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Book festival cancels Garrison Keillor fundraiser after backlash

Book festival cancels Garrison Keillor fundraiser after backlash
Garrison Keillor in 2003. (Ann Heisenfelt / AP)

A literary festival in Burlington, Vt., has cancelled a planned fundraiser featuring author and radio personality Garrison Keillor after a public backlash. Keillor was accused of inappropriate behavior last year and fired from Minnesota Public Radio, home to the nationally syndicated show he created, “A Prairie Home Companion.”

The Burlington Book Festival told Vermont Public Radio on Monday that the fundraiser would not be held, after backlash from Vermonters who were concerned about accusations of sexual misconduct that women have levied against Keillor.

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The festival's founding director, Rick Kisonak, said that he didn't mean to be insensitive by inviting Keillor to the fundraiser.

"The unexpected reaction on social media made it apparent some people viewed his booking as our condoning of sexual harassment," Kisonak said. "Nothing could be further from the truth."

Keillor was fired by Minnesota Public Radio in November following an allegation of "inappropriate behavior" by a woman who worked with him. Keillor has said he was dismissed for touching a woman's bare back, which MPR countered, later stating that an investigation found that the host had engaged in "a years-long pattern of behavior that left several women who worked for Keillor feeling mistreated, sexualized or belittled."

The Burlington Book Festival fundraiser drew ire from people who thought it was "tone deaf" for the festival to host an event featuring Keillor.

The festival initially defended the event in a Facebook post on Sunday written by Kisonak.

"I have never invited a sexual predator to the Burlington Book Festival and never would," Kisonak wrote. "As Garrison Keillor, a man who has devoted his life to literature and made incalculable contributions, is not (as some of you allege) a sexual predator and as the matter is more nuanced, please look into all this a bit further and let me know what you believe would be fair."

Comments in reply to the post were almost all negative, with one writing, "Predatory, inappropriate. not much of a difference. Either one is an attack on women. Tell him to stay where the hell he is."

Another wrote, "In this fraught time, you're actively taking the side of a serial abuser by giving him a platform. History will judge your actions."

Kisonak backtracked on Monday, telling the newspaper Seven Days that he was taken aback by the response.

"There’s a lot of very positive feeling for [Keillor] out there," he said, "but there’s a lot of anger and a lot of hurt, and I certainly didn’t want that, and certainly didn’t expect that. And now that that really has sort of reached the kind of critical mass that it has ... we’re certainly not people that are insensitive to these issues."

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