20 Stories for 20 Years

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Authors, librarians, teachers, and loyal Festival-goers have been submitting their stories to help us commemorate the Texas Book Festival’s 20th Anniversary!  Check back here to read our 20 stories, as we update until the Festival!


Julie Blackwell, 2011

  • The first year we went, we didn’t do much research about the book festival. We just figured – we like books, let’s go! I had no experience with book fests, but my friend had been to the National Book Fest in DC, so she’d prepared me for a hot day, sitting in tents, if we could find chairs. And then we got to the Capitol grounds. “You mean we get to go inside? And there are chairs? And air conditioning??? AND people are still going to be talking about books? Best festival EVER!” It’s like Comic Con for book nerds.

Antonio Ruiz-Camacho, 2005


  • I remember a packed room at Mexic-Arte, the gallery’s walls splashed by colorful paintings and masks, and the audience eagerly waiting to hear Luis Alberto Urrea, Cecilia Ballí and other authors talk about the recent wave of violence in Juárez, Mexico, my home country. It was 2005, my first year moderating a panel at the festival. The memory is bittersweet: Had they decided to do the exact same panel again this year, its relevance wouldn’t have wilted a bit.

Roger Polson, 1998

  • During an early festival we had the author’s party scheduled at Sholz’s Saturday night. My plan was to strike the festival sound equipment and haul it to Sholz’s for the party. Unfortunately, a hellacious storm hit late in the afternoon. We loaded up everything and got the stage set up in torrential rain. Molly Ivins and Kinky Friedman were the advertised emcees. The rain just kept pouring, the tents in the beer garten were bulging from water. A little before showtime, Molly wasn’t there, I looked at Kinky and he said, “Let’s do this, the show must go on.” The weather cleared, the crowd gathered, the band played, and a great time was had by all. Myself and the volunteers were drenched and tired, but we all wound up happy with a memory to keep and I had new-found admiration for the Kinkster.

Paul Stekler, 2006FB_State of Union Panel.Front View_Stekler

  • At the 2006 book festival, I got to moderate a panel of non-fiction literary superstars at the Speaker’s podium of the Texas House of Representatives.  Imagine a packed chamber and being flanked with these four luminaries.  Victor Navasky, the hilariously funny longtime editor and publisher of The Nation;  Nick Lemann, the Dean of the Columbia School of Journalism and longtime writer for The New Yorker;  Matthew Dowd, who’d been Karl Rove’s brain in the two George W. Bush presidential campaigns;  and Maureen Dowd, the New York Times columnist who didn’t think it was funny when I introduced her as Matthew’s sister.  I made a joke about passing some bills while we were in command of the dais.  Then I asked the crowd for a moment of silence, wishing our friend Molly Ivins a return to good health.  I’d literally bowed my head, in the silent chamber, when a voice called out from the balcony, shouting “I’m here Paul!”  I’ll never forget it.


Brenda McGuire, 2014

  • In 2014 my oldest granddaughter was 8 years old and an avid reader, so I felt that she could handle my fast pace of going inside and outside the capitol building at TBF. She also had been reading the IVY+BEAN books, so when I told her that Annie Barrows would be in a session, she jumped at the chance to go with me. When we went to her group discussion, Annie happened to stop on our row of seats and specifically spoke to my granddaughter. Rebekah felt that an equivalent of a movie star had talked just with her! Then we got her autograph in the signing tent! My granddaughter has asked me often if she can go back in 2015 and her enthusiasm has spread to my younger grandchildren. And they love reading the books that we bought there!

Holly Rice, 2014Texas Book Festival 2014 - Saturday

  • My first month at the University of Texas I received an email stating that I had placed in the 2014 Young Fiction Writer’s contest. I will never forget how proud I felt sitting inside the Capitol building in the same spot that I had watched Katherine Applegate sit in during a panel two years earlier. It was the first moment I felt like a real writer. Receiving validation from the Festival gave me the confidence peruse creative writing in college and inspired a passion for the world of publishing. I now get to work for the Texas Book Festival as an intern and assist in inspiring young writers and book lovers alike by helping prepare for the yearly event that means so much to me.

Xander Christou, 2012 xander

  • Each year has been filled with so much excitement and bookishness that it’s impossible to not make good memories. Back in 2012, Lemony Snicket had a session. He would just walk up and down the aisles and mess with people, then, Mr. Snicket came up to me and took my book. He read out of it and it was awesome, but I was quite worried about my book at the time. I didn’t want him mishandling it (yeah I was weird). To this day, Mr. Snicket’s session has been my absolute favorite session. Just this past year I had another funny moment; I was late for a dystopian panel which was the panel I was most looking forward to, so I ran to it. When I got there, they said they were full. At that time I was wearing my moderator badge, and they happened to glance down at it. They said, “Oh, well if you’re the moderator, we need you!” and let me in. I didn’t really comprehend it as it was happening, but when I got in, I told them I wasn’t moderating this panel. They were confused but told me there was an open seat near the front. Hey, somehow I ended up getting good seats in a panel that was full. I’m not complaining!  (As well as the time I ended up in an elevator from the Capitol that took me to some tiny little room in the middle of nowhere; I’m still confused about that but let’s not get into it.

