The Texas Book Festival awards the Texas Writer Award each year to a Texas author who has made a significant contribution to the literary arts. Previous recipients include Tim O’Brien, Sarah Bird, Sandra Cisneros, Steven Weinberg, Attica Locke, and Pat Mora.
This year, we are honored to name Elizabeth McCracken—award-winning novelist and short story writer, a National Book Award finalist, and Fiction Chair at the Michener Center for Writers—as the recipient of the 2022 Texas Writer Award.
We asked Elizabeth—whose new book The Hero of This Story is her eighth published full-length work—about moving to Texas, her favorite Texas Book Festival memories (she’s been coming for more than twenty years), and her love for Barton Springs Pool.
Where did you grow up?
I’m a New Englander, born and mostly bred right around Boston, though I spent some of my childhood in Portland, Oregon, and my sixth year in London.
What brought you to Austin and Texas?
I came to Austin nearly thirteen years ago to take a job teaching at the University of Texas, the first full-time, permanent teaching job I’ve ever had. Before that, I and my family were fairly itinerant—we came from Iowa City, were in Cambridge, Massachusetts before that. Edward Carey, my ball & chain, and I also spent stints in France, Denmark, Berlin, and Ireland.
Do you remember your first time at the Texas Book Festival?
I first came to the Festival in 2001. I landed during some historic thunderstorms and flooding, though I didn’t know they were historic then, only that they were terrifying and large. I remember hearing Joseph Ellis speak at the [First Edition Literary Gala]—I don’t know how I scored a ticket to the Gala and a plus one (I took my best friend from high school, Marguerite) but it was fantastic.
What are some of your most salient memories from attending the Festival in years past?
Hearing Max Porter and Paul Lisicky . . . two tall, tender men talking about grief. [Or] Colonizing a fancy bathroom at the authors’ party with Eimear McBride. My favorite memory [was interviewing] Tim O’Brien, who I love, in one of the big historical legislative rooms [at the Capitol], and I only asked him questions about our mutual obsession, magic, and how it intersected with writing. I had a wonderful time. I think some of the people in the audience who were expecting to hear him talk about war were confused.
How, if at all, has living in Texas/Austin influenced your writing, your characters, your stories?
Texas has just started creeping into my work—I’ve written a story set in Austin, one in Galveston, and the narrator of my latest book lives in Austin. Probably the biggest influence: before I got here I had no sense, really, of how being from a state could affect how you think about yourself as a writer. Texan writers talk about being Texan. Writers from Massachusetts (we don’t even have an adjective) don’t, so much. Or at least I didn’t. I like that sense of region that living in such a distinct place—a place whose inhabitants think about all the time—has given me and my work.
What’s a secret about Barton Springs Pool that most people don’t know about?
Barton Springs feels like nothing but secrets to me. It’s what keeps me getting up at 5:00 a.m. to go there: I will never know everything about it. I am partial to the fact that when people jump in wearing perfume, I can smell and taste it.