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Speakers

At #NCTE21, you’ll have the opportunity to hear from inspiring speakers who care about literacy as much as you do. The art of teaching and learning writing, reading, speaking, and listening is multifaceted, complex, and rich with possibility. That’s why each year we select general session speakers who bring a range of perspectives: 2021 is no exception. We’re thrilled to share this stellar lineup with you.

General Sessions

Opening General Session: Thursday, November 18

Michelle Obama

Michelle Robinson Obama served as First Lady of the United States from 2009 to 2017. Mrs. Obama is the author of the memoir Becoming, a #1 New York Times bestseller that won an NAACP Image Award, was named one of Essence’s 50 Most Impactful Black Books of the Past 50 Years, and was selected as an Oprah’s Book Club pick. Becoming has been adapted into an edition for young readers and is the basis for Becoming: A Guided Journal for Discovering Your Voice. She is also the author of American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America and recently contributed the introduction for Follow That Food!, a picture book tie-in with Waffles + Mochi, a Netflix children’s series from Higher Ground Productions, the production company she founded with her husband, former President Barack Obama.

General Session: Friday, November 19

George M. Johnson

George M. Johnson is the author of the upcoming memoir We Are Not Broken, to be published in September 2021. Johnson has written for major outlets, including Teen Vogue, Entertainment Tonight, NBC, The Root, Buzzfeed, Essence, Ebony, THEM, and The Grio. They have also served as Guest Editor for BET.com’s Pride month. They were awarded the 2019 Salute to Excellence Award by the National Association of Black Journalists for their article “When Racism Anchors Your Health” in Vice Magazine, and named to The Root 100 Most Influential African Americans in 2020. They are the author of the bestselling memoir All Boys Aren’t Blue.

General Session: Saturday, November 20

Colson Whitehead

Colson Whitehead is the author of the forthcoming Harlem Shuffle. He is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of ten works of fiction and nonfiction, and a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, for The Nickel Boys and The Underground Railroad, which also won the National Book Award. His reviews, essays, and fiction have appeared in a number of publications, including the New York Times, The New Yorker, New York Magazine, Harper's, and Granta. A recipient of MacArthur and Guggenheim fellowships and the 2020 Prize for American Fiction from the Library of Congress, he lives in New York City.

Closing General Session: Sunday, November 21

Amanda Gorman

Amanda Gorman is the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history. She is a committed advocate for the environment, racial equality, and gender justice. Amanda’s activism and poetry have been featured on the Today Show, PBS Kids, and CBS This Morning, and in the New York Times, Vogue, and Essence. After graduating cum laude from Harvard University, she now lives in her hometown of Los Angeles. In 2017, Amanda Gorman was appointed the first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate by Urban Word – a program that supports Youth Poets Laureate in more than 60 cities, regions and states nationally. Gorman’s performance of her poem “The Hill We Climb” at the 2021 Presidential Inauguration received critical acclaim and international attention. The special edition of her inaugural poem, “The Hill We Climb,” was published in March 2021 and debuted at #1 on the New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestsellers lists. Amanda appeared on the cover of TIME magazine in February 2021 and was the first poet to grace the cover of Vogue in their May 2021 issue. She was Porter Magazine's July 2021 cover star and received The Artist Impact Award at the 2021 Backstage at the Geffen Awards. Her debut picture book, Change Sings, will be published in September 2021, and her poetry collection, Call Us What We Carry, will release in December 2021. Please visit theamandagorman.com.

Alfredo Celedón Luján

Alfredo Celedón Luján is the president of NCTE as well as an English teacher at Monte del Sol Charter School in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where his students were featured in a segment of CPB/Annenberg’s The Expanding Canon: Teaching Multicultural Literature. He hails from Nambé, northern New Mexico. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in education from New Mexico State University and his Master of Arts/English and Master of Letters from the Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College. He has been a writer-in-residence at the Noepe Center for Literary Arts at Martha’s Vineyard and also with the multicultural Artist in the Schools Program in Alaska. He has been a recipient of three fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and was named one of New Mexico’s Golden Apple Award winners for excellence in teaching in 2015.

