The Education & Civil Rights Initiative at the University of Kentucky College of Education presents the Juneteenth Banned Books & Literacy Festival, June 16-17, 2023. This community event highlights the growing trend of book banning across the country and celebrates inclusive storytelling. The festival kicks off on Friday, June 16th with a virtual panel of scholars discussing literacy and inclusion in K-12 schools, followed by an in-person day of programming on Saturday, June 17th aimed at families and youth. Saturday’s program will include an opening session ft. a youth poet, a panel of local, award winning young adult authors, and a series of banned book READ IN workshops. Books will be for sale onsite, and a pizza lunch will be provided. The festival is free with registration. Spots limited, so register to reserve space for you and your young person today!

Register here to attend Friday’s virtual panel.

Register here to attend Saturday’s in-person programs.

Festival location

University of Kentucky
The Cornerstone
401 S. Limestone
Lexington, KY 40508

Festival schedule

Friday, June 16th

10am – 11:30am — Banned Books & Advocating for Inclusive Texts in K-12 Schools

This virtual panel will highlight scholars doing work on literacy, inclusion, and belonging within K-12 schools. Speaker list coming soon.

Saturday, June 17th

9:30am — Check-in

10:00am — Opening Session ft. Kiitan Adedeji, Lexington’s Youth Poet Laureate

Kiitan Adedeji serves as the current inaugural Lexington Youth Poet Laureate and is a freshman at Lafayette Highschool. She ​is a part of the SCAPA and Pre-Engineering programs at her school where she also participates in the Y-club. In her free time, she enjoys reading and staring at the fish in her aquarium.

10:45am — Our Stories, Our Hearts: A Middle Grade & Young Adult Literature Panel featuring, award winning authors:

Rachel Elliott: is an author, illustrator, and cartoonist. Her debut middle grade graphic novel, THE REAL RILEY MAYES, was released in May of 2022. If you love secret codes, parallel cat universes, and dude-ish girls who act out humorous death scenes, you’ll want to read this book. Rachel grew up queer during the 1980s in rural Oklahoma. She’s a big fan of baseball, tacos, cats, and comedians. She has worked as a volunteer “zooteen”, a plaster-caster, a crumpet baker, and a children’s museum grant writer. She now teaches first-year composition, multimedia writing, and writing comics at the University of Kentucky, as well as a variety of comic and zine workshops for kids and adults.

SHAWN PRYOR’S (he/him) latest work includes the hi-lo reader series The Gamer (Capstone Publishing) with illustrator Francesca Ficorilli, the NAT TURNER’S REBELLION graphic novel, and the upcoming middle-grade graphic novel Fast Break (FSG Books, 2024) with illustrator Courtney Hahn. He is the co-creator of the middle-grade graphic novel series Cash and Carrie and a 2019 Glyph-Award Nominee for the football graphic novel F.O.R.C.E. He has written several books for Capstone’s Jake Maddox series and Kids Sports Stories series.

In his free time, Shawn enjoys reading, cooking, playing video games, listening to streaming music playlists, and talking about why Zack from the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers is the greatest Black superhero of all time. He is represented by Kelly Sonnack of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Visit his website and check out more ways to connect with Shawn.

Mariama J. Lockington is an adoptee, author, and educator. She has been telling stories and making her own books since the second grade, when she wore shortalls and flower leggings every day to school. Mariama’s middle-grade debut, For Black Girls Like Me, earned five starred reviews and was a Today Show Best Kids’ Book of 2019. Her sophomore middle-grade book, In The Key of Us, is a Stonewall Honor Award book and was featured in the New York Times. Her debut Young Adult novel, Forever is Now, came out in May. Mariama holds a Masters in Education from Lesley University and a Masters in Fine Arts in Poetry from San Francisco State University, she calls many places home, but currently lives in Kentucky with her wife, her little sausage dog, Henry, and an abundance of plants. When not writing, Mariama works for the University of Kentucky’s College of Education. You can find her on Twitter @marilock and on Instagram/TikTok @forblackgirlslikeme.

11:30am — Author Signing: Get your books signed by authors—Rachel Elliott, Shawn Pryor, and Mariama J. Lockington, after their panel & reading. Barnes & Noble will be on-site selling books.

12:00pm — Pizza Lunch

1:00 PM – 2:15pm — Banned Books READ INs

Participants will break out into age specific groups to engage with a banned book and do a facilitated hands-on activity related to the book topic.

  • Picture Book READ IN ft. Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
  • Middle Grade Book READ IN ft. The New Kid by Jerry Craft
  • Young Adult Book READ IN ft. Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson

2:30 — Closing & See You Next Year! Closing remarks, evaluations, and final swag pick-up and book purchases.

For more information and questions about the festival, please contact or call (859) 257-4038.