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Columbus Poet Calls For Diversity Panel At Ohioana Book Festival

Ohioana Book Festival in 2018.
Ohioana Library
/
Ohioana Book Festival in 2018.

Ruth Awad is happy about her placement in the Ohioana Book Festival—with a caveat.

"I am completely grateful for Ohioana's generosity with my work," she says. "I just want to see that reach other marginalized authors in the state."

Awad is a Lebanese-American poet who lives in Columbus. Her book Set Music To A Wildfire won the 2018 Ohioana Book Award for poetry. But at this weekend's festival, Award was one of only a few authors of color present.

After being roundly criticized for its largely white line-up of more than 100 authors, the Ohioana Library released a Twitter statement Friday saying it would do more to celebrate and promote authors of color, authors in the LGBTQ community, and authors with disabilities.

"We also apologize to the entire Columbus community and to all of Ohio for any failure we have committed in representing you," the organization tweeted. "We can and will do better. Thank you to all who have expressed concerns, comments, and criticism. We are listening."

Awad reached out and suggested they hire a diversity committee as a good-faith first step.

"Just to run some of these things by authors of color, writers of color, people who are a little bit more aware of this issue," she says.

Awad thinks part of the problem may be that organizers don't know where to start.

"We are limited by our world view and our own personal network and I don't hold that against anyone," she says. "But there are a lot of resources in this city alone, and I feel like maybe they are being a little underutilized."

Awad says she's spoken with Ohioana officials and is encouraged by their response. She adds that Ohioana can have a huge impact on writers of color early on in their careers.

"Institutions like Ohioana can be instrumental in helping marginalized writers start out in their career and get recognition for their work," she says. "So that's why I have such an interest in this. I'm not trying to burn bridges, I'm trying to build bridges: I'm trying to see this thing reach its potential."