2024 Ohioana Book Festival Preview

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Show Notes

David Weaver, executive director of the Ohioana Library Association, makes his second appearance on the podcast to discuss the upcoming Ohioana Book Festival. In addition to sharing festival highlights, including a special live Page Count conversation featuring Hanif Abdurraqib and Jacqueline Woodson, Weaver discusses his work with Ohioana, his upcoming retirement, and Ohio’s contributions to the literary world.

The 18th annual Ohioana Book Festival will be held at Columbus Metropolitan Library’s Main Library on Saturday, April 20, from 10:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Additional programs and activities will take place in the community throughout April. Page Count’s special live episode with Hanif Abdurraqib and Jacqueline Woodson will be held at 12pm on Saturday, April 20 in the auditorium.



David Weaver (00:00):
Writing is an art activity you do on your own and you don't know until you're out and about with people to get that reaction. When you're writing a book, you think, I hope somebody will like this. You'll come to an event like the Ohioana book festival and you meet people and say, I love your book, or will you sign my book?

Laura Maylene Walter (00:21):
Welcome to Page Count, presented by the Ohio Center for the Book at Cleveland Public Library. This podcast celebrates authors, illustrators, librarians, booksellers, literary advocates, and readers in and from the state of Ohio. I'm your host, Laura Maylene Walter, the Ohio Center for the Book Fellow and author of the novel BODY OF STARS. Today we're joined by David Weaver, executive director of the Ohioana Library Association, who is making his second appearance on Page Count to discuss the upcoming Ohioana Book Festival. David, welcome back to the podcast. Thanks so much for being here.

David Weaver (00:59):
Thank you, Laura. It's a delight to be here.

Laura Maylene Walter (01:01):
So this year is the 18th annual Ohioana Book Festival. It will be held at the Columbus Metropolitan Library's main library on Saturday, April 20th from 10:30 AM to 5:00 PM. You have over 120 authors and illustrators coming to the book festival. Can you share a little preview of some of the authors you are not most excited about? You're excited for them all, but just give us a taste of some of the authors who will be coming.

David Weaver (01:30):
The great thing to know about the Ohioana Book Festival, it is free and open to the public free parking. You don't need a ticket, no advance registration is required. It's a come as you are family free event. And we like to say there's something for every age. So we have panel discussions, conversations, including one that Laura and I are going talk about here in a few minutes. We have activities for kids, balloon twisting, story times. Very exciting. Last year, our very first story time was First Lady of Ohio, Fran DeWine, who is our honorary chair...Did a story time with children and of course she's the person who started the Dolly Parton Imagination Library of Ohio. So we will have them back. We will have characters walking around the festival, which is fun for the kids and adults alike. And that is Clifford, the big red dog and Dog Man.

David Weaver (02:27):
That's always a very exciting part of the festival. And all of the authors and illustrators, more than 120 of them, they're all from Ohio. So again, that's one of the things Ohioana's mission is to connect readers in Ohio writers and to promote and celebrate Ohio as one of America's greatest literary centers. And so that's what the Ohioana Book Festival is all about. I don't know how many people are aware of this, but Ohio Center for the Book, the State Library of Ohio, and Ohioana have partnered for many years on a project called Choose to Read Ohio, the theme of which is "read together, read Ohio, read for life". And this year is the 15th anniversary of Choose to Read Ohio. And it kind of grew out of the Ohioana Book Festival in its early years. And so of the 120 plus authors will have... More than 30 of them have been on a Choose to Read Ohio list at one time.

David Weaver (03:23):
And we're very excited that some of those authors include Julia Kuo, who this year was the Floyd's Pick winner. That's a special award that grew out of the Choose to Read Ohio campaign that honors the best children's picture book of the past year. And Julie Kuo won for her beautiful book called LUMINOUS. And we'll actually have several other Floyd's Pick winners there: Andrea Wang, Oge Mora, and Tracy Subisak, who designed this year's festival poster and we're very excited about that. And also we will have two Ohio Poet Laureates. We'll have the very first Ohio Poet Laureate Amit Majmudar, who is actually a Choose To Read Ohio listed author himself and also our current Ohio Poet Laureate Kerry Gunter-Seymour. So we're very excited to have them back. We'll also have from the northeast part of the state Tom Batiuk. I know many people love and are familiar with Tom's great creation, Funky Winkerbean, which was exciting.

