Unbound Book Festival

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COLUMBIA - The third annual Unbound Book Festival kicks off tonight, facing questions over its leadership's commitment to diversity and inclusion.

The event, hosted at Stephens College, has been addressing controversy over last year's event. It comes after some Stephens College students tweeted their displeasure with the lack of minority candidates in this year's panels.

The founder and director of the Unbound Book festival, Alex George, asked to meet with some of those students on Twitter.

Victoria Patrick, a senior at Stephens College who was one of the original accounts involved in the twitter discussion of the festival's history, said she was hopeful festival would be an extension of the literary community in Columbia, but found herself disappointed.

"I've found that the makeup of the festival tends to be very white and predominantly male," Patrick said, "which strikes me as odd as it is hosted on a women's college campus."

She said she was unable to attend the student meeting with George, but would need "to see a commitment to diversity at every level of the festival. Diversity not only in race, but also gender and sexuality," before she returned to the festival.

Amid the storm of tweets, the incident from last year was mentioned, which garnered further attention.

According to an apology posted on the festival's Facebook page, a local radio host, KFRU's David Lile, was directed to steer a Columbia-based author, Ibtisam Barakat, away from speaking about Palestinian issues during a panel talk that also featured a Jewish American writer.

This incident, along with the disappointment over the lack of minority panelists, led to two authors threatening to quit the event via twitter, during the past week.

An MU professor and author, Rosalie Metro, said she would not participate unless the description of her panel was changed. The description was changed; Metro later tweeted "Unbound is still #sowhite, but at least we are problematizing that."

Another author and scheduled-panelist, Heather Derr-Smith, tweeted that she was dropping out of the event regardless.

On Tuesday, Derr-Smith said she had just recently been informed the panel could not find any women of color to participate. She tweeted in response: "I find this impossible to believe. There are so many phenomenal poets here on twitter alone."

A Stephens College student, Ty Berry, who attended an event last year, said she did not feel her voice was previously represented.

"I just want to hear somebody who looks like me, or who is dealing with the same things as me," Berry said. "To tell a story that I can relate to, or understand."

Neither Alex George, nor any other representatives of the festival, has responded to requests for comment at this time.

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