Octavofest was first held in 2009, when a program of eight types of events (e.g., exhibitions, demonstrations, art museum tours, and lectures) was held during the month of October and sponsored by Art Books Cleveland (ABC). ABC, formed a year earlier (March 2008), is the Cleveland-area organization devoted to advancing the appreciation of book and paper arts.
The origins of Octavofest go back to The Artistry of Words, a two-day "Books and Art" festival held at the Heights Public Libraries in September of 2006. Their Lee Road branch had been closed for an extended period of remodeling, and the library wanted to celebrate its reopening with a community festival. This weekend grouping of events included author signings, poetry readings, and costumed literary characters as well as hands-on workshops in making purses out of discarded books, preserving old documents, and designing personalized bookmarks.
Carole Wallencheck, a library employee and a board member of Heights Arts, conceived of the concept, title, and theme of The Artistry of Words to showcase the idea that "Books can be lovely objects in and of themselves, and over the centuries have been carriers of knowledge and beauty."
The festival was greeted with such enthusiasm that Wallencheck retitled it The Joy of Text, and for the following two years collaborated with Peggy Spaeth, the Executive Director of Heights Arts, to offer more book and paper arts events. Spaeth and members of the Heights Writes committee put together a line-up that included a Haiku Death Match, public poetry readings, and workshops on traditional and modern book structures and decoration. These workshops were led by Cincinnati book artist Kate Kern who held a one-month residency during October 2007. Her workshops, public art projects, and associated activities involving school children, poets, and interested citizens exposed a wide-spread interest in the book as art object, a product of traditional artistic practice and a site of modern innovation.
While Heights Arts interests had been most directly tied to literary and text-driven priorities, the emerging strengths of the book arts community began to take a different direction. Among the emerging group of book and paper art enthusiasts were book artists Bonné de Blas, Amy Fishbach, and Melissa O'Grady, who, in March 2008, formed Art Books Cleveland (ABC), to "advance the appreciation of the book arts throughout Northeast Ohio." Its members include book artists, binders, conservators, calligraphers, printers, and papermakers. By October, ABC had more than twenty active members and mounted its first Abecedarium Exhibition – a show of handmade books with an alphabet theme, continuing a centuries-old tradition with a modern and global twist.
The serendipitous – and mutually reinforcing and supportive – establishment of the Morgan Art of Papermaking Conservatory and Educational Foundation in downtown Cleveland in October 2008 created a regional synergy of interest, enthusiasm, instruction, and publicity for Cleveland's love affair with the book as an art object. The presence of an important artist book teaching collection at the Cleveland Institute of Art, the existence of a number of collections of rare and beautiful books held by libraries all around the area, the on-going programming by organizations such as the Northern Ohio Bibliophilic Society, the vitality of local artist-led presses, binderies, and regional conservation institutions, the support of local independent bookstores, and the growing expertise of the local book and paper arts creative community – all these encouraged ABC members Laura Martin and Bonné de Blas to conceive of the region-wide celebration now known as Octavofest. Working with The Michael Schwartz Library at Cleveland State University, the Ohio Center for the Book at Cleveland Public Library, and the Morgan, they launched the first Octavofest in October 2009.