Juli Berwald, 2010

  • As the Chair of the Austin Jewish Book Fair, a TBF partner, I was invited to the glamorous authors reception. A friend sidled up to me, “Want to go to Jeffrey’s with some authors after? Meet downstairs in five.” At the bottom of the elevator my friend was corralling several authors: a fiction phenom, a recent Pulitzer Prize winner, and Julia Glass. My husband handed his ticket to the valet. After a few minutes, the valet pulled our old Jeep around, roofless because of the lovely weather.” Julia Glass sprinted toward the vehicle, hiked up her skirt and clambered through the window. Into the warm Texas night, she lifted her arms and exclaimed, “I want to feel the wind blow through my hair!” We were off!


Denniger Bolton, 2014 Texas Book Festival 2013

  • “Madam, you have passed by without even looking at my book!” says Lester Morris, Texas Book Festival author in mock indignation as a couple of women walk on without so much as a glance at the contents of our booth, namely our books. And you know what? Heck if they don’t stop in their tracks, come over and most times buy a book and find some humanity at the booth I’ve shared for the past ten years with the chap. Lester keeps me in stitches the entire two day festival. He’s a 70 something Britisher who looks like Santa Claus. You’ve probably seen him at the festival. An iconic figure, he’s most often spotted in his authentic Tower of London Beef Eater garb and if you haven’t spoken with him, you’ve missed a big part of the festival.


Peggy Terry, 2006 My first TBF.

  • My memories include:
    Standing in line at5:30am to get a wristband (and I was #10 in line).
    Almost getting run over by Liz Carpenter on her scooter as I walked to the Capitol.
    While standing in the fourth line, eyeing the Texas Rangers escorting Obama to his book signing tent. Eyes straight ahead, hats perfectly set, shoulders back, and pride radiating as they moved down the walkway to rounds of applause.
    The warmth, excitement and party atmosphere of the entire festival.

Shelly Lane, 2000 clinton

  • It is hard to pick just 1 year because I have many memories. Of course as a Librarian I love seeing all of the authors and books, and I enjoy volunteering during the festival. My library also was very blessed to receive one of the $5,000 grants in ’07 to help start our Every Child Ready to Read program. I have memories of standing in a line around the Capit0l in ’05 to see President Clinton and get a signed copy of his book. I loved in ’00 getting to listen to Nellie Connally about her book From Love Field: A Remembrance and hear her memories of the assassination. My best memory is hearing Liz Carpenter speak in 2000 & getting her book signed. During the signing she looked at me and asked how in the hell did I know about her.

Ava Love Hanna, 2013LoveHanna

  • We were excited to take our five-year-old son to hear R.L. Stine read at the Texas State Cemetery. We explained to him that the author wrote scary stories for kids and how neat it would be to listen to him read. He told us to wait a minute and wrote a quick one page story titled, “Albert the Ghost” which he insisted on bringing with him. After R.L. Stine was done, our son began walking towards the microphone telling us he was ready to read his story. He thought everyone was going to read scary stories that night! We didn’t want to disappoint him so we set him up nearby, had a few people gather around, and with a flashlight under his chin he read his story to the small crowd. That was his first reading… and R.L. Stine opened for him.

Charles Blankenship, 1996

  • My story really has two parts, one John Graves and the other Bill Clinton. When John was at the Festival, 1966 or 1997, I stood in line for three hours to get my book signed. He had an unfiltered cigarette in one hand and a sharpie in the other and signed books for over three hours. Meeting him then and then at one of the Festival dinners is one of the highlights of book collecting adventure.The other has to do with Bill Clinton’s appearance. I got up at 4:00 AM to drive to Austin. After breakfast at Whataburger on Barton Springs I arrived at the Festival only to find that I was very close to number 100 in the signing line. Apparently there were some who camped out all night.

Paula Disbrowe, 2006

  • Amy SedarisI’ve moderated a cookbook session every year since I moved to Austin in 2006. I have so many great memories that it’s hard to choose a favorite. There was the time I hung out backstage with Padma Lakshmi, and the morning I walked Gabrielle Hamilton through the Capitol, trying to keep her calm before the “Blood, Bones, and Butter” session, by asking her what she might name a puppy. But the standout, the one that still terrifies me in the middle of the night, is when I had to pick up Amy Sedaris from the airport. I forgot a pen, so I wrote her name in lipstick. Then, I was so nervous about hiding the fact that I wanted to be her new BFF that I FORGOT where I’d parked my pick-up! Tense and awkward wandering ensued…