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October 3, 2023 @ 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm PDT


During Banned Books Week, City Lights and PEN America bring together authors, librarians, and student activists to discuss the alarming rise in book bans across the country. They share insights, observations, and methods to counter the suppression of books that address issues pertaining to race, gender, and sexuality. Ever timely, their conversation is a powerful call to action to stand up for the freedom to read.

Ipek S. Burnett, PhD, is the author of A Jungian Inquiry into the American Psyche: The Violence of Innocence and the editor of the upcoming volume Re-Visioning the American Psyche: Jungian, Archetypal, and Mythological Reflections. She is a contributing writer at CounterPunch and a Turkish novelist. Dr. Burnett is the Co-Chair of Human Rights Watch Executive Committee in San Francisco and serves on the board of 826 Valencia, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting under-resourced students with their writing skills. 

Becky Calzada is the District Library Coordinator in Leander, Texas. She is a co-founding member of #FReadom Fighters, recipient of the ALA’s Robert B. Downs Intellectual Freedom Award, the American Association of School Librarians’ Intellectual Freedom Award, and the Texas Library Association’s Libraries Change Communities Award. Becky is a member of the ALA Policy Corp Proactive Advocacy on Book Banning cadre, a member of the ALA Intellectual Freedom committee, on the Legislative Committee for the Texas Library Association, and Past Chair for the Texas Association of School Librarians. She is the 24/25 AASL President-Elect and was honored by People Magazine in their 2023 Women Changing the World portfolio.

Leela Hensler is a teen advocate for human rights and academic freedom. As a student organizer for PEN America, she has helped plan and lead the Northern California summit on book bans and the freedom to learn in partnership with the San Francisco Public Library, and as a student fellow for Rhizome, she advocated for the inclusion of student efforts against educational gag orders in the organization’s 2023-24 National Action plan. She has also worked with organizations such as United 4 Iran to expand solidarity efforts between teenage protesters in Iran and the United States, and participated in Congressional lobbying work for Uyghur human rights with the Uyghur American Association.

Summer Lopez is PEN America’s Chief Program Officer, Free Expression. She has been with the organization since November 2017 and oversees PEN America’s advocacy, research, and programming in defense of free expression in the U.S. and globally. Lopez has worked to advance democracy and human rights in the nonprofit and government sectors, including for eight years with the U.S. Agency for International Development and three years with The AjA Project, a San Diego-based nonprofit providing participatory media programming for immigrant and refugee youth. She has lived and worked in Zimbabwe, Egypt, Nepal, India, and Ghana, and holds a BA from Harvard University and a master’s in public affairs from the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs.

Nic Stone is the New York Times bestselling author of Dear Martin, Dear Justyce, Blackout, Whiteout, and middle-grade novels, Clean Getaway and How to Be a (Young) Antiracist, all New York Times bestsellers, Odd One Out, Jackpot, the Shuri (Black Panther) novels as well as Fast Pitch. Her most recent novel, Chaos Theory, was published in February 2023. Her novels have been translated into six languages. Her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, Auburn Avenue, The Writer Magazine, amongst others. Nic lives in Atlanta with her family. Find her online at nicstone.info or @nicstone.

What Is PEN America?

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression in the United States and worldwide. They champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Their mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

Founded in 1922, PEN America is the largest of the more than 100 centers worldwide that make up the PEN International network. PEN America works to ensure that people everywhere have the freedom to create literature, to convey information and ideas, to express their views, and to access the views, ideas, and literatures of others. Their strength is our Membership—a nationwide community of more than 7,500 novelists, journalists, nonfiction writers, editors, poets, essayists, playwrights, publishers, translators, agents, and other writing professionals, as well as devoted readers and supporters who join with them to carry out PEN America’s mission.

PEN America’s programs defend writers, artists, and journalists and protect free expression worldwide. This work includes research and reports on topical issues; advocacy on free expression challenges; campaigns on policy issues and on behalf of individual writers and journalists under threat; year-round festivals and events; literary awards; fellowships; and more.

PEN America, a registered 501(c)(3) organization, is headquartered in New York City, with offices in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. and chapters in 10 regions.

To learn more visit: https://pen.org/

This event is made possible by support from the City Lights Foundation. To learn more visit: https://citylights.com/foundation/


October 3, 2023
6:00 pm - 7:00 pm PDT
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