LitHop's daylong festival was an uplifting time for the art community after its headliner, Randa Jarrar, stirred a nationwide controversy and withdrew just days before the event. It also was an opportunity for attendees to express support for Jarrar and for free speech.
Jarrar was set to headline at Fresno City College's Old Administration Building on Saturday evening, but the author and Fresno State English professor remained out of the country. She sparked a national controversy after she called Barbara Bush an "amazing racist" on Twitter a few hours after the former first lady's death was announced Tuesday.
On Wednesday, a statement released by Fresno City College says the campus and LitHop 2018 organizers support Jarrar's decision to withdraw, citing the community's safety is their "paramount concern." The statement also said Jarrar's words don't reflect the views of Fresno City College or the event.
Before poet and new headliner Carmen Giménez Smith took the stage, LitHop founder, Lee Herrick addressed the audience of about 100 people.
"The whole day's events have been inspirational, moving and powerful," the poet said with a smile, adding that the event had been consistently positive.
Juan Luis Guzman, director of LitHop, said he felt the event brought the community together through the literary scene in Fresno and to show support for Jarrar.
"I saw a lot of people showing their love and support for Randa," Guzman said.
The audience erupted in applause each time Jarrar's name was mentioned. The first time was when Herrick took the stage.
"I support Randa Jarrar's free speech and I also denounce any violence against her or threats of violence against anyone else," Herrick said to the audience.
Herrick says the Fresno writing community is very much in certain ways about Randa Jarrar.
"From the outset, safety was our No. 1 concern," Herrick said. Three State Center Community College District officers were at the event to ensure the safety of everyone.
Herrick told The Bee that although the day had been overwhelmingly positive, he was thinking about his fellow writer.
"Randa is in our thoughts," he said. "She's a very important part of this literary community and she is on everyone's minds for her safety and some of the important issues that are being raised about the importance of free speech."
Jarrar's name also was spoken by keynote reader Giménez Smith. She read a poem that included the passage "a writer is dangerous." She dedicated the poem to Jarrar, who she said is a writer who tests limits and pursues liberty through her literature.
The audience erupted in applause.