Banned Book Week Social Hour in Durham, North Carolina
For Banned Book Week 2022, PEN Piedmont North Carolina, in partnership with the North Carolina Writers Network, hosted a free speech “social cocktail hour” with drinks and appetizers. This event provided an opportunity for free speech advocates, librarians, authors, and the general public to share their thoughts and possible advocacy tools regarding the recent wave of book bans. We were joined by author Alicia D Williams, journalist and author Lewis Raven Wallace, and Wake County librarian Kristel Behrend. We reflected, organized, and prepared to defend the freedom to read.
Alicia D. Williams is the author of Genesis Begins Again, which received the Newbery and Kirkus Prize honors, was a William C. Morris prize finalist, and won the Coretta Scott King–John Steptoe Award for New Talent. Alicia D also debuted a picture book biography, Jump at the Sun: The True Life Tale of Unstoppable Storycatcher Zora Neale Hurston. And, followed up with Shirley Chisholm Dared: The Story of the First Black Woman in Congress. Alicia shares a passion for storytelling which stems from conducting school residencies as a Master Teaching Artist of arts-integration. Alicia D infuses her love for drama, movement, and storytelling to inspire students to write. She resides in Charlotte, NC.
Lewis Raven Wallace is a journalist based in Durham, North Carolina, the author and creator of The View from Somewhere book and podcast, and a co-founder of Press On, a southern movement journalism collective. He’s currently a Ford Global Fellow, and a movement journalism fellow with Interrupting Criminalization. He is white and transgender, and was born and raised in the Midwest with deep roots in the South.
Kristel Behrend is a high school librarian with over 20 years experience in education. She began her career as a professional opera singer and elementary music teacher in Ohio. Ten years ago, Ms. Behrend shifted her focus and became a librarian after being mentored by an amazing elementary school librarian who fostered a love of literacy and educational technology. She has been at Knightdale High School for seven years where she considers herself an advocate for both staff and students; she has been vocal about students’ right to read what they want and see themselves in texts with authentic teen experiences. Her students know that the Knightdale Learning Commons is a safe space for all students to be their true selves without judgment.
Deonna Kelli Sayed is a writer-performer based in Greensboro, North Carolina. Deonna’s essays and short stories are included in Love, Inshallah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women; Faithfully Feminist: Jewish, Christian and Muslim Feminists on Why We Stay; and Everywhere Stories: Short Fiction From a Small Planet, Volume III. She is the author of Paranormal Obsession: America’s Fascination with Ghosts & Hauntings, Spooks & Spirits, and a TEDx speaker.
Her personal essays appear online, including at The Dirty Spoon, and Jennifer Pastiloff’s The Manifest-Station. Deonna is an award-winning multimedia journalist for her podcast series at Yes!Weekly, an independent newspaper, featuring LGBTQ issues in North Carolina.
Originally from rural North Florida, Deonna is a globally connected storyteller engaged in interfaith work modeled on dialogue across difference. She is the Membership Coordinator for the North Carolina Writers’ Network, and Festival Coordinator for Greensboro Bound, 2018-2019. She is active in her local arts community, and served as staff for the 2019 North Carolina Folk Festival. Learn more about Deonna here, and keep up with her and local PEN America events on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.