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PEN Presents: Free The Books

In facing the rising threats to the freedoms to read and imagine, PEN America convenes a dialogue with beloved writers on the recent and dramatic rise in the efforts to censor and silence Black and LGBTQ+ perspectives. New York Times bestselling author Casey McQuiston and independent publisher and children’s author Cheryl Willis Hudson, will be in conversation with PEN America’s Jonathan Friedman, Director, Free Expression and Education Programs. This event takes place on the first day of Banned Books Week, October 1st-7th, an annual event that celebrates open access to books in our schools, libraries, and communities.



Jonathan Friedman, Ph.D., is the director of free expression and education programs at PEN America. He oversees research, advocacy, and education related to academic freedom, educational gag orders, book bans, and general free expression in schools, colleges, and universities.

An interdisciplinary scholar by training, Friedman has served as lead author on PEN America’s reports, Banned in the USA: The Growing Movement to Censor Books in Schools (2022), Educational Gag Orders: Legislative Restrictions on the Freedom to Read, Learn, and Teach (2021), and Chasm in the Classroom: Campus Free Speech in a Divided America (2020).

CASEY MCQUISTON is a #1 New York Times bestselling author of romantic comedies, including One Last Stop, I Kissed Shara Wheeler, and Red, White & Royal Blue, whose writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Bon Appetit. Born and raised in southern Louisiana, Casey now lives in New York City with a poodle mix named Pepper.

Cheryl Wills Hudson is an award-winning author, editorial director and co-founder with Wade Hudson of Just Us Books.

She got her start in publishing doing textbook design and has gone on to write and lead the editorial and art direction for hundreds of titles. Her AFRO-BETS®️ Kids characters, featured in titles including the AFRO-BETS ABC Book and the AFRO-BETS 1 2 3 Book helped to launch Just Us Books and demonstrate a need and a market for children’s books that center and celebrate Black people and culture. Cheryl is also the author of Bright Eyes, Brown Skin; Hands Can; My Friend Maya Loves to Dance; Brave Black First, 50+ Women Who Changed the World, a collaboration with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture, and co-editor with her husband Wade of three anthologies, including the award-winning We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices.

A champion for diversity in the children’s book industry, Cheryl is a member of PEN America and PEN’s Children’s and Young Adult Books Committee and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

Her honors include induction into the International Literary Hall of Fame for Writers of African Descent, the Harlem Book Fair Phillis Wheatley Award (2007), the Ida B. Wells Institutional Leadership Award (2008) presented by the Center for Black Literature, the Madame C. J. Walker Legacy Award (2012) given by the Zora Neale Hurston-Richard Wright Foundation, and the 2022 Carle Honors award from The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.