David Weaver (04:21):
Last year was the 50th anniversary of Funky Winkerbean. So Tom will be back! He was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for his wonderful collection called LISA'S STORY, which was about a character in his strip had breast cancer and passed away. And it was like, wow, you know, somebody is able to treat a serious subject with the human touch in a comic strip. So, and that got Tom a finalist as a Pulitzer Prize. David Giffels, also another Choose To Read Ohio author who was a two time winner of the Ohioana Book Award in nonfiction. And David will be here for his book on the Rock Group, Devo. And David was a Pulitzer Prize finalist as a journalist for the Akron Beacon Journal where he was a columnist for many years. And a fun fact about David is that he was in the first season, one of the original writers for MTV's iconic Beavis and Butthead series back in the 1990s.

Laura Maylene Walter (05:19):
I don't if I knew that. Oh my goodness. That's amazing. <laugh>.

David Weaver (05:23):
I always tease David. I said, you know what David, it's not often you can use the words Pulitzer Prize and Butthead in the same...<laugh>. But with him you can, it's a lot of fun. So he will be there. And like I said, so many other great authors from biography and history to mystery, which is, you know, extremely popular. We'll have 15 panel discussions with various authors. Two of the authors who are on the Choose To Read Ohio list that we're very excited to have come and be interviewed on a special Page Count live podcast with you. And that is Hanif Abdurraqib and Jacqueline Woodson. They're both Ohioana Book Award winners. They're both MacArthur Foundation Genius Fellow grant winners. And Jackie won the National Book Award for BROWN GIRLS DREAMING in 2015. And Hanif was just a finalist for the National Book Award two years ago. Very excited that they are coming to the festival and that we are pairing them together in a special conversation with Laura Maylene Walter!

Laura Maylene Walter (06:27):
Yes, Page Count will be there on site, speaking with both Hanif Abdurraqib and Jacqueline Woodson. I'm sure that we're going to have a packed room for this interview, so no pressure on me, but it'll be great. I'm so excited to talk with both of them. And also just to mingle with and to meet some of the other authors that will be at the festival. And I do want to point out for our Page Count listeners, some of our past guests, of course will be in attendance from Mindy McGinnis and Andrea Wang. They were on last year's live Ohioana panel with me. Thrity Umrigar, Athena Dixon, Will Hillenbrand, Michelle Houts, and Tracy Subisak, who also did your poster. So they were all past guests and I'm sure more future Page Count guests will be in attendance at this festival as well.

David Weaver (07:15):
One of the things that we're proud of with the Ohioana Book Festival is that every year we specifically try to have at least 15 or 20 authors who are debut authors who are appearing at the book festival for their first book. It's remarkable over the years since we started doing this is how many of these debut authors have told me, you know, not only is this my virtual Ohioana Book Festival, this is the first event I've ever done for my book. We always hope that it's a very positive experience for them and that they enjoy doing it and meeting the public. And we do some outreach activities in the community, then that'll be visits to schools and libraries. We'll be at a couple of bookstores. And that's our way to kind of take the festival out to the community. You know, writing is an art activity you do on your own and you don't know until you're out and about with people to get that reaction.

David Weaver (08:13):
When you're writing a book, you think, I hope somebody will like this. You'll come to an event like the Ohioana Book Festival, you meet people, say, I love your book, or will you sign my book? So all that time and effort and worry and writing and rewriting and editing. I remember Sharon Draper saying one time, I said, what's the hardest part? She said, actually writing the book. It's the rewriting and editing. She said, I don't know if any author who ultimately at the end is 101% satisfied. You always think there was something I could have...

Laura Maylene Walter (08:43):
Oh, absolutely. I wish I could rewrite everything I've ever published, yeah.

