began reading, she reflected on the novel and her perspective on banned books.
“If someone doesn’t want you to know something, it’s probably the first thing you should look at,” Pegg-Kirby said.
The Read-In offered a free pizza dinner, a literary character costume contest, prizes, and a greater awareness of our right to choose what we read.
The hosts of the event, Stephanie Smith, professional-in-residence in the School of Media and Journalism, and Paul Haridakis, Ph.D., director of the School of Communication Studies, sprinkled words of wisdom and empowerment throughout the evening.
“The biggest thing that we want you to take away from tonight is this is just the foundation,” Haridakis said. “We hope that all of you talk with each other, disagree with each other and really carry this spirit forward.”
Smith chimed in, encouraging attendants to lean into their First Amendment rights.
“The one thing I would ask of you is to stand up for your rights,” Smith said. “Your right to read is a fundamental right, it is a revolutionary right.”
After Haridakis and Smith’s powerful words on banned books, students were led in singing Woody Guthrie's American folk song “This Land Is Your Land” by David Hassler, director of Wick Poetry Center; Scott McPherson, former director of Choral Studies at Kent State; and Kate Grigg, a music director from a community church. This version was unlike the one many people sang in elementary school years ago because this version included verses in it that had been banned; those verses challenged the idea that this land was made for everyone and set an entirely new tone to the song.
The singing of this song put the spotlight on the themes that ideas, and ideas that challenge us, should not be banned. These focal points were apparent throughout the evening.
“I think that we need to continue to have diversity of thought and diversity of ideas, and banning books limits what kind of literature we can access,” said Jessie Starkey, a political science junior and director of governmental affairs for Undergraduate Student Government.
As the evening went on it was apparent that the students in the room were just as passionate as the faculty and staff members who put on the event.
“I feel that it’s really important to advocate for the importance of literature and knowledge and encouraging it instead of destroying it,” said Olivia Eader, a senior in environmental studies and English, and director of academic affairs for Undergraduate Student Government.
As the evening died down and guests trickled out, murmurs of “This Land Is Your Land” trickled out of the building and down the steps of Taylor Hall.
“When it comes to kids' books and books for teens it’s important that people have access to information. It’s important to people’s development and learning to think for themselves,” Jo Wilson, library science graduate, said. “That’s what brought me out here today.”
This event was sponsored by the School of Communication Studies, the Department of Africana Studies, the Flash Activities Board, the Kent State LGBTQ+ Center, the May 4 Visitors Center, the Reinberger Children’s Library Center, the iSchool, the School of Peace and Conflict Studies, University Libraries and the Wick Poetry Center.
All photos courtesy of Ryan Moore, ‘24