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Ohioana Book Festival Pledges Changes After Criticism Over Diversity

Columbus Neighborhoods
Columbus Library downtown

Organizers of the Ohioana Book Festival, which featuring Ohio authors, say they agree with concerns that the event lacks diversity and they plan to do something about it.

The Ohioana Book Festival made its pledge Friday on Twitter after receiving complaints that the event includes too few authors of color and from the LGBTQ community, The Columbus Dispatch reported .

"We hear your concerns and we completely agree that we can, and will, do more to celebrate and promote authors of color, LGBTQIA+ authors, authors with disabilities, authors of every type of background," Ohioana tweeted.

Only about 10% of authors at this year's event, held Saturday at Columbus' main library, were from minority communities, according to David Weaver, executive director of the Ohioana Library Association, which hosts the event. He said that included two black, two Hispanic and a number of LGBTQ authors.

"It would be our goal to have more," Weaver said.

The Ohioana Library noted in a tweet that the festival is an application-based event whose simple application providing biographical and book information is posted online for seven months of the year.

Ruth Awad, a Columbus poet who is Arab American and bisexual, won the Ohioana Library Association's award for poetry last year and was among the few writers from minority communities represented. She said she's "deeply concerned" about the lack of diversity and has suggested a committee be hired to review the application process to assure it's accessible to all.

"I should not be the box that is being checked," she said.

Columbus poet Hanif Abdurraqib, who is black, also tweeted about diversity concerns this week. He said he was approached to apply to last year's festival 24 hours before the deadline, which "felt like an afterthought/like they remembered they had no black authors."

Some writers also have protested the selection of Ohio first lady Fran DeWine as the festival's honorary chairwoman.

Columbus non-fiction writer Elissa Washuta, a member of the native Cowlitz tribe, said it showed a lack of respect for women and LGBTQ writers because DeWine's husband, Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, has supported limited access to abortion and, as state attorney general, fought gay marriage.

"The first lady's presence at the festival is alarming to me and to other writers and readers the DeWines' discriminatory views affect," Washuta said.

Weaver said Ohio's first ladies of both political parties have been on the association's board since it was founded in 1919.

"Ohioana is nonpartisan and nonpolitical," he said Saturday. "I hope people can keep what this event is about in perspective, and that is a celebration of Ohio authors and books."

A spokeswoman for Fran DeWine didn't immediately return messages seeking comment Sunday.