The Virginia Festival of the Book, a program of Virginia Humanities, serves a unique role in Central Virginia, bringing to Charlottesville hundreds of speakers each year to participate in programs that are rooted in contemporary published works and seek to foster active engagement with contemporary issues, for all ages and reading levels. The Festival has consistently evolved over its twenty-four year history, showcasing an ever-expanding list of highly regarded speakers across all topics, with the understanding that reading offers opportunities to understand human experiences different from one’s own while also providing a sense of belonging when one reads stories that reflect their own background.
In 2018, the Festival takes another step forward by partnering with CFA Institute in support of eight programs that showcase diverse-background authors and illustrators across genres. From acclaimed children’s writer Carole Boston Weatherford, whose picture books tell the stories of important African American men and women in history, to the deaf and hard of hearing authors who contributed to the recent Tripping the Tale Fantastic anthology, the speakers participating in these eight programs bring diverse perspectives, previously untold stories, and new ways of seeing and thinking about the world to the Festival this month.
Graphic novelist and illustrator Thi Bui will share her family’s daring escape after the fall of South Vietnam in the 1970s, and the difficulties they faced building new lives for themselves; in her program, Liza Mundy, author of Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II, will discuss her story of the rediscovered and critical role played by women in helping end World War II as well as the sexism and misogyny faced by women in technology then and now; Amitai Etzioni and Howard French will tackle U.S.-China relations, sorting through contexts of history, strategy, and current events, from their recent books.
“CFA Institute is proud to sponsor the Festival’s initiative on diversity to bring out stories like those told in Code Girls about underrepresented perspectives that are sometimes overlooked or silenced, but are nonetheless vital to our experience. The eight programs we are sponsoring shed light on stories that prove how diversity and inclusion are a strength that helps bring about innovation, productivity, positive change and economic growth. We hope these programs inspire conversations and awareness, because without discussion, reality is not heard and progress is not made,” says Elaine Cheng, managing director and chief information officer at CFA Institute.
Though diversity of ideas, speakers, and attendees has always been a goal of the Festival’s annual programming, it became a more focused goal in 2016. Inspired by We Need Diverse Books, Grantmakers in the Arts, and other organizations setting rigorous goals for diversity, Festival director Jane Kulow decided to quantify a goal to present individuals from underrepresented backgrounds—including race and ethnicity as well as class, abilities, and gender and sexuality—as an even 50% of all Festival speakers by the year 2022. Kulow says, “One of our ultimate goals is to create Festival programming that engages all members of our community and celebrates the diversity that increasingly defines Virginia and the Mid-Atlantic region. Recruiting and presenting a broad group of diverse authors is an essential part of achieving that goal.” This year’s partnership with CFA Institute is another step forward in the effort to increase the diversity of participating authors and attract more diverse audiences to the Festival.