After Pushback, Burlington Book Festival Cancels Garrison Keillor Event

Oct 1, 2018

Update 10:00 p.m. A fundraiser for the Burlington Book Festival featuring public radio personality Garrison Keillor has been cancelled after public backlash.

Burlington Book Festival Founding Director Rick Kisonak confirmed the event would no longer take place.

"No insensitivity to anyone was ever the intent," Kisonak wrote in an email to VPR. "But the unexpected reaction on social media made it apparent some people viewed his booking as our condoning of sexual harassment. Nothing could be further from the truth."

Original Post:

A fundraiser for the Burlington Book Festival featuring public radio personality Garrison Keillor is being criticized for giving a platform to someone accused of sexual harassment. At least one festival sponsor has already pulled out in response.

Garrison Keillor, the former host and creator of A Prairie Home Companion, is set to come to Burlington on Oct. 14.

Minnesota Public Radio cut ties with him last year over allegations of "dozens of sexually inappropriate incidents."

On Saturday, Literary North — a group the publicizes literary events in Vermont and New Hampshire — said they would no longer sponsor the festival. In an email, they wrote: "As a woman-run organization, it would be wrong for us to support an event that features Mr. Keillor."

The event was also criticized by several people on Facebook — including Rebecca Cross, of New Hampshire. Cross said she wants to go to the book festival, but if Keillor attends, she won’t.

“If I attend the festival I feel like I am tacitly supporting giving powerful men who abuse women a platform,” she said.

Cross said she hopes the festival will cancel Keillor’s event.

Rick Kisonak, the founding director of the Burlington Book Festival, said Keillor offered to come to Burlington at no charge, to help the festival raise money.

“I talked to my wife, I talked to some friends," Kisonak said, "and you know we just, we kind of came to the conclusion that it was an offer that we probably shouldn't refuse."

Kisonak said he does not condone inappropriate treatment of women. But he also said there is a difference between Keillor’s alleged behavior and the charges that have been brought against Harvey Weinstein or the actions of Bill Cosby, who was found guilty of sexual assault this year.

Kisonak said he hopes the event will open up a dialogue.

“If the person has for most of his life, you know, done good work and been a good person and has been an incredibly important contributor to an area of the culture that I care very, very profoundly about, wants to try to make amends by showing support for a little literary festival by the lake and go to all the trouble to come here and, as I say, face whatever music awaits — I just felt like 'OK,” Kisonak said.

But Cross said that the Keillor event is not the place to have a discussion about sexual harassment.

“Women have opportunities to discuss these issues literally every single day, so giving this man a platform when so many survivors have been silenced for so long is disgraceful," she said.

VPR reached out and sent a list of questions to Keillor for this story and did not get a response.

Disclosure: VPR is a media sponsor of the Burlington Book Festival and renewed its sponsorship before the lineup was announced. VPR was not involved in bringing Garrison Keillor to Vermont.