David Weaver (08:47):
Yeah. But at some point you have to send it out in the world and trust <laugh>.

Laura Maylene Walter (08:51):
Yeah, and I'm in the rewriting stage right now for a project that at this rate it'll be another 10 years before I come back to Ohioana. But you know what? That's okay. As an author. As an author, of course.

David Weaver (09:01):
I hope you'll be back in 2029 when it will be Ohioana's 100th anniversary.

Laura Maylene Walter (09:06):
Oh, that'll give me a goal. Okay.

David Weaver (09:08):
Let me see, that would be Book Festival number 23.

Laura Maylene Walter (09:11):
Okay. Okay. That'll be maybe my goal. What is it, 2024 now? Five years maybe? Yeah, maybe <laugh>.

David Weaver (09:18):
Yes. This year is our 95th anniversary since our founding.

Laura Maylene Walter (09:23):
Wow. Wow.

David Weaver (09:23):
We were founded in 1929 by Ohio First Lady, Martha Kinny Cooper. She was an avid reader when she moved in the governor's mansion. She felt there should be a collection of books in their library by Ohio authors or about Ohio subjects. And she got together a like-minded group of committee members. And from that simple idea, Ohioana created. That's why every First Lady since then has been involved with Ohioan is some more than others. And of course right now our current First Lady Fran DeWine, is a huge champion of books and reading, you know, especially for kids. The very first Ohioana Book Festival back in 2007 was 10 authors. It was built around a single book that had been published by Ohio University Press called GOOD ROOTS: WRITERS REFLECT ON GROWING UP IN OHIO. And it was 20 stories, 20 essays by authors who had been born here, grown up here and everything.

David Weaver (10:17):
And Gillian Berchowitz, friend of mine who later became a member of the Ohioana Board of Trustees for many years, we had met over lunch and I said, you know, I, I've been development director of Ohioana for a year now and I'm trying to find, you know, an event that can be, you know, we have the book awards, we have the quarterly, it would be nice to do a signature event with our name on it that could draw a greater number of people and greater number of authors. Ohio is one of the few really big major states that did not have its own state book festival. I mean there was Buckeye Book Fair, which is a fantastic event, which has been going on for many years in Wooster. But as far as a state book festival, Ohio did not have one. So it seemed natural for Ohioana, since we are about promoting Ohio books and authors to kind of put that together.

David Weaver (11:08):
So that first event with 10 authors, half the number of authors who had contributed to the GOOD ROOTS book, and it included Michael Dirda who had won the Pulitzer Prize, Anthony Doerr, who would go on to win the Pulitzer Prize, and Scott Russell Sanders and a number of other people, so. And it was very successful. We drew a couple of hundred attendees. It was held at the State Library of Ohio, which is the building we share with the state library. That's where Ohioana is located. It was successful enough we said, well, let's do this again. So, and the next year we had 40 authors and then after that was 60 authors. And then ultimately we outgrew this space where we were...we moved to Fort Hayes High School, which is where you were at your first Ohioana Book Festival. And that got to the point where we were almost a hundred authors.

David Weaver (11:58):
We moved to the Sheraton, which put us right in the heart of downtown Columbus. And then once we outgrew that, we moved to Columbus Metropolitan Library's main library right after they had done a $32 million expansion and renovation. And so that has been our home since 2019. Of course, three years between 2019 and 2023. We were virtual because of the pandemic, but last year was our first year to be back with the festival as a live event. And we had a record number over 5,100 people attended, it was fantastic. It really is a wonderful event. We like to say there's something for every reader of every age at the book festival. And every interest, I mean from poetry to picture, books, fiction, nonfiction, whatever you love, you'll probably find it there.

Laura Maylene Walter (12:47):
Well, I would also love to ask you about your tenure as Executive Director of Ohioana, because in a bittersweet move, we are going to lose you in a few months when you retire. So tell us about your history of working with Ohioana and the last 10...11 years you've spent as the executive director.