Virtual Preconference General Session

Before Convention gets underway, attendees are invited to gather online on Wednesday, November 17, from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. ET for a virtual Preconference General Session featuring Nikole Hannah-Jones, Renée Watson, and Nikkolas Smith, the coauthors and illustrator of the forthcoming The 1619 Project: Born on the Water. This live virtual event is included in the registration price for all Convention attendees.

Preconference General Session: Wednesday, November 17

Nikole Hannah-Jones

Nikole Hannah-Jones is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter covering racial injustice for The New York Times Magazine and the creator of the landmark 1619 Project. Hannah-Jones is author of the forthcoming The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story and the coauthor of the picture book The 1619 Project: Born on the Water written with Renée Watson, illustrated by Nikkolas Smith. She also has written extensively about school resegregation across the country and chronicled the decades-long failure of the federal government to enforce the landmark 1968 Fair Housing Act. In 2016, she co-founded the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting, a training and mentorship organization dedicated to increasing the ranks of investigative reporters of color.

Renée Watson

Renée Watson is a New York Times bestselling author. Her young adult novel, Piecing Me Together received a Newbery Honor and Coretta Scott King Award. Her books for young readers include Harlem's Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills, which was nominated for an NAACP Image Award, and Ways to Make Sunshine, which received the SCBWI Golden Kite Award. She is the coauthor of the forthcoming picture book The 1619 Project: Born on the Water written with Nikole Hannah-Jones, illustrated by Nikkolas Smith.

Watson has given readings and lectures at locations including the United Nations, the Library of Congress, and the U.S. Embassies in Japan and New Zealand.
Watson is on the Council of Writers for the National Writing Project and is a member of the Academy of American Poets’ Education Advisory Council. She grew up in Portland, Oregon, and splits her time between Portland and New York City. To learn more about her work, visit www.reneewatson.net.

Nikkolas Smith

Nikkolas Smith, a native of Houston, Texas, is an Artivist, picture book author, and Hollywood film illustrator. He is the author/illustrator of The Golden Girls of Rio, nominated for an NAACP Image Award, My Hair Is Poofy And That’s Okay, and World Cup Women. He is the illustrator of the forthcoming picture book, The 1619 Project: Born on the Water, cowritten by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renée Watson.
As a Black illustrator, Nikkolas is focused on creating captivating art that can spark important conversations around social justice in today’s world and inspire meaningful change. Many of his viral, globally shared and published sketches are included in his book Sunday Sketch: The Art of Nikkolas. He also speaks on his Artivism at conferences, workplaces, and schools around the world, and leads workshops in digital painting, character, and movie poster design. He lives in Los Angeles, California. Learn more at www.NIKKOLAS.art.

Keynote and Section Event Speakers

Visit this space frequently for updates about the authors joining us at the 2021 NCTE Annual Convention as Keynote and Section Event speakers.

Elementary Section Get-Together: Thursday, November 18

Dr. Gholnecsar (Gholdy) Muhammad

Dr. Gholnecsar (Gholdy) Muhammad is an Associate Professor of Language and Literacy at Georgia State University. She also serves as the director of the GSU Urban Literacy Collaborative & Clinic. She studies Black historical excellence within educational communities with goals of reframing curriculum and instruction today. Dr. Muhammad’s scholarship has appeared in leading educational journals and books. Some of her recognitions include the 2014 NCTE Promising New Researcher Award, the 2016 NCTE Janet Emig Award, the 2017 GSU Urban Education Research Award, the 2018 UIC College of Education Researcher of the Year, and the 2020 American Educational Research Association (AERA) Division K Early Career Awardee. She works with teachers, leaders, parents, and young people across the United States and South Africa in best practices in culturally and historically responsive instruction. She is the author of the bestselling book Cultivating Genius: An Equity Model for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy.

