(SALT LAKE CITY)— On Wed., Jan. 25, writers and readers will join best-selling authors, Utah’s poet laureate, professors, students, parents, and community leaders at the Utah State Capitol (350 State St.) to celebrate the freedom to read during a “Let Utah Read” event affirming the commitment to this right, as it comes under attack nationwide through spreading book bans in schools. Organized by the Utah chapter of PEN America, in partnership with the American Civil Liberties Union, Utah Library Association, and EveryLibrary, the event is open to the public.

“We welcome and encourage everyone in the Salt Lake City community who believes that book censorship has no place in our schools and libraries to join us to affirm the freedom to read and the power of literature to bring us together to stand up for our rights and common goals,” said Kasey Meehan, director of PEN America’s Freedom to Read program.

The event will start with a community “read in” from 3-4 p.m in the Rotunda of the Capitol, with banned books provided by PEN America, the ACLU, the Tanner Humanities Center, Under the Umbrella Books, and The King’s English; organizers also encourage participants to “BYOB” (bring your own books). From 4-5:20 p.m., speakers will discuss the power of literature and the necessity for all to be able to freely access and read books.

Speakers will include bestselling authors Erika L. Sanchéz and Shannon Hale; Utah Poet Laureate Lisa Bickmore, Tanner Humanities Center Director and Professor of Law at the University of Utah Erika George; poet and literature professor Kimberly Johnson; Paisley Rekdal, PEN America Utah co-leader and Let Utah Read organizer, Liz Pitts, president, Utah LGBTQ+, as well as librarians and students from the community, and Jeanetta Williams, president, NAACP Salt Lake Branch.

READ full bios of the speakers and more details about the event.

Books are under profound attack in the United States and in Utah. Since the passage of HB 374 in 2022, book banning and book challenges have increased dramatically across Utah. In Alpine School District, 22 out of 52 challenged books were permanently removed from library shelves. In Washington County, 14 out of 23 challenged books were removed. Book challenges have also recently occurred in Davis and Granite County School Districts, with as many as 205 challenges filed in Granite County alone. These challenges and bans have focused primarily on LGBTQ+ and BIPOC-centered books and authors, depriving students of their right to read, and especially books that reflect their own personal journeys.

“Following the implementation of a “sensitive material” policy, we have watched a chilling effect takeover public schools and public libraries, as more and more books are challenged, restricted, and removed,” said Paisley Rekdal of PEN’s Utah Chapter. “Books that have long fought for a place on the shelf that are being targeted. Books by authors of color, by LGBTQ+ authors, by women. Books about racism, sexuality, gender, history. We at PEN America are pushing back against the banning of books and the intolerance, exclusion, and censorship that underlies it.”

PEN America tracks all book bans in libraries and classrooms across the U.S. Read our recent groundbreaking reports on book bans.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.