Angie Thomas, Jesmyn Ward, Kiese Laymon, Rick Bragg and other noted authors will speak at the first Banned Books Festival in the state on March 25 at Millsaps College in Jackson.
The Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting at Mississippi Today is sponsoring the event, along with the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Institute, the Millsaps Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation Campus Center, the Mississippi Humanities Council, the Mississippi ACLU and Lemuria Books.
The theme of the event is “Erasing,” and the authors will talk about the dangerous trend of book banning, which has led some school districts to remove scores of library books from the shelves.
The list of banned books across the nation continues to grow, including such treasured books as “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas, “Beloved” by Toni Morrison, “A Time to Kill” by John Grisham, the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck and The Bible.
Reena Evers-Everette, executive director of the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Institute in Jackson, will co-host the event with Jerry Mitchell of the MCIR at Mississippi Today.
“Some of the world’s greatest writers have come from Mississippi, so it only seems appropriate that we hold the state’s first-ever Banned Books Festival here,” Evers-Everette said. “These books are being banned, because some people want to rewrite history and erase reality. This festival is taking a stand for truth for all.”
She recalled the assassination of her father “60 years ago because he dared to become the first Black Mississippian to go on television and let the world know what was really happening in this state. He took a step in courage and so must we.”
The Mississippi Banned Books Festival will kick off at 9 a.m. in Millsaps’ McMullan Lecture Hall with Mississippi Today cartoonist Marshall Ramsey interviewing Rick Bragg, whose book “All Over But the Shoutin’“ drew criticism and an effort to ban it.
In keeping with the event’s theme of “Erasing,” Cheryl W. Thompson, senior editor and investigative correspondent for National Public Radio, will interview some of the nation’s top investigative reporters on the subject of “Erasing Truth.” They include: Mississippi Today’s Anna Wolfe, who broke the story on the state’s $77 million state welfare scandal; Julie K. Brown, whose book, “Perversion of Justice: The Jeffrey Epstein Story”, is based on her exposés on Epstein; and Gilbert King, the Pulitzer-Prize winning author who exposed the wrongful conviction of Leo Schofield in his popular podcast, “Bone Valley”.
“These stories demonstrate why investigative reporting is so important, because investigative reporting holds the powerful accountable,” said Mitchell, the founder of the MCIR. “Without this kind of reporting, democracy must operate in the darkness.”
Ebony Lumumba, who serves on the advisory board to the Mississippi Book Festival, will interview Angie Thomas, whose “The Hate U Give” is among the most banned books in the nation.
For the “Erasing History” panel, Alan Huffman, author of “Mississippi in Africa”, will interview Stephanie Rolph, author of “Resisting Equality: The Citizens’ Council, 1954-1989”, historian Daphne Chamberlain, the founding director of the Civil Rights Education Center at Jackson State University and the vice president for Strategic Initiatives and Social Justice at Tougaloo College, and Ko Bragg, who wrote in the Atlantic magazine about an aging cohort of Black tour guides fighting the local erasure of the Freedom Summer killings of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner.
W. Ralph Eubanks, the author of “A Place Like Mississippi”, will interview authors Kiese Laymon and Jesmyn Ward on “Erasing Memory.”
The Mississippi Banned Books Festival is encouraging Mississippians to post videos of themselves reading passages from their favorite banned books. Students also will host read-ins at the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home and other places across Mississippi to bring attention to banned books and the need to read.
“As an institution that has produced informed, creative thinking and versatile citizens for more than 130 years and that today remains resolutely dedicated to its mission of academic excellence, open inquiry and free expression,” said Keith Dunn, provost and dean of Millsaps College. “Millsaps College believes deeply in the value and importance of all voices, even when those voices may be telling difficult stories. The college’s new strategic plan, ‘Destination 2027: Lighting the Path,’ specifically calls for us to be a place ‘known for free, courageous and bold academic discourse.’ Our support of this important event is one more way we are living into that plan.”