The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture launched its annual Literary Festival on June 14 with a week-long virtual event that champions authors of African descent from across the globe and publications that celebrate Black history and culture. The festival—held online at https://www.schomburgcenterlitfest.org and hosting programs for all ages—ends on June 19 in honor of Juneteenth, the holiday that commemorates the day the Emancipation Proclamation reached enslaved Black people in Texas on June 19, 1865.

“As we embark on a new chapter, following a difficult year of struggle and strife, the Schomburg Center remains committed to supporting the art and agency of the Black experience,” said Novella Ford, associate director of public programs and exhibitions at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. “This year’s Literary Festival not only honors the talent of some of our greatest contemporary writers and artists, but builds on the foundation created by Arturo Schomburg, encouraging freedom of thought, the relentless pursuit of Black history, and the engagement of our imagination towards our collective freedom.”

Inspired by the poem “Refugee in America” by Langston Hughes, the Festival borrows its theme from the opening line, “Words Like Freedom.” The art work, Book of Cures, courtesy of artist Barbara Earl Thomas and the Claire Oliver Gallery, provides the Festival with its visual spirit.

Virtual programs will be held throughout the week and include readings, author talks, and workshops that range from prose to poetry, comic books to young adult novels, fiction and nonfiction. Two days of extensive panel discussions will be held; one focusing on books for children and teens on June 17 and another to celebrate the festival’s conclusion on June 19, which focuses on the Festival’s theme, “Words like Freedom,” and includes authors Farah Jasmine Griffin (Read Until You Understand), Ben Okri (Prayer for the Living), Desmond Meade (Let My People Vote), Yaba Blay (One Drop), and Kiese Laymon (Long Division).

A pre-festival event co-hosted with LIVE from the NYPL will also feature author Akwaeke Emezi, author of Dear Senthuran: A Black Spiritual Memoir, in conversation with Saidya Hartman. The program will be held on June 8 at 7 p.m.

Registration is free and open to the public at schomburgcenter.eventbrite.com.

Remaining programming for the Schomburg Literary Festival: Words Like Freedom includes:

Thursday, June 17 from 1 p.m.–7 p.m.


Join us for a half-day of readings, author talks, and panel discussions for young people, featuring prose and poetry, comic books and storybooks. We will be joined by:

1:00 p.m. | “Jupiter Invincible” by Yusef Komunyakaa, and illustrated by Ashley A. Wood, and Ram Devineni, AR Creator

2:30 p.m. | “Chlorine Sky” by Mahogany L. Browne

4:00 p.m. | “Born Ready” by Jodie Patterson and “ABCs of Black History” by Rio Cortez

and more…

Saturday, June 19 from 10:30 AM–5:30 PM


We are celebrating Juneteenth with an incredible lineup of authors from across the globe, including Farah Jasmine Griffin, Ben Okri, Desmond Meade, and Yaba Blay, whose works of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry celebrate and interrogate the sweet refrain of freedom’s song in our everyday lives.

10:30 a.m. | OPENING PROGRAM

11:00 a.m. | Read Until You Understand: Farah Jasmine Griffin + Tressie McMillan Cottom

12:00 p.m. | “How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning With the History of Slavery Across America” by Clint Smith (Non Fiction)

12:15 p.m. | “One Drop One Drop: Shifting the Lens on Race” by Yaba Blay (Non Fiction)

1:00 p.m. | “Prayer for the Living” by Ben Okri (Fiction)

1:15 p.m. | “The Age of Phillis” (Poetry) and “The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois” (Fiction) by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

2:00 p.m. | “Long Division” by Kiese Laymon (Fiction) and “Let My People Vote” by Desmond Meade (Memoir)

2:15 p.m. | “Mama Phife Represent” by Cheryl Boyce-Taylor (Poetry)

3:00 p.m. | “A Girl is a Body of Water” by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi (Fiction)

3:15 p.m. | Harlem Writers Guild Author Preview

4:30 p.m. | CLOSING PROGRAM: A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance by Hanif Abdurraqib in conversation with Dawnie Walton

The Schomburg Center Literary Festival is generously sponsored by the New York Life Foundation and Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation.

The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a research unit of The New York Public Library, is generally recognized as one of the leading institutions of its kind in the world. For over 90 years the Center has collected, preserved, and provided access to materials documenting black life, and promoted the study and interpretation of the history and culture of peoples of African descent. Educational and Cultural Programs at the Schomburg Center complement its research services and interpret its collections. Seminars, forums, workshops, staged readings, film screenings, performing arts programs, and special events are presented year-round. More information about Schomburg’s collections and programs can be found at www.schomburgcenter.org. Learn more about how to support the Library at nypl.org/support.