Critical Conversation: Book Banning and the Freedom of Expression

Featuring a conversation with New York Times bestselling author George Johnson (All Boys Aren’t Blue)

Critical Conversation: Book Banning and the Freedom Of Expression

SAT • MARCH 23 • 6:30PM

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Tickets: $20, $10 Student discount at box office only | Limit 8 tickets per mailing address

The Vogel • Basie Center Campus • 99 Monmouth Street, Red Bank



New York Times best-selling author George M. Johnson (All Boys Aren’t Blue)

Moderator Jonathan Friedman, Director of Free Expression and
Education Programs at PEN America

Tina Marie Doody, Director, Glen Ridge Public Library

Dr. Zaneta Rego-Craft, Director of Monmouth University’s Intercultural Center and Advisor to the President for Diversity and Inclusion

In an era marked by increasing restrictions on creative expression, the need to foster and protect creativity has never been more critical. Join the Count Basie Center for the Arts for an insightful and thought-provoking event as we delve into the complex landscape of book bans in the modern age.

This event will feature special guest George M. Johnson, the New Jersey native and New York Times bestselling author of All Boys Aren’t Blue, the groundbreaking “memoir-manifesto” exploring his journey growing up as a queer Black man in Plainfield and Virginia.

The evening will be hosted and moderated by Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression and education programs at PEN America, the nonprofit organization which stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression in the United States and worldwide as part of the PEN International network.

“Hosting critical conversations to discuss important social issues is part of our mission,” said Adam Philipson, President and CEO, Count Basie Center for the Arts. “Using our venues and spaces to host forums for expression and evaluation of current issues affecting our society is the Basie’s commitment to bettering the community as a whole.”

George M. Johnson
Author George M. Johnson

Johnson is the author of the New York Times bestseller All Boys Aren’t Blue, a “memoir-manifesto” chronicling their youth as a queer black man growing up in Plainfield, NJ and Virginia. In 2022, a group called Citizens Defending Education sparked national headlines by calling for Johnson’s book and two others to be banned from the public library in Glen Ridge, NJ. After a library director reviewed the titles and refused to remove them from shelves, an opposition group – Glen Ridge United Against Book Bans – was formed, leading to a headline grabbing forum of more than 1,000 persons attending the original citizen’s group’s appeal. The books ultimately remained available.

Tina Marie Doody, Director of the Glen Ridge Public Library, will also speak this evening, along with Dr. Zaneta Rego-Craft, Director of Monmouth University’s Intercultural Center and Advisor to the President for Diversity and Inclusion.

Project Write NowA companion teen writing contest, conducted by the Red Bank literacy nonprofit Project Write Now, will also be featured. The contest is open to entries of poetry and prose scribed by students in two age groups – 12-14 and 15-18 – and inspired by the theme of freedom. Winning entries will also be placed into Project Write Now’s annual Voice & Verse Writing Contest, while prizes of $500, $300 and $200 will be awarded to the top three essayists, respectively. For more information, click here.

Concluding the evening will be a short-form documentary that weaves together heartfelt interviews, gripping narratives, and insightful analysis, that will further inform how book bans have shaped our collective narrative and what we can do to write a brighter future.

Critical Conversation: Book Banning and the Freedom of Expression will also afford attendees the opportunity to purchase various books banned at schools and libraries nationwide.

Please note:
At the direction of the CDC or local health authorities, the Count Basie Center may at any time institute policies pertaining to COVID-19 transmission, including but not limited to mask requirements. Certain artists and / or touring productions may also require patrons to be masked and / or present proof of COVID-19 vaccination.

Masks are not required to attend performances at Count Basie Center venues, though we welcome their use and respect all patrons who choose to continue doing so.