College Level Session: Friday, November 19

Dr. April Baker-Bell

Dr. April Baker-Bell is an award-winning transdisciplinary teacher-researcher-activist and associate professor of language, literacy, and English education in the Department of English and Department of African American and African Studies at Michigan State University. Baker-Bell is an international leader in conversations on Black Language education, and her research interrogates the intersections of Black Language and literacies, anti-Black racism, and antiracist pedagogies. Her award-winning book, Linguistic Justice: Black Language, Literacy, Identity, and Pedagogy, brings together theory, research, and practice to dismantle Anti-Black Linguistic Racism (a term Baker-Bell coined) and white linguistic supremacy. Baker-Bell is the recipient of many awards and fellowships, including the 2021 Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s New Directions Fellowship, the 2021 Michigan State University’s Community Engagement Scholarship Award and the 2021 Distinguished Partnership Award for Community-Engaged Creative Activity, the 2020 NCTE George Orwell Award for Distinguished Contribution to Honesty and Clarity in Public Language, the 2019 Michigan State University Alumni Award for Innovation & Leadership in Teaching and Learning, and the 2018 AERA Language and Social Processes Early Career Scholar Award.

ALAN at NCTE: Saturday, November 20

Kekla Magoon

Kekla Magoon’s Revolution In Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People has been longlisted for the 2021 National Book Award for Young Readers Literature, her young adult novel The Rock and the River was the first mainstream novel for young people to feature the Black Panther Party. In her pursuit of knowledge about the Black Panthers, she has visited museums, archives, and historical sites across the country, in addition to reading, watching films, meeting former Panthers, and attending Panther legacy events. She is the coauthor, with Ilyasah Shabazz, of X: A Novel as well as the author of many other award-winning books for children and young adults. She has received a Margaret A. Edwards Award, an NAACP Image Award, a Boston Globe–Horn Book Award, a John Steptoe New Talent Author Award, three Coretta Scott King Honors, a Walter Dean Myers Award Honor, an In the Margins Book Award, and she has been longlisted for the National Book Award. Kekla Magoon conducts school and library visits nationwide and serves on the Writers Council for the National Writing Project. She holds a BA from Northwestern University and an MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts, where she now serves on the faculty. She lives in Vermont.
Visit her online at keklamagoon.com or follow her on Twitter @KeklaMagoon.

Children's Book Awards: Saturday, November 20

Janet S. Wong

Janet Wong is a graduate of Yale Law School and a former lawyer who switched careers to become a children’s author. Her dramatic career change has been featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show, CNN’s Paula Zahn Show, and Radical Sabbatical. She is the author of more than 35 books for children and teens on a wide variety of subjects, including writing and revision (You Have to Write), community and inclusion (Apple Pie 4th of July), peer pressure (Me and Rolly Maloo), chess (Alex and the Wednesday Chess Club), identity (A Suitcase of Seaweed & MORE), racism (Good Luck Gold & MORE), and yoga (Twist: Yoga Poems)—and is the winner of the 2021 NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children. A frequent featured speaker at schools, libraries, and conferences, Wong has served on several national commissions and committees, including the NCTE Commission on Literature and the ILA Notable Books for a Global Society committee. Her most recent anthology, co-edited with Sylvia Vardell, is HOP TO IT: Poems to Get You Moving; her most recent collection of poetry and prose is Good Luck Gold & MORE. You can learn about her work at janetwong.com and pomelobooks.com.

Jen Bryant

Jen Bryant writes picture books, novels, and poems for readers of all ages. Her numerous awards include the American Library Association’s Schneider Family Book Award and Sibert Medal, and the National Council of Teachers of English’s Orbis Pictus Award®. Visit her online at jenbryant.com.

Frank Morrison

Frank Morrison started his journey as a graffiti artist in New Jersey, tagging walls with spray paint. Through art, he strives to capture people as they are, translating emotions through his paintings and leaving a memoir of our life and times today. He is the award-winning illustrator of many books for young readers, including several Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award books, a John Steptoe New Talent Award winner, and an NAACP Image Award winner. Explore his website: morrisongraphics.com.

Derrick Barnes

Derrick Barnes wrote the New York Times bestsellers The King of Kindergarten and I Am Every Good Thing, as well as the critically acclaimed multi-award-winning picture book Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut, which received a Newbery Honor, a Coretta Scott King Author Honor, the 2018 Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award, and the 2018 Kirkus Prize for Young Readers’ Literature. He also wrote the bestselling chapter book series Ruby and the Booker Boys. Derrick is a graduate of Jackson State University and was the first African American creative copywriter hired by greeting cards giant Hallmark. He is a native of Kansas City, Missouri, but currently lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with his wife and their four sons.

