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Kean University

Kean Welcomes LGBTQIA+ Author for ‘Common Read’ Book Talk

Best-selling author George M. Johnson met with Kean students and faculty on October 11 for a reading and discussion of Johnson’s “memoir-manifesto” All Boys Aren’t Blue, this year’s Common Read selection at Kean.

A prominent LGBTQIA+ activist whose book was banned by dozens of school districts across the country, Johnson spoke of their personal story and its impact on individuals. Johnson uses the pronouns they/them.

“It was really exciting to know it was going to be on a college campus, read by students and reviewed,” said Johnson, who is from Plainfield. “It could shape the lives of so many students. It made it full circle.”

The author spoke at Wilkins Theatre on Kean’s Union campus on National Coming Out Day. One student came up to Johnson after his talk to thank the author and activist.

“That’s what I do this for,” Johnson said.

Kean’s Common Read, in its second year, encourages students across campus to read the same book. It works to build community, celebrate diversity and share an intellectual experience.

Common Read Coordinator Abriana Jetté, Ph.D., a lecturer in Kean’s School of English Studies, said the book was selected through a “diplomatic, beautiful” process involving a survey of faculty, staff and students. A list of 200 suggestions was winnowed to a “Top Five,” and the book was chosen with a final vote.

“I think we now have a spotlight on the diverse intersectional community that makes up our campus,” she said. “This program has given voice to students who feel pushed to the side. Our program combines the importance of personal growth and academic growth.”

Johnson began by taking questions from students about the writing process and current topics such as critical race theory. Students also gave their reactions to the book.

“I’ve gotten messages from fathers and mothers, saying the book has changed the way they’re parenting,” Johnson said. “I hear from parents trying to ban it, so I knew there was going to be support from the other side.”

Johnson read from the chapter about their grandmother, Nanny, who has passed away. 

“I had a home because Nanny ensured it,” Johnson read. “The way I grew up always knowing that I would have a friend in Nanny is the way I hope Black queer boys, who may never meet me but will hear and see my words, know they already have a friend in me.”

The event was organized by Kean’s School of English Studies; Human Rights Institute; Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; College of Liberal Arts; and General Studies. The Iota Rho Chapter of fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha also presented Johnson with a certificate of recognition and members of the fraternity performed.

Students said they got a sense of community in the Common Read and found the book inspirational.

“No matter the trauma they went through, they just kept going. It was eye-opening to see someone come out the other side,” said Adam Samet, a senior English writing major from North Brunswick. “It wasn’t a book I felt like I had to keep reading, I enjoyed picking it up.” 

Senior Brittney Kennedy of Union, an elementary education/English major, read the book with her grandmother, Sheila Kennedy of Newark, and was accompanied by her grandmother at the reading.

Melody Guerra, a freshman medical technology major from Haledon, said the event was important.

“Kean University is a very diverse school, so it’s good to hear others’ perspectives. Everyone comes together and you need to be comfortable with the diversity,” Guerra said. 

The book was featured in a filmed dramatic reading, available on Amazon Prime Video, which received the GLAAD Media Award. It is also in development as a series, Johnson said.

In the audience were many of Johnson’s family members, including the writer’s parents, Kaye and Gregory Johnson of Plainfield. Kaye Johnson said the author “always spoke up,” even when young.

“I’m so proud,” Kaye Johnson said. “I never imagined it would go to this level.”

Kean University is hosting a screening of the dramatic reading of All Boys Aren’t Blue on Tuesday, November 28 during Common Hour (3:30-4:30 p..m.) in the Miron Student Center Little Theatre.