Kent celebrates Banned Books Week with second annual read-in – Kent Wired


Matthew Brown

Akii Butler reads a few pages from JK Rowling’s Harry Potter during the second annual Banned Book Reading.

A night of reading, cosplay, food and prizes marked the second annual reading, where students and faculty gathered to celebrate banned book week.

Wednesday night’s event was held at Taylor Hall in an open-mic style to allow every member of the Kent State community to read a passage from their favorite banned book. Contestants were also encouraged to dress up as their favorite character for a chance to win a notable banned book for themselves.

Communications major Jaelyn Brown was one of the first participants to read and dress up

Kent State student Jaelyn Brown wears an outfit inspired by The Handmaid’s Tale and reads a passage from the same book during the Banned Book Reading. (Matthew Brown)

as a character from her chosen book, The Handmaid’s Tale.

Brown made this reading her first and was both excited and nervous about actively participating. She expressed surprise at the scale of the banned book problem.

“I was looking through a list of banned books and I didn’t know how many books were banned,” Brown said. “Even children’s books, as I saw one of my old favorite books, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” is a banned book and so I think it’s important to support these things, support these causes and for things like this here to be.

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Around 23 different novels, plays and poems were read throughout the event, including some well-known titles such as ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘The Giver’.

In addition to the wide range of published works read, Eric Mansfield, Associate Vice President of University Communications and Marketing and Proclaimed Playwright, chose to read from his upcoming play, Trial by Fire.

“This was a game that I started this past spring just seeing the growing tension across America,” Mansfield said. “It’s a modern day drama about a black woman who gets her first job teaching in a school made up mostly of boys. She teaches the women’s studies program and begins taking books off the book ban list. The community finds out, everyone turns against her, and she’s going to be brought to justice.”

As the readings drew to a close, the students began to share their emotional connection to the books and to the professors who encouraged them.

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Associate Professor of Media and Journalism Stephanie Smith thanks the assembled audience for attending the second Banned Book Reading. (Matthew Brown)

Stephanie Smith, associate professor and creator of the read-in, explained that the difference between this read-in and the first isn’t in the number of participants, but in the demographics and sentiment.

“We definitely have more emotion,” Smith said. “I think you could probably feel some of that emotion, and I love it. We had a large number of students reading and we definitely had more students speaking.”

As the students and food began to disappear and the event drew to a close, the faculty present reflected on their thoughts on the event and the issue of the book ban.

A recurring thought related to surprise at how unaware the students were of the extent of the banned books.

“It’s happening at a faster rate than in previous years. It’s not new, but it’s ongoing,” Smith said. “It’s accelerating, and it’s happening from all sides of the political spectrum. It’s not always political either, it can be spiritual or cultural.”

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Paul Haridakis, director of the School of Communication Studies, also agreed that despite the history of banned books, the problem continues to grow.

“The ban on books shows not only how important our communication skills are, but also how much we fear the power of that communication in the hands of experienced people,” Haridakis said. “And that’s really why we both need to understand. We cannot study skills without understanding the fear that the power of communication can generate.”

Smith explained that the problem isn’t just coming from those who ban books directly, but also from groups like parents who are campaigning for school-wide book bans.

“I thought what could I do that would not be angry but happy,” Smith said. “Because reading should be fun, and that’s how I imagined the read-in. They have a sit-in, a teach-in and a dine-in, why not a read-in?”

Mariah is a reporter. Contact them at [email protected]

A variety of banned books, including And Tango Makes Three, serve as prizes in a raffle held during banned book beading. (Matthew Brown)

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