Gordon C. James

Gordon C. James illustrated the critically acclaimed picture books I Am Every Good Thing and Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut (both by Derrick Barnes), the latter of which received a Caldecott Honor, a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor, an Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Honor, the 2018 Kirkus Prize for Young Readers’ Literature, and a Society of Illustrators Gold Medal. He also illustrated Let ’Er Buck! George Fletcher, the People’s Champion (by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson). He lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with his wife and two children.

Secondary Section Session: Saturday, November 20

Kao Kalia Yang

Kao Kalia Yang is a Hmong-American writer and is the author of Somewhere in the Unknown World. Her previous books include The Song Poet, which received the Minnesota Book Award and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Chautauqua Prize, the PEN USA Literary Award, and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and The Latehomecomer, which also received the Minnesota Book Award. Her children's books include A Map into the World, which won the Minnesota Book Award, and The Shared Room. Yang, a regular contributor to NPR's On Being, lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Children's Literature Assembly Session: Sunday, November 21

Michaela Goade (Tlingit)

Michaela Goade (Tlingit) is the 2021 Caldecott Medal winner of We Are Water Protectors (2020). Her recent book, I Sang You Down from the Stars, written by Tasha Spillett-Sumner, has received multiple starred reviews.

Carole Lindstrom (Tribally enrolled Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe/Métis Nation)

Carole Lindstrom (Tribally enrolled Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe/Métis Nation) is a New York Times bestselling author and Caldecott award-winning author of literature for young people. Her work includes We Are Water Protectors, illustrated by Michaela Goade (2020), which has received multiple starred reviews. Upcoming releases include My Powerful Hair, illustrated by Steph Littlebird (April 2022), Autumn Peltier, Water Warrior, illustrated by Bridget George (Fall 2022), and The Gift of the Great Buffalo, illustrated by Aly McKnight (Winter 2023). 

Kevin Noble Maillard (Seminole Nation)

Kevin Noble Maillard (Seminole Nation) is the 2020 Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal recipient, AIYLA Honor, and Zolotow Honor for Fry Bread (2019), an evocative and lively depiction of a modern Native American family. 

Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee)

Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee) is the 2021 Neustadt NSK Laureate and award-winning children's-young adult writer, writing teacher, and the Heartdrum imprint author-curator of books for children and teens centered on the lives of modern-day Native and First Nations people. Both of her recent middle grade releases, Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids (2021) and Sisters of the Neversea (2021), have received multiple starred reviews.

Traci Sorell (Cherokee Nation)

Traci Sorell (Cherokee Nation) is an award-winning author of nonfiction and fiction works for young people. Her 2021 releases, We Are Still Here and Classified, are both Junior Library Guild selections with multiple starred reviews and build on her distinguished portfolio including We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga (2018), At the Mountain’s Base (2019), and Indian No More (2019).

National Writing Project Session: Sunday, November 21

Sangita Shresthova, PhD

Sangita Shresthova, PhD, is the director of research and programs of the Civic Paths group and Civic Imagination Project based at the University of Southern California. A scholar, educator, practitioner, artist, and writer, Sangita’s work focuses on connected learning, popular culture, performance, new media, and civics. She is a coauthor of three recently published books: Transformative Media Pedagogies (2021), Popular Culture and the Civic Imagination: Case Studies of Creative Social Change (2020), and Practicing Futures: A Civic Imagination Action Handbook (2020). Her other work (which includes Is It All about Hips?, a book on Bollywood dance) has appeared in various academic and popular publications. She is also one of the creators of the Digital Civics Toolkit (digitalcivicstoolkit.org), a “Best Edtech of 2018” recognized collection of resources for educators, teachers, and community leaders to support youth learning. Her creative work has been presented in creative venues around the world, including the Schaubuehne (Berlin, Germany), the Other Festival (Chennai, India), the EBS International Documentary Festival (Seoul, S. Korea), and the American Dance Festival (Durham, North Carolina).