David Weaver (13:08):
Actually, I came to Ohioana in 2005 as an author. My original background years ago, I mean, I trained to be an opera singer and I sang an opera, you know, and I performed professionally, you know, with Beverly Sills and some other folks like that, you know, luminaries in the past. Ultimately then got into the nonprofit world in arts, symphony opera, etcetera, light opera. But I always kept up my interest in music, etcetera. And in 2004, I published a book or University Press of Mississippi published a book I'd written called BLACK DIVA OF THE THIRTIES: THE LIFE OF RUBY ELZY. Ruby Elzy was one of the pioneer black opera singers of her time. Was handpicked by George Gershwin, to create the role of Serena, the second female lead in Porgy and Bess. And had quite a remarkable career before dying very young at the age of 35 in 1943.

David Weaver (14:00):
And so I wrote her book, did a book tour, and came to Ohioana to do a talk as part of an author series. They did the Franklin County Authors tea which used to be where in the same kind of basic time spot that the Ohio Book Festival is today. So I did a talk brief talk about my book and the executive director Linda Hanks and I hit it off. And all she knew about me was that I sang and then I'd written this book and she says, what do you do when you're not singing and writing? And I said, well, actually how I've made my living is as a fundraiser in the Arts and public broadcasting. She said, really, we're getting ready to create a position for our first ever Development Director. Would you be interested? And I said, yes, I would because not only am I a fundraiser, but I'm an Ohio author and that's what you're all about.

David Weaver (14:48):
So she hired me to be the first development director. And it was in that role that I and Gillian Berchowitz, you know, from the board actually came up with the idea and created the first Ohioana Book Festival. I worked with Linda on all of our projects and activities. And then when she retired in 2013, the Board of Trustees elevated me into the position of being Executive Director. So it's been a great 10 years. I mean, I'm very proud of the things that we've done. I mean, obviously moving the festival several times as it has grown and expanded, you know, and I am proud to say it is today the single largest one day event in the state that celebrates Ohio books and authors. And other things we did...We changed the Ohioana Quarterly from being more of a scholarly journal into a popular magazine. So it's now a 30 plus page full color magazine. And not only do we have reviews of books, but we'll have interviews with authors, well, a special articles. So it's been fun to see the Quarterly expand and grow like that. And with the Ohioana Awards, we moved them back to the State House. I think you might remember we actually had the awards at the State Library.

Laura Maylene Walter (15:59):
Yes. That was the year that I won the Walter Rumsey Marvin Grant. And I attended there. Yes.

David Weaver (16:05):
Yes. And so now we're back at the State House atrium, which is lovely. One of the things that I thought was needed was now all of the Ohioana Book award winners receive a cash prize in addition to the plaque, which they received. And that's been wonderful. And of course the Ohio Literary Trail, which was one of your very first programs, Betty Weibel and I came on and talked about that. Which is a great program, which puts the spotlight on more than 60 sites around the state of Ohio, broken up by regions that have literary connections that people can actually visit. You know, from Louis Bromfield Malabar Farm to Paul Laurence Dunbar's house to the home of Harriet Beecher Stowe, the Thurber House, you know, and many other great places. And now of course Toni Morrison, there's a historical marker for her in Lorain. So, so many great things that we have done that I am proud to have been a part of.

Laura Maylene Walter (17:00):
I am curious, you know, you've worked with Ohio writers all these years and you've led Ohioana...When you look back on your, your time with Ohioana, what has it taught you or shown you about books and reading and writing in Ohio?

David Weaver (17:16):
Well, our tagline, connecting readers to Ohio writers, I like to put an addendum on that and promoting and celebrating Ohio as one of America's greatest literary centers because so many people don't know the wonderful writers who have called Ohio home at one point. And we talked about Toni Morrison. When Toni Morrison passed away a few years ago, Ohioana did a tribute to her. I was asked to like actually introduce the film, THE PIECES I AM, the documentary when it aired here. And people said, I didn't know TonI Morrison was from Ohio. And so being able to introduce people to the wider concept, I think I shared this quote when Betty and I did our interview. I was asked by someone who saw my T-shirt or badge and said, Ohioana library, what's that? And I said, we're a special library that is dedicated to Ohio books and authors.

