Freedom to Read Student Summit – Pasadena

PEN America is excited to announce our first Freedom to Read Student Summit in Pasadena this September leading up to Banned Books Week 2023! In this convening, college and local high school students will be invited to engage with each other and leaders from PEN America in a series of workshops and discussions on the nationwide book-banning crisis and the intolerance, exclusion, and censorship undergirding it.

Join us in person on-campus at Pasadena City College on Wednesday, September 27 to learn more about PEN America’s latest report “Banned in the USA: State Laws Supercharge Book Suppression in Schools” and the expanded censorship over the past year of literature themed on race, history, sexual orientation and gender. From 3:00 pm – 4:15 pm, college students will be invited for a special session themed around free expression, book bans, and the carceral system. At 4:30 pm high school student attendees will be invited to join the college students for a larger assembly presentation centering PEN America’s latest report “Banned in the USA: State Laws Supercharge Book Suppression in Schools”. Breakout conversations split between high school and college will follow at 5:30 pm including final debriefs with additional opportunities shared for students to continue advocacy and education with PEN America.


  • This program is FREE and available to all college and high school students. Invited educators are also welcome to attend.
  • Attendees under 18 years old will need permission from a parent or legal guardian to register.
  • Registration is required and will stay open through the day of the event, Wednesday, September 27, 2023. Please register as soon as possible if you plan on attending.
  • Snacks and refreshments will be available
  • If you have any questions, email us at [email protected].





Parking is recommended in Student Parking Lot 3. Our event is taking place in the Louis Creveling Lounge. A map of the campus is available here.  All registrants will receive an email with a parking permit available to print before arrival.






Start Time

End Time

Pasadena City College Student Check-in with Snacks and Refreshments

2:30 pm

3:00 pm

Free Expression, Mass Incarceration, and Prison Book Bans

3:00 pm

4:15 pm

Break and High School Student Check-in

4:15 pm

4:30 pm

“Banned in the USA: The State of Book Bans and Educational Censorship in 2023”

4:30 pm

5:15 pm

Breakout Discussions and Closing

5:30 pm

6:30 pm

*subject to change




Johnny Kovatch headshotJohnny Kovatch is the founder of the Portland-based nonprofit, Unlock the Arts. He teaches expressive writing at Maclaren Youth Correctional Facility in Oregon and at Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City, CA, and authored 59 Hours (Simon & Schuster). His commissioned work appears in PEN America’s: The Sentences That Create Us, and his poetry has appeared in The Los Angeles Review, The Headlight Review, Barrow Street, Cholla Needles, The Atticus Review, and Why to These Rocks, an anthology celebrating fifty years of the Community of Writers.

JD Mathes Headshot Crop

J.D. Mathes is a photographer, author, book critic, and librettist. While finishing his Bachelor of Arts in English at Lewis-Clark State College, he was awarded a Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Scholarship that funded his MFA in fiction writing at the University of Idaho. Two of his books are Shipwrecks and Other Stories, and a memoir, Ahead of the Flaming Front: A Life on Fire, about his experiences fighting wildfire throughout the American West for fourteen seasons, including four years on an elite helicopter rappel crew. A single-dad to two daughters, he now teaches English at Bakersfield College. In the mid-80s, he was incarcerated in federal prison on a firearms charge, which destroyed his military career. The experience shattered him for years, and even as he still struggles with the darkness, he gets his flawed self out of bed every day to do the best he can. He is a 2019-2020 PEN America Writing For Justice Fellow.

headshot of Nicholas PerezNicholas “Niko” Perez is the program manager of free expression and education at PEN America. In this role, he advances PEN America’s efforts to catalyze a more informed, civic culture through free expression education for the rising generation and the general public, and supports advocacy, analysis, and outreach in the national debate around free speech and inclusion in higher education. Perez leads Next Gen PEN America, PEN America’s campaign dedicated to empowering a new generation of free expression advocates and building a youth advocacy network that can work together to facilitate positive change. Perez previously worked for the Columbia University Human Rights Advocates Program and consulted for the Human Rights Education and Training section at the United Nations. He holds a master’s degree from Columbia University in human rights and humanitarian policy and a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University in international politics. He also was a Global Leadership Fellow at Waseda University in Japan, a Model United Nations advisor at Mira Costa High School, and a forensics researcher for the Yahad-in Unum genocide research agency.

photo of Peris TushabePeris Tushabe is the free expression and education program coordinator at PEN America, supporting PEN America’s advocacy for free expression in educational institutions as well as the Free Expression Advocacy Institute. She earned her BA from Skidmore College in political science, minoring in French language studies. Born and raised in Uganda, she focused her research on youth movements in the country and the role that social media plays in pushing back against authoritarian governments. She has also served at the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum as a public programming assistant, and worked for candidate Tedra Cobb in her campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives. She is a proud member of Phi Sigma Alpha and Phi Beta Kappa, and continues to be interested in the ways young people can harness power to push for their rights and more democratic and free futures.





CORE Pasadena City College Logo

Community Overcoming Recidivism through Education (CORE) provides support services to formerly incarcerated and system impacted students enrolling at Pasadena City College. CORE focuses on students’ reentry into their communities in order for them to succeed through the development of job skills, attaining Associates degree and/or certificate, and/or the ability to transfer to a four-year college or university. Visit their website here.