David Weaver (18:06):
And they said, just Ohio, isn't that sort of parochial? And I said, you mean like cheering for the Buckeyes? If a state can be proud of its football, baseball, and basketball players, why can't it be proud of its poets, novelists, illustrators? And I said, you know, when we talk about the things Ohio proud, Ohio pride, you know, our contributions to the literary world are I think, among our greatest exports. And how many people, you know, know the wonderful authors that have called Ohio home? And again, I have to say, I'm not just doing this because you're a past winner, but it's been a particular thrill to see the winners of the Ohio Walter Rumsey Marvin Grant. And for people that don't know what that is, Walter Rumsey Marvin was the second Director of Ohioana. When he passed away in 1980, his family set up a fund.

David Weaver (18:56):
And what they want to do was to fund a prize through Ohioana for an Ohio writer aged 30 or younger, who has not yet published a book. Now, of course, they could be a published writer and many of them are, you were a published writer and everything, you know, it's just that you cannot have published a book. So every year it's a competition. We have judges from around the state. One writer is selected to receive the prize. And it has been really gratifying to see the writers like yourself who have gone on to wonderful success and wonderful careers. You know, Laura, in the year since you won, the number of writers who won the grant who've gone on to be published authors, you know, with books, I mean, you, Jeannie Vanasco, Eliese Colette Goldbach, Negesti Kaudo.

Laura Maylene Walter (19:45):
And Tony Doerr was an early winner as well.

David Weaver (19:48):
Tony Doerr, you know, people have asked me and I said, well, our winner in 2000 was Anthony Doerr at the age of 26. And 15 years later won the Pulitzer Prize. And I asked Tony, I, I said, you've had such great success, you know, and what kind of impact did winning the Marvin Grant have? And he said, David, I can only tell you, well you're a young writer trying to break in and there are so many of us trying to get attention. And he said, to win a prize from someone credible like Ohioana the Walter Rumsey Marvin Grant, he said, you know, it's validation. It's like somebody credible points a finger at you and says to everyone else, keep your eye on this writer. They're good. And he said, and within a year of winning the grant, I had an agent, a contract from my first book, etcetera. He said, no, I'm not saying that those things might not have happened without winning the Marvin Grant. But it certainly was wonderful at that point in my career to be able to put that on my resume. So yeah,

Laura Maylene Walter (20:44):
It's so meaningful to a young writer or younger writer. It's such a tough business. We all get rejected all the time. Even the Tony Doerr's of the world get rejected still. And so just to have to feel your work is being recognized, someone noticed it, someone thought it was worthy of giving this recognition. It's really important. And so I am so glad that Ohioana gives that grant. And I always encourage all the, the younger writers I know to apply if they're eligible. Absolutely. Well, as we look forward to not just the Ohioana Book Festival on April 20th, but also your future into retirement, <laugh>, is there anything you would like to share about your hopes for the future of Ohioana, or the future of the festivals moving forward?

David Weaver (21:35):
I think the festival has to be honest, has grown as large as it can in its current format. Several people have said, you know, well, if you've ever given any thought to maybe doing it Saturday and Sunday? Columbus Metropolitan Library where we have our event, you know, last year did their first Columbus Book Festival. They're going to do it again this July. But again, it's a two day event and it's both indoors and outdoors. And besides the authors that they invite, they have an additional thing called Indie Author Alley. And that's where, I mean, if you're an author and you want to participate, I mean you can pay a fee and have a table at the event, etcetera. We've never charged authors to be at the Ohioana Book Festival. So right now, with a one day event being at the time of year, it is indoors, you know, because obviously April...sometimes we've had snow <laugh>.

Laura Maylene Walter (22:31):
Right. Right.

David Weaver (22:32):
Or someone asks about the Texas Book Festival, you know, author comes in, does a program, signs books for an hour and they leave. That's how the Texas Book Festival is able to accommodate 400 authors. One of my very good friends, and somebody that's been a guest on your program before Mindy McGinnis. Because she was at the Texas Book Festival and I said, how did it compare? And she said, well, it's such a totally different feeling because at Ohioana Book Festival, you're there the whole day, so you're really going to get chance to know your fellow authors as well as the audience. And so she said, I really appreciate that about, you know, the Ohioana Book Festival. So I'm hopeful that if we grow and expand that, you know, it's going to have to be something, you know, other than what it is right now, if that's ever going to happen, that we can accommodate more authors.

David Weaver (23:17):
And with 2029 being our 100th anniversary as the library...so in two years we will have the 20th anniversary of the Ohioana Book Festival first. So I'm hopeful that things will continue and on to be under the helm of the new director. So, so that's one of the things I don't know, you know, what will be the particular focus of the new director? And sometimes you have people come in and they have their own creative ideas. So it'll be exciting to see the development. One thing I know for sure is we'll continue to have fantastic authors and we'll want it as much as we can to put the spotlight on them. When I attended my very first book festival, the Ann Arbor Book Festival, which no longer exists, in 2006 to try and get an idea for what a book festival was like. And they had a panel on the future of the book and they had just come out with...why am I blanking? The tablet Amazon came out or whatever. Oh,

Laura Maylene Walter (24:12):
The Kindle.

David Weaver (24:13):
The Kindle. The Kindle. And of course everyone was saying print going away.

Laura Maylene Walter (24:17):
Yep, we got that wrong.

David Weaver (24:19):
Yes. And the head of Publishers Weekly was there on the panel. And he said, in the end, we're talking about stories and storytellers. We've always had stories and storytellers from the ancient tradition when people are writing on caves, the papyrus, and then finally we did this thing we call print, the book. And he said, so the technology by which we deliver stories has been what has changed, but not stories in storytelling themselves. And he said, and as long as we have people that love to tell stories and people that love to hear stories, we're going to have books. And he said, so I'm not pessimistic at all. He said, the main thing for us in this new world of technology, he said is how do you protect the content and how do you pay the author? So I'm excited, just has been evidence in the time that I've been here since 2005, the number of wonderful writers who've come along, Mindy McGinnis, you know, Celeste Ng, Hanif Abdurraqib, Laura Walter <laugh>, that you see them at their very first book, you know, and go on. You know, it's very gratifying.

Laura Maylene Walter (25:29):
It is. And the event as it exists right now is already a magical experience for both the authors and I think the visitors who come and buy books from...The Book Loft is the official bookseller and meet authors and attend these panels. And again, I am thrilled beyond words that I will be in conversation with Hanif Abdurraqib and Jacqueline Woodson. What an all star panel of writers at the festival on April 20th. So again, listeners, if you can come to the Ohioana Book Festival, you can meet me in person and you can watch this podcast be created right before your eyes. But otherwise, there are so many amazing authors and illustrators who will be there. It is just a wonderful event and a must attend for any book lover. David, it has been so wonderful to work with you. I'm glad I will be able to see you at this festival one last time before you retire and probably beyond. But it has been a delight working with you. We're all going to miss you once you do retire, but for now, I say let's just embrace this festival and I bet make it the biggest and best one yet.

David Weaver (26:37):
And I'm just delighted that Ohio Center for the Book and Page Count will be at the festival.

Laura Maylene Walter (26:42):

David Weaver (26:43):
And it'll be a beautiful day. And from wherever you're listening to this podcast that you will make the trip, you will not regret it!

Laura Maylene Walter (26:49):
Exactly. David, thanks so much for joining us today.

David Weaver (26:53):
Thank you, Laura.

Laura Maylene Walter (26:59):
Page Count is presented by the Ohio Center for the Book at Cleveland Public Library. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe, rate, and leave a review for Page Count wherever you get your podcast. Learn more online or find a transcript of this episode at ohiocenterforthebook.org. Follow us on Instagram @ohiocenterforthebook, on Twitter @cplocfb, or find us on Facebook. If you'd like to get in touch, email ohiocenterforthebook@cpl.org and put "podcast" in the subject line. Thanks for listening and we'll be back in two weeks for another chapter of Page Count.

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